KOCHI: Waste management continues to be a challenge for local bodies amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the situation may turn worse with a recent government order directing the monitoring of its management in grama panchayats to village extension officers instead of the local body officials.
An order issued by Additional Chief Secretary Sarada G Muraleedharan on April 5 directing village extension officers (VEOs) to draft a comprehensive plan for sanitation and waste treatment programmes has already snowballed into a controversy following the omission of assistant secretaries of grama panchayats from these duties.
Earlier in April, the government issued an order entrusting top officials of grama panchayats with these jobs, but it has backtracked from it now. According to officials, as per the new order, the important tasks in waste management in grama panchayats, which were under the rural development department, have been entrusted with VEOs.
"The VEOs are single-man offices in the state. All charges of the office are entrusted with them. It is impractical to prepare comprehensive waste treatment programmes and monitor the functioning of Haritha Karma Sena units under Kudumbashree by VEOs whose educational qualification and pay scale are equivalent to LD clerks," said an officer who did not want to be named.
The responsibility of a VEO, an entry-level post in the rural development department, is to make sure that the different government schemes, funds etc are reaching the right hands and the officer is the bridge between the government and rural people.
As per the new order, the VEOs should ensure material collection facilities and the door-to-door collection of biodegradable and degradable wastes and collection of user fee by the members of Haritha Karma Sena. They should also impart training in biodegradable waste treatment with the assistance of Haritha Karma Sena. The order also entrusted around 30 such tasks with the VEOs.
"It is due to the pressure from panchayat officials that the government took a decision to hand over the responsibility of waste management to VEOs. In grama panchayats, the secretary and assistant secretary oversee the waste treatment tasks while health officers and supervisors do these jobs in municipalities and corporations," said a VEO working in Ernakulam district, requesting anonymity.
"In such a situation, how effectively this could be implemented by village extension officers, who have a slew of jobs in this tough situation of pandemic, remains to be seen," he added. Despite repeated attempts, the director of panchayats was not available for a comment in this regard.