Ticking Bombs

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At a time when everybody is carrying a broom for a photo-op, Umar Mukhtar visted two south Kashmir villages to understand the crippling crisis that waste has created. While residents are not so unwilling to collect the waste, they say they lack a mechanism about its disposal in the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan

Ratnipora is one of Pulwama villages famous for its literacy and prosperity. While taking a turn from the Srinagar-Pulwama highway, the signboard ‘Model Village Ratnipora’ greets visitors. As the road settles in the village, a bad smell indicates a different address to the nostrils.

The garbage with littered plastic is seen on the both sides of the road.  This stench emanates from dumping sites where residents throw household waste. The high walls separating the concrete residences and clean kitchen gardens are unable to stop this stench.

Ghulam Mohammad, 60, a shopkeeper is so irritated by the foul smell that he wants to close his shop. He said the neighbouring housing cluster dumps their waste in front of his shop. His crisis originated from a small piece of land that is disputed between two brothers. This small patch is unattended and unfenced. This has converted the spot into a dumping site. If the shopkeeper objects to the dustbins being emptied there, he gets a curt response: “Ye kyah choun zameen cha.” (Is this your land?). He keeps quiet because his argument ends with this line.

“The real crisis is Polythene. People now wrap up their entire waste into polythene and then throw it away which prevents even the bio-degradable from getting naturally disposed off.”

Mohammad is tired of objecting people. But he has rational questions. “Where else would they dump their waste? I have to dispose-off my own dustbin there.” he said. In his childhood, Mohammad says, his neighbourhood used to be clean. “There was no such littering around as the waste that we produced was bio degradable. Most of it was used as manure for growing vegetables,” Mohammad said. “The real crisis is Polythene. People now wrap up their entire waste into polythene and then throw it away which prevents even the bio-degradable from getting naturally disposed off.”

Quietly but surely villages are changing and the change is so fast that the general society has skipped its significance. As incomes in the villages have appreciated, thanks to cash crops and the surging service sector, the waste is following the income. Even villagers admit the waste they produce is becoming a major problem. With emphasis on using every inch of available land for growth or living, there are not many spots in villages where waste will dump. Polythene is making it a major crisis. It moves into streams, paddy fields and the orchards. In certain cases, it goes into the food of the cattle and eventually killing them. “There is no difference between cities and the villages when it comes to waste, they also produce we also produce,” Mohammad Yousf, a local member of the Auqaf Committee said. “The only difference is that urban belts have a mechanism and villages do not have.”

This crisis has led to a new trend. In order to avoid confrontation with the neighbours, villagers throw their waste into the streams. This has created a new crisis: water bodies that once were the source of drinking water for villages have turned into dumping yards. The availability of tapped water has reduced the significance of the streams in village and their only significance is seen when the villages are on fire! Choking of streams has steadily increased the morbidity in the villages.

Koil is another major Pulwama village, sprawling though shabby. It is located within south Kashmir’s a rice bowl, not far away from the IAF’s Malangpora air base. There are heaps of garbage and waste almost after every 50 meters.

“It is Wabah,” octogenarian Ghulam Qadir said. “We will see an epidemic soon.”

Qadir says the Lar canal that runs through the village was once the only source for drinking water. Now the plastic bottles and the waste have made the canal look like a drainage outlet. A lady from the same village said she is segregating the waste in three dustbins for many years now. But she has then no option of disposing them off, separately. “Is this how Swatch Bharat Abhiyan runs?” she asked. “By taking a broom into the hands will yield nothing, I tell you.”

To give Swatch Bharat a practical shape, government through different media is educating people and encouraging them to use three dustbins of different colours for collecting the waste: green (garden waste and food), blue (mixed dry which can be latter recycled) and black (non-recyclable waste). But who knows where to dispose it off.

J&K has a fll-fledged Rural Sanitation Department. Officials said they have no mechanism where they can tackle issues like managing rural waste. It has only two schemes for the rural sanitation, individual house hold latrines (IHHL) and community sanitary complex (CSC). “We have sought suggestions for the solid and liquid waste management from experts but the suggestions are yet to come,” one official said.

 

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