Herald: Unravelling the story behind the Sonsoddo FIRE

Unravelling the story behind the Sonsoddo FIRE

09 Jun 2019 05:24am IST
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09 Jun 2019 05:24am IST
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The fire at the Sonsoddo dump may have died down but the heat within continues. However, to understand how this small heap of garbage at Sonsoddo turned into a 2 lakh metric tonne plus, 15-meter high dump; one needs to peep into the chronology of events that happened in the last 20 years. PRATIK PARAB takes a look and this long standing saga that left the authorities baffled even as all this could have been prevented in the first place

ike the tough task that was in store for the fire tenders that tried to put out the fire at Sonsoddo, the dump at Sonsoddo has been a result of a series of poor planning and bad decisions that has evolved into the current eye-sore.  If one tries, to sift through the layers and layers of Sonsoddo dump, one has to go back to what happened two decades ago and how all of this began. 

The first firm to handle garbage was Komex and this was in the year 1998. The firm had employed 50 laborers and was considered to have been doing a fairly good job.  Surprisingly, the Margao Municipal Council (MMC) at that time did not have to pay a single rupee for the starting of this facility. The garbage then, was maximum a maximum of 30 to 35 tonnes, comprising mostly wet waste. 

The work of this plant was started during the tenure of MMC Chairperson (CP) Savio Coutinho at MMC and Chief Minister (CM) of Goa Luizinho Faleiro. It was inaugurated during the tenure of CP Ghanshyam Shirodkar and CM Francisco Sardinha. The plant used the anaerobic composting technique with rotor installed where the garbage is fed and heat it creates compost. The plant did well after its conception. The contractor also installed sieving where garbage was later segregated manually. This was a time when the composition of garbage consisted of just 2% of plastic in the overall waste. The work done by Komex was showing results. 

However, in the year 2000, MMC raised objections to the sieving of old waste by the contractor calling it a gold mine and ultimately the company was asked to stop work. This led to the firm closing down their operation at Sonsoddo.

In the same year 2000, MMC started managing the waste themselves at the Sonsoddo site. The problem started to get out of hand in the year 2001. The content of plastic in the garbage started increasing rapidly and without any plan of action to handle the waste of Margao, MMC also faltered.

By the year 2004, untreated waste arrived at Sonsoddo started piling up and in that year the High Court, while hearing a petition ordered the removal of Sonsoddo waste as soon as possible. At this time Digambar Kamat was the Urban Development minister in the BJP government. Snubbed by the High Court, MMC’s affidavit in the court claimed that they have already tendered the work for acquiring the necessary machinery to treat the garbage at Sonsoddo. Between 2005 and 2007 a firm called Hyquip Technologies won a tender for the machinery and treating the garbage at Sonsoddo. By then Digambar Kamat was the CM of the Congress government and Joaquim Alemao was the Urban Development Minister.

In the year 2008, MMC resolved and kicked out Hyquip Technologies from Sonsoddo. During the same year, Goa Foundation led by Claude Alvares proposed handling the garbage treatment plant and landfill site at Sonsoddo. The proposal was accepted by the government the project got bogged down due to codal formalities. Ultimately this proposal got canceled prompting a petition by Claude Alvares against MMC. The MMC has reportedly stated that they will soon tender the work of a plant for treatment of waste at Sonsoddo. The tender was floated in 2010, during the tenure of CP Savio Coutinho and in 2011, during the tenure of CP Sushila Naik, the work order was issued to Fomentom which included the composting plant. The agreement between MMC and Fomento Green was signed in 2012 any concessionaire was given 16 months for completion of the entire project at Sonsoddo.

The High Powered Coordination Committee (HPCC) with the CM as the head was installed in the year 2012. However, the entire essence of having allotted the work of treatment of garbage at Sonsoddo suffered a setback after the geotechnical report of the Sonsoddo dump revealed that the garbage contained heavy metals, arsenic, lead, etc, which wasn't suitable for composting. Fomento Green handed over the dump back to MMC sitting this report making the dump now a problem solely of the MMC.

