Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Stench of the City, part III

I dont think anyone would want to read through in detail about what happened at the sewage plant, but I might as well finish it off for completion sake.

My team consisted of 2 health inspectors, 2 junior health inspectors, 2 public health nurses, 4 junior public health nurses, driver, and a police escort.

We could smell the place more than a km before we actually got there, especially as we happened to cross the path of downward wind.

The plant was located, not at a desolate stretch of wasteland, but on a somewhat thinly populated village.

The plant was not set up with the permit of the village panchayat, as such it could be called an illegal establishment. The panchayat had, for the past decade, been mired in a fight against the much stronger city corporation which was the sole beneficiary of the project.

While construction for the plant was under way, the gullible villagers were told that the corporation was preparing a garden and a flowering plant nursery. It was a reasonable explanation because 10 years ago the location of the plant had been a hill, which was a popular hang-out for local people. That hill was razed over the next decade to cover garbage in the sanitary land-fill. The hill was called, 'the sunrise-view'. By not giving them advance notice, probably because the govt knew it would never be able to establish a plant with the concurrence of the local population in this high density state, the govt had denied the local people the option to shift to other areas, and now their properties were un-sale-able due to proximity to the plant. Residents of nearby areas have not been re-settled to date.

So here the corporation was conspiring against a village panchayat, and because the plant was absolutely essential for the running of the capital city, the legal machinery and even political parties had decided to look the other way. The media, but for the occasional report, made no big hue and cry, as is its wont in such matters.

I especially remember one household that I visited, a large, old house built in traditional kerala style, and could for one moment picture this place as it was, only a few years ago. A house that once had a joint family living in it. The big cattle shed with numerous animals. The fertile lands full of fruit-laden plantains and coconut trees. Now all those capable of doing so had moved away to the city or other villages. Those left behind, left without their earning hands, were barely eking out a living. They were unable to rear livestock anymore, because the local stream where they used to bathe the animals had turned vitreous. Man and animal was bound to get sick if they touched the water. These were our people, and we were disbanding them.

At one point the local people, tired of fact-finding missions, blockaded the corporation van, and I could see that the police escort was no ceremony.

And I knew with a sinking feeling in my heart, that this mission was a joke already, even without my going in as the expert. It was no anomaly, just that the joke, without any mirth, had become that bit more funny. What do you expect when the corporation is sponsoring the fact-finding mission that would investigate complaints against itself?

Just then, I could really feel the stench of the city.


  1. This reminded me of Erin Brockovich, this is a sorry state of affairs,are you in a position to do anything?

  2. This is not a comment on your post as such, just an observation.
    We went to a small place near Mumbai this weekend and was appalled by the sorry state of the river there. It was more like a nullah. People were washing clothes there and not only that, there was a clothes line where some green and white clothes and bed sheets were hanging out to dry. There must be a hospital nearby and the local dhobi is probably washing the clothes and drying them there. Once upon a time the nature must have been pristine there. All we could see was plastic bottles strewn all across and loads of rubbish thrown.
    I felt helpless as this was sheer disaster looming right in front of us and nobody, the local government or the people living there, seemed to care about the issue.

  3. @ Sujatha: There might be, but I am no Erin Brokovich, and besides, I belong to the city too. The way this issue has been mis-handled has ensured that no other panchayat will lease land for construction of another plant, so the only thing to do is to go on running the place, and forget the human cost. I have submitted my report, but doubt that it will have any thing new in it that was not known to date.

    Also, to be fair, I have only written what I heard from the local people, without having tried to clarify the same with the corporation. Who do I take myself for?

    @Aparna, Apathy is the last stage of helplessness, the end of hope. Its the state of the Union as well, and not merely the story of a river or a hospital or even a metropolis.

  4. It really is a sad state of affairs. You did your part and now the rest is up to the authorities. But will they wake up before it's too late? Well, my guess is as good as yours...

  5. @destiny: I met a man today, and he gave me a fresh dash of hope for this country. Will write about it soon

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Thanks for giving me this moment of your life.