What will happen to cities if people living near landfill sites—usually in the outskirts—won’t allow the municipal waste to be dumped in their backyards? It happened in Thiruvananthapuram and may happen in other places. A look at the state of waste disposal in our cities.



Kerala’s capital Thiruvananthapuram is perhaps a shade too placid to be the late O V Vijayan’s Dharamapuri, where his savage, exhilarating satire, Raja of Dharmapuri, is set but it may soon evolve into one.

The pressed, starched khakis of the Thiruvananthapuram police might have to stand guard and even escort truckloads of rotting garbage, if and when it makes its way to Vilappilsala village. Around 600 policemen stood guard similarly a decade ago when the “chavar” (garbage) factory came up in Vilappilsala,

Like any other city, Thiruvanathapuram too worked out a system to collect and dispose of its garbage. But the residents of Vilappilsala, where the factory, as the solid waste management site is referred to, came up, never wanted any of the city waste in their backyards.

The factory that the Thiruvananthapuram Municipal Corporation helped set up was to shear the waste of its stench and dirt and convert it into something useful. But the all-pervasive stench, the grey-black ooze and buzzing swarms of mosquitoes show that something went wrong with this conversion.

The waste increased beyond the plant’s capacity, the terms of agreement of the factory management with the civic body, and so forth. Nothing surprising, as this is what happens in most landfills and solid waste management sites in the country.

The difference is that a determined Vilappilsala village, about a decade ago, decided not to put up with it. It has done everything it could to stop the garbage from coming in. Children and women have turned themselves into roadblocks to stop the garbage trucks, villagers have formed samitis and gone all the way to the High Court.

Waste piles up in the capital of God’s Own Country, despite countless meetings and the tenures of two chief ministers from opposite ends of the political spectrum. Governments change, bodies change, but the Vilappilsala panchayat body’s decision remains unchanged.

“Politicians come during election time, they say one thing in Vilappilsala and the opposite in Trivandrum city. Political affiliation here is irrelevant, because governments have changed, but the people of that village are consistent, because they continue to suffer,’’ said Shyjan D, an economics lecturer who focused on Vilappilsala in his research paper, “Municipal Solid Waste Management in Cities–Issues of Basic Rights of Surrounding Villages and Alternatives’’.

Shyjan has been tracking the issue for years and, as many a city dweller now admits, says the conflict has many dimensions. “City dwellers have begun to understand the villager’s plight only now. The problem is a mix of faulty urban planning, changing lifestyles as well as political nepotism.’’

Some city dwellers like Soman Nair hint that a real estate mafia is at work, as protests against dumping city waste have erupted in other towns of Kerala, such as Kannur and Kochi.

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