A judge has sought the Kerala High Court Chief Justice’s intervention in the Brahmapuram waste plant fire incident even as 30 fire tenders, two Navy helicopters, around 125 firefighters, and others battled to douse the blaze.
Justice Devan Ramachandran wrote to the chief justice on Monday, 6 March, pointing to the toxic fumes that have blanketed Kochi, Kerala’s commercial capital, and requested him to intervene in the matter.
Fire incidents at the Brahmapuram waste plant run by the Kochi Corporation have almost become an annual affair when the mercury shoots up during the summer season.
Though the fire seemed to be extinguished, thick smoke was still billowing from garbage mounds spread over 75 acres.
District authorities said the fire tenders were using approximately 40,000 litres of water each to put out the smoke.
Ernakulam District Collector Dr Renu Raj said 60,000 litres of water is being used per minute to bring the situation under control.
The authorities have pressed into use six excavators to pick up the waste and pump water underneath. It has been suspected plastic materials in the waste are still smouldering.
IAF role in operation
Officials are employing the flooding method to bring the smoke under control. They said that water is being taken from the nearby Kadamprayar river with the help of floating earth-moving equipment and powerful machines are being used to extinguish smoke by flooding the entire area which is under fire.
The Navy helicopter, the Sea King, collected water from a nearby reservoir and poured it over the smoke-filled waste plant site which has been ravaged by fire.
The helicopter flew two sorties, one at 9 am in the morning and the other at 3.30 pm, and waterbombed the yard, the district collector said.
Helicopters of the Indian Air Force from Sulur Air Base in Coimbatore will join the operations on Tuesday, 7 March.
Machinery from Cochin International Airport Limited, too, has been pressed into service.
Collector Raj said the operation will continue round-the-clock from Monday. Earlier, it was called off by nightfall.
Congress demands high court-monitored probe
The Opposition Congress alleged contractors tasked with segregating and removing garbage deliberately torched the mounds of waste.
Alleging that the contractors are close to the CPI(M), the Congress leader demanded a high court-monitored probe into the incident.
Opposition leader in the state Assembly VD Satheesan said the government and Kochi Corporation sided with the contractors to set the garbage on fire.
Minister refutes charge
Refuting the allegations, Minister for Local Government Institutions MB Rajesh said the situation was under control and there was no need for panic.
He added that no serious health issues have been reported.
Toxic fumes that engulfed several parts of the city forced the authorities to ask citizens to stay indoors and use N-95 masks if venturing outdoors.
Health Minister Veena George advised the elderly, pregnant women, children, and those with pulmonary issues to adopt the necessary steps to avoid exposure to smoke. Collector Raj, too, issued the same advisory in a video message posted on Facebook on Monday.
Holiday for schools
On Monday, Anganwadis, kindergartens, day-care centres, and classes one to seven of government-aided, unaided, CBSE and ICSE schools remained closed in Vadavukodu-Puthenkurisu (Puthencruz), Kizhakkambalam, and Kunnathunadu gram panchayats and Trikkakara, Tripunithura and Maradu municipalities, and Kochi Corporation limits.
The district collector has declared a holiday for students of classes one to seven on Tuesday also.
At least 20 firefighters were administered first-aid after they complained of respiratory issues. Reports said a dozen others sought medical help for headache, sore throat, burning sensation in the eyes, vomiting, and high blood pressure from a government hospital near Brahmapuram.
A team of doctors from the Ernakulam General Hospital will camp at the scene from Tuesday to provide necessary support to the firefighters and others, the collector said.
The toxic fumes gave a hazy look to Vyttila — one of the busiest junctions in Kerala — Kakkanad, Maradu, and other areas. The fumes spread to Aroor in the neighbouring Alappuzha district also.
SHRC seeks action-taken report
The State Human Rights Commission Chairperson Justice Antony Dominic has directed the state Chief Secretary, Ernakulam District Collector, and others to submit a report on the action taken to permanently solve the smoke issues from the fire at the plant.
According to the data on the Kerala Pollution Control Board website, the PM 2.5 and PM 10 particulates’ levels in the air in Kochi were above the prescribed standards.
The level of PM 2.5, tiny particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter that can enter deep into the lungs and even the bloodstream, was found to be 79.7 ug/m3, at around 1:45 PM today, as against the normal standard of 60.PM 10, particles with a diameter of fewer than 10 micrometres, level were recorded at 119.6 as against a normal of 100.
District Collector Raj said on Monday evening that the air quality level has improved compared to the previous days. Vyttila recorded 148 parts per million (PPM), while Eloor reported a PPM of 92.
The fire broke out in the waste dumped at the plant on Thursday, 2 March.
Meanwhile, garbage collected from various parts of the city is kept in lorries after local residents foiled attempts to dump them at Brahmapuram on Sunday, 5 March.
Corporation officials later held talks with the residents and promised that garbage would not be brought to Brahmapuram until the blaze is completely doused.
(With PTI inputs)