The Kerala High Court on Tuesday, 7 March, observed that the port city of Kochi had become a “gas chamber” due to the toxic smoke emanating due to the fire at the Brahmapuram waste plant, which has been raging for five days now.
A division bench of Justices S V Bhatti and Basant Balaji sought to know if the blaze could be completely extinguished by Wednesday afternoon.
On Monday, the court picked up a suo motu case after Justice Devan Ramachandran wrote to the Chief Justice seeking the court’s intervention in the matter.
“We make it clear that we do not want parties to get into a parallel litigation without actually addressing the proper issue which is the very essence of the suo motu case,” it observed.
During the hearing of the matter on Tuesday morning, the bench said that the people of Kochi were “trapped in a gas chamber-like situation” even though there were no industries in the city.
Such a situation does not happen even in cities like Hyderabad and Secunderabad, which have several industries, the court pointed out.
The bench directed the Kochi Corporation secretary and the chairman of the Kerala Pollution Control Board (KPCB) to be present in the afternoon.
‘Streamline waste management by 6 June’
The bench asked a slew of questions in the afternoon, including whether the fire was man-made.
It also sought to know if the plant was inspected regularly and the steps that were initiated against the unauthorised dumping of waste.
It also noted that the documents placed before it by the KPCB were “far from reality”.
Besides that, the court also said that it would ensure that waste management in Kochi was streamlined before 6 June.
It directed the authorities, including the corporation, that no one who was found to have violated the law be allowed to go unpunished, and that all the officials concerned should work in an efficient manner.
The bench directed the authorities to place before it a detailed report on what had to be done to address the prevailing situation in the city and also the issue of waste management in the long term.
During the hearing, the corporation claimed that such fires were occurring across the country and that the blaze at the waste plant was completely extinguished.
It also told the court that its officials regularly visited the waste plant and that CCTV cameras were placed and awareness campaigns carried out to curb instances of unauthorised dumping of garbage and littering.
Water bodies turned into dumpsites: HC
The high court bench, after looking at the manner of implementation of Solid Waste Management and Handling Rules, posed a question to the advocate general on the necessity of having a holistic implementation of these rules in the state.
“The state of Kerala claims to be Number 1 in literacy in the Centre. This bench would like to know whether the state of Kerala would like to be Number 1 in protecting the environment and implementing Solid Waste Management Handling Rules,” said the court.
Talking about the plight of the water bodies in the state, the bench said dumping waste in them could be prevented by issuing proper directions to local authorities.
“There are enough number of water bodies in the State of Kerala and no one is listening to their plight. All water bodies are getting converted as dump sites. This possibility can be prevented when all the local authorities concerned with protecting the water bodies are issued proper directions,” read the order.
KPCB blames the Kochi corporation
The KPCB blamed the corporation for the pollution levels in Kochi.
It said the corporation was not following the directions issued by the board.
The court said there was no point in the authorities blaming one another.
Instead, it said, they should also work together to find a solution to the problem.
It said that there should be a three-pronged approach at the corporation, municipality and the panchayat level to address the issue of waste management.
No big rise in respiratory illnesses: Collector
Over 30 fire tenders, Indian Navy choppers and personnel, as well as firefighting personnel and equipment from oil PSUs like Bharat Petroleum and Hindustan Petroleum were deployed in the last few days to control the blaze and extinguish it.
Ernakulam District Collector Renu Raj posted a video on Facebook stating that extinguishing the fire had been going on and the prime focus was to extinguish the smoke.
She said help from the Navy and Air Force was taken to spray water through helicopters.
According to the collector, firefighting staff from neighbouring districts were also called up to extinguish the blaze.
A medical camp was held under the District Medical Officer (DMO) at Bramhapuram dump yard to ensure that the staff doesn’t face any health issues during the operations.
“We are hoping the smoke-related issues will be completely solved in the next two days. Experts in the health sector are also enquiring whether the smoke is creating any kind of health effects,” said the collector.
She added that so far there had not been any big rise in the number of patients coming into hospitals for respiratory illnesses in hospitals in the city.
(With PTI inputs)