Out of Control
To understand the gravity of Goa’s garbage problem, medicine it’s necessary to look outside the state – to all the places on the planet where there are NO piles of trash lining the roads, where drivers and bus passengers do NOT toss their litter out of the window, where once pristine countryside has NOT been transformed into a massive waste bin.
And now imagine yourself as a potential visitor trying to figure out where best to spend your hard-earned holiday. Do you choose a place like the ones described above, which are the world’s norm anyway, or do you choose the one major beach destination that’s allowed itself to become an unsightly rubbish dump?
Let us all take a deep breath and acknowledge the uncomfortable truth.
Goa’s garbage is completely out of control. It is defacing the state’s natural beauty. It is destroying tourism. It is diminishing our quality of life.
Now there are explanations for how we came to this unfortunate juncture, starting with the Portuguese legacy of criminally ignoring, especially in rural areas, civic amenities like sewage and waste disposal. For whatever reason, the infrastructure for effectively dealing with garbage was never constructed in Goa – and officials have consistently shirked their responsibility to clean up the mess, which has grown progressively worse as tourism took off.
Yes, it is true all citizens must do their part to segregate waste, recycle and not litter. But with the magnitude of the crisis we’re facing, it’s important to be clear about ultimate responsibility. Around the world, garbage collection is a government undertaking – along with other basic services such as education, health care and policing.
For Goa’s garbage problem to be solved definitively, our elected officials must make it happen. And the rest of us must hold them accountable.
We know the government can do it if it wanted to. Do you remember last year’s panic when the Lusofonia games were two weeks away and authorities had not yet completed the sports stadiums? All stops were pulled out and they were miraculously completed on time. Imagine if all the money and energy that went into accomplishing that feat had been directed at solving the garbage menace.
With garbage strewn everywhere, one can’t help but wonder why public resources are being devoted to wine festivals and tourist hotels and boat excursions. It’s like neglecting to stock up on groceries so you can purchase a BMW.
When the BJP came to power three years ago, it made this promise in its Vision Document: “Goa to be plastic free within a period of three years. Garbage management for the entire state within 18 months in consultation with all stakeholders.”
Knock knock government of Goa. Anyone home?
Check out this rant from one professional working in Goa:
“It not only destroys the aesthetics of our beautiful sunny state, but also creates a lot of health hazards. With cows eating polythene and pigs breeding around the filth, there are a lot of other pathogenic creatures that come into being like mosquitoes and houseflies. The situation is likely to worsen as the monsoon hits.”
Or this, from another resident with a seaview home in North Goa:
“I’m flabbergasted at the amount of garbage now on Goa’s roads. I think it’s more out of control now than at any time I can remember. Recently, I wanted to take the family for a picnic, but every area around our house overlooking the river and sea is literally inundated with garbage and litter. It is deeply sad.”
Of course, it would not be correct to say authorities are making no efforts to address the problem.
The Solid Waste management cell working under the Department of Science and Technology has set up a system of collecting “non-recyclable dry waste” from each village panchayat. This plastic, which is mainly packets, wrappers, carry bags and sachets, is then baled and sent off to incinerators in neighbouring Karnataka.
“145 of the 190 village panchayats in Goa are on board with this initiative and we collect the waste from them and send it to our sorting centre in Sarvan, Bicholim, from where it is sent for incineration,” said José Manuel Noronha, Chairman of the Goa State Pollution Control Board.
Through this initiative, the State collects as much as five tons of plastic a day or 150 tons of plastic a month.
This, of course, is a small fraction of the total. According to the Goa State Pollution Control Board, about 170 tonnes of waste are generated on a daily basis across all municipal areas. Along with the 189 village panchayats, that number comes close to a whopping 400 tonnes, 50 per cent of which is non-biodegradable plastic. (By the way, burning of plastic is a major source of air pollution in Goa, often raising particulate pollution to dangerous levels)
The system’s weakest link is the local village panchayat, or the municipal body. As part of this system, the local body is supposed to collect waste lying along the roads or go door to door, segregating waste – wet from dry, recyclable from the non-recyclable – and dispose of the waste accordingly.
The wet waste is supposed to go for composting, the recyclable to the recyclers and the non-recyclable for baling and incineration.
“While panchayats have agreed to do this on paper, when it comes to putting it into practise, many are falling short of their responsibility, especially when it comes to collection and segregation,” Noronha lamented.
It’s true the problem is worse in some areas than it is in others. Panjim, the capital, has undoubtedly done the best job, with citizens now regularly separating waste at source and collection proceeding. And Canacona recently acquired waste bins for citizens to place their litter (another big issue: how can folks be instructed not to litter if they have no place to throw it?)
For its part, the department and the Pollution Board have been going around educating village panchayats about their role. But after initial enthusiasm, many panchayats are found to be slacking.
While the government would like to conveniently blame the local bodies for failing to pick up garbage from the roads, it hasn’t fulfilled its side of the bargain, either.
The much touted ‘German technology’ plant that is to come up on the Saligao Calangute plateau is yet to see the light of day. Even as the government has laid the foundation stone, the project is facing litigation before the National Green Tribunal in Delhi that has the potential to derail it.
But even simpler tasks have not been done, like the timely renewal of the contract of those who remove garbage along highways. Much of the recent garbage accumulation along roads occurred because the contract of the collection agency expired in late January and it took the government 15 days to renew it. In the interim, garbage continued to accumulate and will only now begin to be cleared away.
All this begs another question. Why do so many people – locals and tourists alike – feel so free to dump their garbage on the road? For starters, many people are unaware of the alternatives – from composting to recycling to the avoidance of non-biodegradables. It’s not just that, however. The public has to be taught that littering is unacceptable, and fines must be imposed.
Public awareness campaigns can and do work. A major one is required right now, and its title can be, “Keep Goa Beautiful.”
For more information about what you can do to help solve Goa’s waste management issues, log onto http://www.greengoaworks.in/