Meanwhile in 2013, under the tenure of CP Arthur D'silva, the Fomento plant started on a trial basis supposedly treating daily waste. It was inaugurated in 2013 and has since been run on a trial basis. 

Around the same time, between the year 2012 and 2013, the HPCC, decided that capping was an option to get rid of the dump at the site.

In the year 2013, the Goa State Pollution Control Board (GSPCB) objected to the capping of the dump citing that the land of the MMC at Sonsoddo will be wasted. The pollution control board suggested bio-mining the garbage. The board was appointed as the nodal agency and a tender was floated for the work. Enter Ecopro Environmental services; the firm selected for bio-mining of the waste at Sonsoddo.

By the time the council could give a thought to bio-mining, it was 2015 and the then council elections, changed the scenario at MMC. The Fatorda Forward and Model Margao groups formed a ruling council with Babita Angle as the Chairperson and Dorris Texeira as the Vice Chairperson.

After much ado, the Ecopro firm gave a presentation on bio-mining to MMC but they sadly couldn't convince the council. Soon came the Assembly elections in 2017 wherein the entire political scenario changed again.

Now, the Fatorda MLA enjoyed the support of the Government and the political tables in the MMC too turned. The TCP and Agriculture Minister Vijai Sardessai in April 2017 got a garbage screen at the Sonsoddo dump. In a matter of 1 and half months managed to reduce the garbage dump by at least 16 to 20 thousand tonnes. This is the only successful attempt to clear the dump past in decades. However, yet again the delay in finding a permanent solution led to the doubling of the piled up garbage at the dump. It has been alleged that Fomento Green was only settling the waste inside the plant and dumping it into Sonsoddo without any treatment. This has been a bone of contention between the MMC and Fomento Green over the functioning of the plant as claimed and the payments for the same.

 Over the last two decades, right from the first scientific attempt to resolve the dump issue to the current state where there was an fire that raged on for days, accompanied with problems of leachate, unsegregated garbage that was only rising in size; it raises questions about the amount of time and money that has been spent in the name of treating the garbage at Sonsoddo. 



For the last 20 years what has been constant is the blind approach of the Margao Municipality towards the major problems of the town. Even though today, MMC has decided to ban plastic and cut water connections if non-segregated waste is given, MMC hasn't done any homework and doesn't have any plan of action in black and white.
All will be surprised by the fact that the 25 ward council still runs the administration on the basis of 16 wards in Municipal records. The municipality, except for some crude sample survey doesn't have any study on the garbage the civic body is currently handling across the two constituencies. 
The MMC collects crores of rupees in the form of garbage fees bundled with house tax but doesn't have an idea about their tax assessees in full when it comes to figuring out how and why the door to door waste collection system is failing, ward by ward. There has been no proper review about how the collection of waste, segregation, and treatment of the same is being done and how it needs to improve. Now the MMC attempts to enforce segregation of waste, in view of the recent fire, but there is no plan regarding creating awareness and ensuring that everything will happen according to plan.  There has been criticism over how  MMC measures all of Margao with the same yardstick for commercial and residential areas.
It’s been 20 years since plastic waste started creating problems at the dump site. It was expected that the MMC would have a recycling unit in place for plastic.  But successive councils have not only failed to put in a functional plan to tackle this problem, the problems at the garbage dump site have also continued to increase year by year, even though lakhs of rupees have been spent on this issue.   
Today the dump at Sonsoddo stands at over 2 lakh metric tonnes and has crossed the height of 15 metres. Now, that it has been capped with mud the garbage that is generated daily is ultimately going to go on to the same dump due to the absence of treatment facility. What will the council and the government do in this case is a question that has been asked in the past and will continue to be asked in the future, with no real solution in sight. 
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