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Lockdown imposed by toxic smoke

Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala, and its surrounding areas have been under an undeclared lockdown for the past few days. After the fire at the Brahmapuram waste treatment plant located near the city went out of control, residents of the area were unable to go out as toxic smoke filled the air. On Monday, the district administration had to declare a holiday for schools in the region which got extended to Tuesday for most schools. The authorities have advised the locals not to leave their homes and not to open shops until further notice. A special control room has also been opened in the area in view of the possibility of a health emergency. A major disaster was averted due to the concerted intervention of the fire brigade, navy and fire departments of various organizations, but the situation could not be brought under control even on the fifth day of the accident. Meanwhile, there are reports of at least some people suffering from health problems. We used to hear about the smog and the spread of toxic smoke in and around Delhi due to firecrackers during Diwali and the burning of stubble in neighboring states. Kochi city and surrounding areas are going through a similar situation now. In fact, even oxygen parlors have been set up in the Brahmapuram area to deal with emergencies.

For decades, there has been a huge debate in Kerala about waste management. Far from having a scientific waste management program, our experience is that waste in urban centres is carried to some village without any principle. Naturally, its victims are the natives of those areas. Often, when the operation of such plants changes to the extent that the lives of nearby residents are endangered, it leads to major controversies and struggles. Kerala has witnessed many such protests. Even then, in a densely populated state like Kerala, the debate on scientific and practical waste disposal schemes is lively. It all ends up on paper. The accident at Brahmapuram plant is also an eye-opening consequence of that. It is alleged that there was not only maladministration, but also massive corruption centred round Brahmapuram. Locals are also citing a mystery that the fire broke out the very day after the contract of the company commissioned to remove the garbage ended. The Leader of the Opposition also pointed this out when the matter was discussed in the Legislative Assembly on Monday. He said in the assembly that 'any child knows that it did not catch fire but was burnt'. Of course, this needs to be investigated. This is not the first time that such 'accidents' have occurred at the Brahmapuram plant, which is spread over an area of over 50 acres and waste from various municipalities and panchayats in Ernakulam district are deposited there. A fire nearly ten years ago lasted seven days. And there were fire incidents even after that. There have also been fires in other centres in Kerala. A similar accident took place at Njelianparamba in Kozhikode the other day. It should be seen as a warning of a great disaster in the making.

Such a situation often arises when the plant to process plastic lacks the capacity to process the full volume received. On the one hand, this is when proper waste disposal is not done. There are other problems due to odors that make living impossible in nearby areas. In the meantime, these garbage heaps catch fire. When can the people of the area including Brahmapuram hope to get a relief from this hellish life emerging from the waste of city dwellers? The authorities talk a lot about the eco-friendly Thumburmuzhi model and waste management at source, but nothing materialises in practice. As part of Haritha Keralam (green Kerala) project, various schemes have been formulated for waste management, but it is time to evaluate how effective all of them have been. One more thing needs to be noted in the current situation. Unlike the past, extreme temperatures have been recorded in the state these days. On the one hand we are facing health problems caused by this. When such heaps of waste catch fire, the consequences are unpredictable. Moreover, the current problems are not limited to Brahmapuram. Therefore, there should be vigilance on the part of the authorities to prevent this 'lockdown' from spreading throughout Kerala.

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TAGS:Brahmapuram waste treatment plant fire in waste collected plastic waste inadequate capacity to process arriving quantity hot weather people suffocating schools closed 
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