Annie Leonard, the proponent of sustainability is quoted to have famously said, “There is no such thing as ‘away’. When we throw anything away it must go somewhere.” For decades, Goa has been suffering without a comprehensive plan to manage what is being thrown ‘away’ - garbage.
Occupying the centre stage of the garbage menace is the decades-old Sonsoddo garbage dump. Year after year, from legacy dump to the additional garbage collected everyday, there is not a single month in the calendar year when Sonsoddo does not make it to the news headlines. Yet, after spending crores and crores of rupees from the public exchequer, there is little relief for the public.
On May 30, 2016, late Manohar Parrikar inaugurated the Solid Waste Management Facility (SWMF) at Saligao with a promise to change the course of waste management in the State. But now, there could not have been a worst-case scenario than to get rid of the garbage, the wet waste has to be transported from Sonsoddo to the Saligao facility, covering a distance of 45 km, and to the yet to be inaugurated Cacora SWMF, which is 20 km from Sonsoddo.
Seven years after the first of its kind SWMF was inaugurated at Saligao, the Cacora SWMF is ready and waiting for a formal inauguration. In the meanwhile, the Saligao SWMF has been enhanced to treat 250 TPD (tonnes per day) from the initial 100 TPD. The Saligao SWMF was a result of a junket to Europe by a 40-member delegation. It was pitched as the future of waste management without leaving any stench for the neighbourhood and no leachate.
While the Saligao and Cacora SWMFs continue to treat the waste from their own and neighbouring talukas, the proposed SWMFs at Bainguinim and Verna are yet to take off. The thirst for political mileage has ensured that the projects remain lingering and the issue gets a new lease of life after every election. There has been stiff opposition from the locals, and the worsening management of the existing Saligao facility has given the MLAs and ministers from the respective constituencies to join the voices of resistance.
The garbage dump at Headland-Sada is the next Sonsoddo in the making, with huge piles of garbage stacked at the edge of the cliff and the leachate flowing down into the Arabian Sea. With a hospital just meters away, one wonders what will go down first, the garbage dump or the hospital. Because, just like Margao Municipality, the Mormugao Municipal Council has no idea how to go about the disposal of the huge stacks which keep mounting by each passing day.
The High Court of Bombay at Goa has had to ensure that the Panchayats in the State have set up the material recovery facility (MRF) to take care of the garbage disposal problem in their local areas. In some cases, the Court had to reprimand the elected representatives as well as the panchayat secretary for contempt of court due to delay in setting up the facility.
The O Heraldo three-part series on ‘All Waste, No Management’ has highlighted how public funds are being drained down, and yet no solution has been found that can provide relief from the critical problem. The garbage menace is a ticking bomb for the State and could be a source of a dreaded outbreak of viral infections.
The government wishes to welcome high-end tourists but is unable to address the basic and urgent problem. A drive from the Dabolim airport in any direction will at once expose the waste management problem, with garbage strewn by the roadside and accompanied by the unbearable stench.
It’s said, ‘With power come responsibility’, but the politicians in the State - from the panchayats and municipalities to the State government - seem to be busy in politicking than taking on the responsibility. There is a beeline to attach oneself to the ruling dispensation before and after every election, and then the game of musical chairs to become a minister, chairperson or a sarpanch begins.
Will the political class rise up to the occasion before the collapse of the system or will it be, as the adage goes, ‘Absolute power corrupts absolutely’.