Saturday, September 5, 2009

Cleaning up the mess, rubbish, et al

Read this article in Time Of India about plans to clean up cooum. Just another dirty water body, the way we see it in India. Every city in India can boast of such living "monuments" that serve as a tribute to our general disregard. Sewage and chemical waste from factories are flown into the water bodies nearby as if it were our birth right to do so. We want our homes to be clean but do not care much for rivers, canals and oceans which are outside the physical boundaries of our own homes. I remember reading some where that while we, in India, are particular about ritual purification of our homes we do not mind throwing the waste over the wall to the other side. So here we are with numerous polluted canals, rivers, lakes and ponds. Thankfully, oceans are big enough to look clean for the most part. That is if we choose to ignore the fish, whales and other creatures of the sea that suffer silently the vices of our actions. And why would anyone care for things that do not yet have a voting right nor would file Public Interest Litigation petitions.

Coming back to the news on Cooum. 99 crores to clean up this river which was made into a stagnant sewer. The "expert" team which went a few days back to study the clean up of San Antonio river now wants to visit Singapore and study the Singapore river. Is this some kind of world tour. Also, can we not apply our common sense to solve such issues. Here's what I think should be the steps

1. First, stop the dumping of further dirt into the river. This is absolutely necessary if we are wee bit serious about this effort.
2. Relocate people living on the banks of the river. This will aid the clean up process.
3. Finally the obvious: Start the clean up.

There are numerous hurdles (political and otherwise) to each of these steps.

For the first point, we should have the political will to stop the sewage dumping and find alternative ways of processing the garbage. Sewerage from residences would form a substantial part of this. We need to find ways of processing/reusing the waste on the site where they are created: Bio-gas, manure and so on. Second comes the industrial component, which by the way is the big fish which is let to slip through the gaping loop holes in our law. Unprocessed chemical waste is being dumped into the river and other water bodies like the erst while Buckingham Canal. As usual, our politicians turn a blind eye to it; they anyway do not live anywhere near these nor use the polluted water for anything.

Relocating people living on the banks of the river is next to impossible they we handle things now. Some people settle "on" the river. Yes, I said it right, "On" on the river. They build mud and thatched houses on the tracts of land that come up in the middle of the river when the water recedes/dries up. Due to lack of other options, the same land comes to be used as bathroom, washing bin, commode and what not, adding to the already dirty surroundings. Its plain disregard to even let people live in such situations. Unhygienic conditions cause various diseases for which the government anyway ends up spending on. Its a lot better to spend it up front to relocate them other more clean places. But if we do that, how can we preserve slums which can act as easy vote banks. And in rainy season, when the river has a little more water, these houses-on-river invariably get flooded or washed away so the people can claim damages and political parties can play savior to them with tax payers money. Honestly, if you live "On" a river, wouldn't the house get flooded once in a while. Can't we have better places to build houses? What has our slum control board doing all these years if these prominent slums still remain in the middle of the city?

And once we have "succeeded" in the first two steps, the actual process of clean up can begin. The usual process of tenders and contracts which well orchestrated to hand over the cash to the "friends" of the political class. When the cleaning starts, we need to look at where the junk needs to be transfered to. Obviously not another river or lake or ocean. Not to mention the diversion of the incoming wastes to another place.

Is it really so difficult to keep a water body clean. No, I think, going by what has been set as a precedent by other countries. We do have the disadvantage of an ever growing population with many not having access to even a basic level of education. But if we can start off a move to keep our surroundings clean at some level and keep up the momentum, sooner or later our rivers could become the thriving ecosystems they once were.

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