Friday, June 2, 2023

Clearing The Air

The Kerala High Court has taken suo motu cognizance of the issue of emissions from the Brahmapuram solid waste management plant and related environmental issues.

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A Division Bench of the Kerala High Court, comprising Justice SV Bhatti and Justice Basant Nalaji, recently came down heavily on the Kerala government for neglecting environmental issues. The Bench observed: “The State of Kerala claims to be a Number 1 in literacy in the Centre. This Bench would like to know whether the State of Kerala would like to be Number 1 in protecting the environment and implementing Solid Waste Management Handling Rules. This cannot be accomplished by a parcel of accomplishment either in a corporation or a Municipality or a Grama Panchayat. There are enough number of water bodies in the State of Kerala and no one is listening to their plight. All water bodies are getting converted as dump sites. This possibility can be prevented when all the local authorities concerned with protecting the water bodies are issued proper directions.” The bench said: “After looking at the stage and manner of implementation of Solid Waste Management and Handling Rules, we have posed a question to the learned Advocate General on the necessity to have a holistic implementation of these Rules in the State of Kerala.”

The Court considered issuing directions to be carried out by the officers of the state and persons entrusted with the functions and duties by the environmental laws, Environmental Protection Act, read with rules, and Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016.

The Bench said in its order that the suo motu initiative of the Court must not be treated as a publicity interest litigation or a prosecution interest litigation initiated by the Court, and being a constitutional Court, it is the custodian and the guardian of the rights of the citizens under the Constitution and also protects the rights assured to the citizens under the Environmental Protection Act along with Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. It said that the right to clean air, water and pollution-free environment are basic human rights, and with incidents happening in the immediate past, the Court has noticed these rights of citizens, particularly in the city of Ernakulam. Therefore, the suo motu petition addresses these problems, it added.

On March 13, the district collector placed on record the report of the committee constituted by the Court on March 10, 2023. The report describes the lamentable situation in which the site is termed as a facility, claiming to discharge the statutory standards set by Solid Waste Management and Handling Rules, 2016.  After a detailed discussion on the report with the additional chief secretary and the district collector, the High Court said in its March 14 order:

* The Secretary, Cochin Municipal Corporation, is directed to place before the Court the chronology of the consideration of passing over the responsibility of managing this facility by a third party agency, the mode and manner in which the decisions are taken shall also be incorporated in the said chronology. The Secretary shall place before the Court the contract under which the free handover of responsibility is given to a third party. These details are necessitated without concluding on this aspect, the prosecution if warranted the starting point of prosecution and also the persons who are responsible for the present state of affairs.

* The Secretary is directed to place before the Court the payments made by the Cochin Municipal Corporation under the head of collection, transportation, handing over, treatment, etc., for the past seven years to the contractors or the staff under any head.

* The District Collector, referring to the latest information, makes a statement to the Court that 90% to 95% of fires at different places has been put out. However, on account of continuous simmering and raising temperatures in the materials, the sporadic occasioning of fires is taken care of and within the outer limit of two hours doused.

* The High Court is of the view that the Court and the citizens of Cochin place on record their appreciations for discharging a herculean task of putting out the fire at the site at this time of the year by the personnel of the fire department.

* We are conscious that either the failure to control the fire or allowing the fire to spread to the neighbourhood would have led to unimaginable consequences. We record our recognition, satisfaction, and appreciation to the Personnel of the Fire Department for all their efforts. We also record the same appreciation for the contribution of the Civil Defence Volunteers in putting out the fire.

The Uttarakhand High Court in October last year had directed commissioner, Kumaon, and commissioner, Garhwal, to hit the ground with the respective district magistrates and make ground surveys, town by town and village by village, to ensure that solid waste management is implemented in true letter and spirit.

The Division Bench of Chief Justice Vipin Sanghi and Justice RC Khulbe had further directed the registrar (judicial) of the High Court to create an e-mail id, namely, which shall be open to the public at large to send their complaints regarding solid waste collected and not removed in any part of the state, be it within municipal limits, or in rural/forest areas. On the e-mail id, only complaints regarding solid waste, of whatever kind, would be entertained. 

The High Court further said in its order: 

  • Along with the complaint, the complainant should also upload the photographs to show the collection/non disposal of solid waste, clearly identifying its location. The complainant should clearly provide his/her identity and contact details. The complaints, which are received, shall be perused by the Registrar (Judicial) after 05:00 PM every day.
  • These complaints shall be printed out, provided they relate to issues regarding solid waste in the state, and not otherwise. The complaints, as received, shall also be forwarded to the respective Commissioners of Kumaon and Garhwal electronically on their respective e-mail IDs, depending on whether the complaint relates to Kumaon or Garhwal region.
  • It shall be the responsibility of the respective Commissioners to then take action on the complaints. The Commissioners shall revert within two working days of the complaints being forwarded by the Registrar (Judicial) to inform as to what steps have been taken in respect of the complaints so received.”
  • It is further directed by the High Court to the State to circulate the aforesaid Email ID in the entire State by publishing the same in daily newspapers and local Doordarshan channels, and encouraging the people to log their complaints with necessary particulars. All the District Magistrates are also directed to ensure the circulation of the said E-mail ID within their respective districts.
  • A tabulation of the complaints as well as the response received in regard thereto from the respective Commissioners, shall be placed before the Court by the Registrar (Judicial), before each date of hearing.

In March last year, one of Delhi’s tallest trash mountains, the Ghazipur landfill, caught fire and burnt for two days. This was followed by a fire in the 36-acre Bhalswa landfill in Delhi in April. 

A landfill site is a site for the disposal of waste material. While India’s municipalities are collecting over 95% of the waste generated in cities, the efficiency of waste processing is only 30% to 40%. The wastes are not segregated due to which the landfill sites receive organic waste, ignitable material and plastics. The breakdown of organic waste in the absence of oxygen generates methane gas and heat, and as soon as the methane gas comes in contact with oxygen, the combustible material at the dumping site catch fire easily.

According to the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, only non-recyclable, non-biodegradable and non-combustible waste should go to a sanitary landfill. Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, and as it traps more heat, it is a potent contributor to the climate crisis. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that efforts are being made to remove these mountains of garbage and convert them into green zones.

Solid waste management is a major problem for many urban local bodies in India. Effective solid waste management is a major challenge in cities with high population density. There is an urgent need to move to more sustainable solid waste management practices. However, this requires new management systems and waste management facilities.

There are around 3,000 landfills overflowing with decaying waste and emitting toxic gases in India. The Deonar dumping ground in Mumbai is India’s largest landfill. Deonar has also seen occasional fires break out, enveloping about a million residents in the nearby areas.

India generates 62 million tonnes of waste every year. Nearly 43 million tonnes are collected, of which about 12 million tonnes are treated, and 31 million tonnes are dumped in such landfill sites. With changing consumption patterns, it is estimated that urban municipal solid waste generation will increase to 165 million tonnes in 2030. 

—By Shivam Sharma and India Legal Bureau

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