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HomeIndiaKochi fire is out but HC is taking note, seeking details about...

Kochi fire is out but HC is taking note, seeking details about money spent on waste machinesNews WAALI

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The fire at the dumping ground at Kochi’s Brahmapuram waste treatment plant has been extinguished 11 days after it started on March 2, leaving a blanket of toxic fumes over Kerala’s commercial hub.

Ernakulam District Collector NSK Umesh said the fire was completely extinguished on Monday evening and the air quality has improved in the region.

“However, we would maintain a first class vigil in the region for the next 48 hours as there is a chance of a re-ignition. All the government workers and volunteers who took part in the fire-fighting mission at the factory would undergo a detailed medical examination on Tuesday in a special camp. They would get psychological support with subsequent programmes,” he said.

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Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court has directed the Kochi Municipal Corporation to provide details of expenditure on waste management in the last seven years. A Division Bench of Justice SV Bhatti and Basant Balaji, which is hearing a suo motu case in relation to the dump yard fire, on Monday ordered the secretary of the municipal corporation to “place before the court on Tuesday all the payments made by KMC under the heads of collection, transportation, transfer, treatment etc. for the last seven years to contractors or staff under any head”.

The corporation has also been asked to clarify the agreement that allowed a “free hand to a third party over the responsibility of the Brahmapuram waste treatment plant”.

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Even as the fire and smoke cleared in Kochi, heated exchanges were witnessed in the State Assembly where the ruling CPI(M) and the Opposition Congress blamed each other for the situation.

Seeking a CBI investigation into the fire incident, the Congress-led Opposition said the garbage was “deliberately set on fire” to help the company, Zonta Infratech, which was tasked with bio-mining in the dump yard.

Leader of the Opposition VD Satheesan said that the company, which was raised by the government to clear the garbage, realized that an audit by the government would reveal its failure to remove the waste. “So, the rubbish was deliberately set on fire,” he said.

Countering the allegations, Local Self Government Department Minister MB Rajesh told the Assembly that the state government had effectively intervened in the matter and blamed the United Democratic Front (UDF) for “mismanagement” in the waste treatment works.

“When the UDF was ruling the Kochi corporation (between 2010 and 2020), there were fire incidents in Brahmapuram. In 2015, the municipal corporation handed over the waste management to the state government, which decided in 2018 to start a project for generating energy from waste. But, the council led by the UDF did not take any steps to realize the project. Therefore, the government had to employ a new contractor for bio-mining with a deadline of June this year,” said the minister.

He said that it should be seriously looked into how waste management in Kochi, which had won the central government’s award for the best waste-free city in 2009, has reached this “deplorable state”. “During the UDF regimes in the Kochi corporation between 2010 and 2020, the waste management project was shelved. The sewage treatment plant, which was started in 2008, was working well until 2010 when the LDF was in force between 2005 and 2010,” said Rajesh.

The Minister said that the UDF regimes of the corporation “failed to maintain the garbage factory”. “As a result, a large amount of inorganic waste piled up in Brahmapuram and grew to around 5 lakh tonnes. The existing municipal corporation was trying its best to process and dispose of the garbage, which caught fire,” he said.

Satheesan claimed that the minister was speaking on behalf of the contractor company. “Was there any probe into the fire on the rubbish hill. The minister justifies the contractors only to protect the interests of certain quarters,” he said.

The Opposition leader also blamed Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who holds the environment and Pollution Control Board portfolios, for the fire. “The prime minister holds these portfolios but has not said a word in the Assembly. (This is) Because he has allowed the partisans to loot the treasury,” he said.

Zonta Infratech Private Limited, which has undertaken waste management in Brahmapuram, said in a statement that its work was only to rehabilitate legacy waste adopting bio-excavation and capping mechanisms. He said that the company has complied with all the terms and conditions of the contract agreement with the Kochi corporation. The work did not include daily litter management or plastic waste recycling, he said.