The fire that engulfed the Sonsoddo garbage dump in Margao is nothing new. It is an annual feature, though with less intense but possibly, a deliberate shortcut to reduce the dump, leaving to the rains to extinguish it. Fire safety measures, including a water pipeline around the periphery of Fomento Green’s waste management plant, were recommended but ignored. Sonsoddo has been a shame and a sham – a shame for Madganvkars and a sham of Margao Municipal Council. It is a decades old inheritance and we may soon be celebrating its centenary, if anyone remembers when it started. But surely, it was a small dump, which increased with the population. Infrastructure was always overlooked, while uncontrolled influx of people encouraged. It is a disgrace for a highly literate State like Goa that, for over half a century, we are unable to solve our garbage problem.
Situation grave but protests feeble: The situation at Sonsoddo was and is serious, particularly for the residents of the surrounding areas but the gravity of the problem has not sunk into the people, who do not understand the implications of air pollution and its consequences. Though Goa Pollution Board revealed that air pollution is dangerously above safe levels – PM10 444 microgrammes against permissible 100 per m3 and PM 2.5 265 against safe 60 microgrammes. This, added to the density of population around and the existence of a popular school, ought to have given the residents and the parents of Manovikas children the jitters, but surprisingly, it did not evoke much concern. Though the protest was commendable, the location was not appropriate, as fumes were still emanating from the dump. Typical of “mhaka kiteak poddlam “ attitude of ours, only a few hundred turned up and much less than hundred for the Bolshe Circle, demonstration two days earlier, when the whole city ought to have risen to put an end to the menace and shame that Sonsoddo is and pull up irresponsible authorities. We still fail to realise that the only language the Government understands is that of numbers or violence. While violence should be avoided, assertiveness, if not a bit of aggressiveness, is needed. Those who chose to build houses or live nearby may have got plots or apartments cheaper, but surely never imagined Sonsoddo would continue to be a nuisance, with impotent and inefficient elected bodies unable to solve the problem for decades. No wonder, people oppose garbage treatment plants in their locality, as they are likely to remain as dumps.
Politics in Sonsoddo: Politics never ceases to raise its ugly head in almost every issue in Goa. Komex and later Dr Claude Alvares had done a good job in Sonsoddo, if I remember well. The dump had reduced and the stench was much less. At no cost to MMC, Komex collected mixed waste as also screened waste of existing dump and deriving its profits from the sale of compost. But MMC felt Komex got a “gold mine”. Some councillors apparently even asked “amkam kitem meuta”, meaning what was their share? And now it is paying crores to Fomento to clear the gold mine. Sonsoddo became a political issue. But not even Digambar Kamat as CM solved it. Hopes were pinned on Fomento Green, being a Goan and Margao-based company which was favoured despite lower bid of Remkey. But, after years, Madganvkars are disappointed, though not surprised. The so-called High Powered Committee appointed to monitor Sonsoddo, headed by the Chief Minister and we had five of them since then, – proved a failure.
Segregation and plastic ban: The MMC, despite paying an agency to segregate waste in some wards, has been unable to implement it as also impose ban on plastic bags. Though people need to be educated on waste segregation and this is mandatory as per new waste management laws, Fomento is not justified in demanding segregation as the concession agreement does not provide for it.
Filth affecting Tourism: Jairam Ramesh had said that India deserved the Nobel Prize for Filth, for cleanliness and sanitation comes last in our list of priorities. Goa is a tourist State, but even our beaches, which are our main attraction, are not free from garbage and strays. We live on populism and thrive on vote banks, instead of imposing discipline and levying fines on littering and nuisance, like cooking, urinating and defecating in the open. But, then, where are the bins and wash rooms? Central and Goa Governments are more interested in providing extra wide roads for coal movement than bins and toilets for the common man and keeping the place clean. Goa, in the sixties, was perhaps nearly Open Defecation Free, but we are today, shamefully, one of the two exceptions among States. However, only fools will believe such statistics about other States. Perhaps, we are too honest while furnishing them. If we want tourists, Goa must be free from filth, garbage and strays and Government must ensure this at all costs.
Conclusion: Bad enough, we are helplessly watching Goans dying not of old age, but in road accidents, with even pedestrians not being spared, of cancer ailments, kidney failures, vector borne diseases, etc. We are still not free from formalin in fish, adulteration of food items, artificial ripening of fruits and what not – all cutting short our existence to satisfy the greed of some, with tacit support of an irresponsible Government or perhaps as part of India’s larger plan of controlling population. If, added to all these woes, we now need to face air and water pollution, further harming our health, then God save us, Goans, in the so-called liberated Goa.
(The author is a retired banker)