Illegal dumping pose significant health, environmental and social risks to communities, in addition to polluting land, air and water. The lack of a logistical, integrated and regulated approach in the waste management hierarchy continues to plague Chennai and given the nature and extent of illegal dumping, the state has a long journey ahead to sustainable waste management.
Chennai originally known as Madras until 1996 is the Capital of the Indian State of Tamil Nadu located on the Coromandel Coast off the Bay of Bengal and is the cultural, economic and educational hub of the South. Muthukadu is located south-east of Chennai in the Chengalpattu District, around 30 kms south of the city center, along the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR) and it’s backwaters form a shallow estuary which opens into the Bay of Bengal.
Until a few years ago, OMR was just a long empty stretch but today boasts a rapidly changing skyline, home to prominent IT companies, BPOs, educational institutions, hospitals, shopping malls, hotels, multinational companies and plush townships with luxury apartments and villas. This rampant urbanization, industrialization and increasing population in this new peri-urban expansion pose unique challenges on its local governance, civic status and most importantly the lack of sustainable transformations with respect to water, sanitation, waste management and disposal, unregulated construction, environment and safety.
Effects of Illegal Dumping
In the context of waste management, the gated residential communities on the OMR along the banks of the Muthukadu backwaters are grappling with significant concerns over the persistent and unresolved issues of illegal burning and dumping of garbage along the waterfront and raw sewage/sludge into this backwater. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, disposal and burning of bags with bio-medical waste is a grave concern and pose risks to health and safety, breeding ground for diseases, environmental contamination, impact on property value and quality of life.
“We take pride in our beautiful township with the backwaters, lush landscaping and ponds but over the years the radical change in the landscape to a dump yard is something we did not foresee. The smell of decomposing waste and smoke from burning waste shrouds the community in thick haze almost every other day,” says Mr. Raghavan, President of the Union of Tower Association of the Hiranandani Community. He further adds that despite several complaints to the highest authorities, the local bodies, police stations and petitions submitted online there have been no proper investigations or accountability.
Causes of Illegal Dumping
The garbage trucks and sewage water tankers use early morning hours or the dead of night to sneak through the side lanes to avoid residents seeing them and the possibility of being caught. It is clearly evident that they are able to cut corners as they continue to engage in illegal dumping despite lodging complaints and presenting evidence to the civic bodies. This continues to remain a challenge however, with persistent plea for action, the authorities are seen clearing the stretch, imposing fines and impounding trucks. These quick-fix measures are temporary and their failure to regularly check, leads to resumption of dumping in the same place or they move a kilometer away along the stretch.
In the absence of underground drainage connections in this zone, while most of the multistoried residential complexes have their own STPs, others pay for tankers to clear their sewage and few of them resort to illegal connections of their sewage pipelines to the storm water drains that flow into the backwaters.
The stakeholders in the waste management chain have their own enmeshed reasons and incentives to illegally dump and burn garbage. They claim it’s more convenient to dump illegally, to save on disposal fees and transportation costs to authorized facilities which are almost 12 kms away. Each truck typically waits for a couple of hours for their turn at these facilities and this considerably reduces the number of trips. The lack of disposal facilities, recycling units and legal dump yards in this Zone is a major issue. If any fines for the offenders, they are probably much less than the cost of proper waste disposal. Contractors are also not stringent on proper waste segregation because they earn revenue proportional to the quantity of waste transported to the landfills and facilities.
Solutions to Illegal Dumping
To deter non-compliance and make sure illegal dumping is averted, a holistic approach is the need of the hour. Though law enforcement and prosecution is fundamental, a collective community responsibility and diligent reporting and action by authorities can curb the activity to a large extent.
Outreach through education, awareness and enforcing segregation at source is the first step. In addition, Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) to regulate management and disposal of waste and set-up waste management facilities in all zones. The strengthening of fines, impounding vehicles, revocation of license or permits and charging contractors for clean-up of sites needs to be reviewed. A dedicated enforcement and prosecution team attached to an illegal dumping prevention program to conduct surveillance, inspections and investigations will be a great step forward; to also include other Government agencies – health, sewer and environment authorities.
If lack of resources, the authority to delegate to a local entity and clearly define responsibilities, communication and coordination with all stakeholders and in addition, ensure regular patrolling and resident volunteers to monitor and report any instances of illegal dumping to these enforcement officials. Consider setting lower disposal fees at facilities to encourage contractors to use the lawfully stipulated waste disposal systems.
As a final goal, discussions are on with top-ranking officials and relevant authorities for setting-up a STP and Waste processing & recycling plant within a 5Km radius of this zone. This will be an appealing alternative to reduce costs of transportation to distant facilities, more collections and encourage safe waste disposal. Many of the residential communities, corporates, hotels and others have engaged government authorized private waste management operators to ensure proper handling and disposal of waste.
By addressing issues that motivate illegal dumping, enforcing prevention mechanisms, constantly reviewing and refining strategies with relevant authorities and encouraging community engagement could just lead the way to combating illegal dumping of waste and following all norms of proper waste management.