If there is one hazard to the environment that people readily identify with, it is garbage. A growing city like Chennai, which is seeing a huge influx of people, obviously generates a huge amount of waste. What remains a bone of contention is where to dump it.
With space at a premium within the city, the Corporation of Chennai is looking at transferring the garbage to the fringes. But this move has not gone down well with residents on the outskirts who have taken the matter to court and, in some cases, have succeeded in getting a legal remedy.
Recently a resident of Kuthambakkam went to the National Green Tribunal (NGT) challenging attempts by the Chennai Corporation to set up a solid waste management (SWM) facility in Kuthambakkam, a village barely 500 metres from the Chembarambakkam lake.
The petitioner, R Arumugam, said that the project was unacceptable given that it was trying to convert grazing lands into dump yards, and that the lake was a catchment area which supplied drinking water to the city. The project could have disastrous implications for the area, the petitioner contended. After hearing the arguments the NGT ordered a stay on the project.
A similar project in Minjur also attracted much criticism from locals. Corporation officials say that garbage from the north of Chennai is expected to be taken to this place once the facility is set up.
But it is not just about the garbage from the city. Even municipalities such as Pallavaram and Tambaram are finding it hard to locate places for landfills. A classic case in this regard was the stay the NGT issued on dumping in the Pallavaram Periya Eri.
The situation became so tough that municipalities kept coming back to ask the NGT to allow them to use the lake till the alternate facility in Venkatamangalam was ready. But this request was turned down given the serious impact that over 30 years of garbage dumping had already caused to the lake.
Experts believe there is a fundamental flaw in how the Corporation is trying to tackle the issue. Dharmesh Shah, India coordinator for Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, says that civic body should be looking at reducing the need for landfills and incinerators instead of looking out for more land.
“The Corporation has initiated no effort to try and minimise the amount of solid waste being generated. Instead it keeps looking for land where garbage can be dumped. This is unsustainable,” he says. Currently, the city generates around 4,900 metric tonnes of garbage a day. Officials say that as long as the people act with responsibility and reduce garbage generation, the Corporation has to find ways to clear the garbage out. “What alternative do we have? You cannot change people overnight. But we are doing all that we can to create awareness,” says an official.