THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Even as the Indian Medical Association’s move to set up a waste management plant at Agasthyamala has kicked up a row, the Forest Department’s objection to the plant has come to light. In a recent letter, the Forest Department has opposed the project, thereby giving the much-needed official backing to protest by locals and the environmentalists. The IMA move has snowballed into a major controversy with greens crying foul at the decision considered highly detrimental to ecology.
In his report to the Kerala State Pollution Control Board on December 5, 2017, Thiruvananthapuram DFO D Ratish said “the area is ecologically significant, lies close to the tribal settlement and the plant will be a threat to the biodiversity, wildlife and water bodies”. The report - referring to the Pollution Control Board’s advertisement and Kulathupuzha Range Officer’s report - mentions why the project could adversely affect the eco-sensitive region.
The site falls under the Kulathupuzha range. “The designated site shares borders with the Eroor reserve forest on all three fronts and is ecologically a highly sensitive area. The Thannimoodu tribal settlement lies just 300 m from the site,” said sources in the Forest Department.
According to the department, entry is restricted to the area and there is no pathway as such. Any movement or activity will destabilise the ecology and is detrimental to the wildlife there, the report further pointed out. The designated site falls in the Peringamala panchayat which has been declared ecologically sensitive by the Kasturirangan Committee report and is hemmed in by forests on three sides.
The IMA plans to set up its biowaste management plant in three acres of the nine-acre land it owns near the forest. The proposed 25-tonne plant is envisaged to reduce the load of the 150-tonne biomedical waste management plant at Palakkad and is intended to manage the biomedical waste from the hospitals of Thiruvananthapuram, Kollam and Pathanamthitta.
IMA state secretary Sulphi N said he was unaware of any letter from the Forest Department. “The plant envisioned is a scientific waste disposal system. We intend to remove the apprehension of the locals.”
Public hearing on Wednesday
District Collector K Vasuki will hold a public hearing which will be held in the Peringamala grama panchayat office on Wednesday. An action council has been formed to preserve the area. The Pollution Control Board (PCB) is in the process of renewing the NOC to the plant and, towards this, it has sought the Environmental Clearance for the plant, said Sreekala S, chief environment engineer with the state board. “The earlier approval was given after they satisfied all our norms,” she said, while accepting that a letter from the DFO recommending against the plant was received. “As many as five Adivasi settlements lie within 1 km of the proposed plant and the site is significant for the presence of the rare Myristica swamps adjacent to it,” said social activist B Balachandran who had visited the site along with a few people from the socio-cultural milieu. “We intend to express our opposition to the project at the public hearing as the site is highly significant from an ecological point of view.”