GUDALUR: Ever seen elephants rummaging in urban garbage? Like street dogs and stray cattle chewing cud on the street corner? Well they do.
For proof, visit the rubbish dumpyard used by the Gudalur Municipality in Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu on any morning or evening a bit after the civic authority’s trucks have disgorged the town’s rubbish there.
It’s a four acre site near the 27th mile stone on the Naduvattam Road. It is used by the local administration to dump the 19 tonnes of waste generated by the town of 50,000 every day.
The dump yard lies near the elephant corridor along which wild pachyderms migrate to and fro between the Ovely estate and the Mudumalai forest. The rubbish is dumped into two pits gouged out of the earth inside a tea estate that is barely 200 m from the Gudalur and Naduvattam main road.
There is enough vegetation in the area for the herds to browse on but the pungent odours in the air are irresistible to the elephants, especially the jack fruit thrown away by people. Elephant sightings are frequent in this area, even it is a bit isolated, and TNSTC drivers say they see elephants on the road side as they drive by the area. The municipality dumps rubbish here eight times a day and elephants have learnt to time themselves for the arrival of the trucks.
Signs of the elephants foraging in rubbish are evident in the area, most notably in the plastic found in the dung in nearby localities. As Express visited the site, one elephant stomped into the site and started sifting the material.
A retired forester C N Prem Sagar, a native of Gudalur, said the dump yard is indeed likely cause harm to wild elephants. Apart from the abundance of plastic, there is poultry and medical waste from four hospitals (including a government hospital) being dumped here without any segregation, he said. However, the commissioner of the Gudalur Municipality, O Rajaram denied that medical wastes too were being dumped in the yard. “Hospitals handle their wastes separately,” he said.
Elephant deaths due to the ingestion of plastic have been reported from the Sabarimala pilgrimage trail. In 2014, an elephant cow was found dead with about 2 kg of plastic waste in its bowels in a forest clearing near Sabarimala in Pathanamthitta district of Kerala.
Conservationists say dumping unsegregated urban waste in the elephant corridor poses a grave danger to the pachyderms. The founder of the Wildlife and Nature Conservation Trust (WNCT) N Sadiq Ali said, "It’s a life threatening issue. There is a high chance of diseases spreading to the wild elephants.”
The Tamil Nadu Forest Department has written to the municipality stating that the dump is located in a notified forest area and falls under the elephant corridor. But with the municipality paying no heed, it sought the help of NGOs to erect solar fencing around the garbage dump.
Forest ranger R Selvaraja said the herds are watched continually and diverted away if they are seen approaching the area. “However it’s difficult to engage forest personnel near the dumping yard round the clock,” he added.
While solar fencing is only a temporary measure, environmentalists decided to approach the National Green Tribunal to stop the Gudalur Municipality from dumping its waste here.
District forest officer (DFO) N S Tejeswi blamed the municipality for dumping waste without any segregation..The sanitary inspector of the Gudalur Municipality, N Saravanan, admitted as much and cited the shortage of sanitation workers to perform the function.
The Gudalur Municipality took to dumping its waste near the elephant corridor in a recoil from a fiat by the southern bench of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordering it to stop dumping waste at Thorapalli and Chelukkadi. The municipality decided to switch to a four acre site on the Naduvattam Road, which falls in proximity to the elephant migration corridor.
The four-acre site is actually forest land but was given on long lease to a private individual, Peter, who sublet it to the Gudalur Municipality for use as a dump yard. The civic utility pays him a monthly rental of Rs 10,000.
A Supreme Court order of 2006 bars the use of this land for any purpose. It bans even the clearing of bushes with JCBs. But when the Gudalur Municipality took the land on lease in December 2015, it cleared the shrubbery and dug two pits to dump its garbage.
This four-acre parcel is part of an extent of 65000 acres that is notified as forest land by the Supreme Court. Once it was leased to tea and coffee estates but the leases lapsed in 2002. But few estate owners have returned the land to the state.
"If these private tea and coffee estate owners returned the land to the Revenue Department, the entire elephant corridor would be reclaimed and wild animals can move freely without entering human habitations," sources added.
The commissioner of the Gudalur Municipality, O Rajaram hoped that NGT would vacate its stay on dumping waste at Chelukkadi at its next hearing to be held in the second week of July, thereby releaseing the municipality of the need to dump its waste in the present site.
The district collector of Nilgiris, P Shankar said, “Chelukkadi is the suitable place for the municipality to dump wastes. The local body has constructed a compound wall at the present site.”