Brahmapuram violates the right to life ensured by the constitution

Adarsh Balachandran

The right to life guaranteed under Article 21 undoubtedly includes the Right to a safe environment that includes the right to clean air and water.

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In 1991, the Supreme Court of India while pronouncing its verdict in the landmark case Subhash Kumar Vs State of Bihar and others declared that the right to life is a basic right protected under Article 21 of the constitution that gives a person the right to live with clean air and water. This was in response to a public interest litigation filed against the dumping of wastewater into river Bokaro by two steel plants operating in the area which polluted both air and water. The right to life guaranteed under Article 21 undoubtedly includes the Right to a safe environment that includes the right to clean air and water. This was pronounced in the verdict of Bandhua Mukti Morcha Vs Union of India & Others. Further in the State of Punjab & Ors Vs Mohinder Singh Chawla, the Supreme court has said that the Right to health is fundamental to right to life and should be put on record that the government is constitutionally bound to provide health services.

Urban wastes in India

For the past 12 days, Kochi is reeling under severe manmade disasters. Tons of waste dumped at the site of Brahmapuram caught fire emitting poisonous gases into the surroundings. These gases pose a threat to the health of all the inhabitants of Kochi and neighbouring districts. According to census figures from 2011, 31 percent of India's population lives in cities. But this population of approximately 377 million generates 143449 metric tonnes of municipal solid waste according to the central pollution control board. The management of Municipal solid waste is the responsibility of Urban local bodies in India.

Performance of Kochi in Swachh Survekshan

The Union Ministry of Urban Development laid out a roadmap for the segregation and processing of urban solid wastes in 2016 under Swacch Bharat Abhiyan urban. However, none of the guidelines were met and followed at Kochi. As part of Swacch Bharat Abhiyan, the Swachh survey has been conducted by the Government of India since 2016. Kochi corporation fared poorly in the rankings in 2022 with a national rank of 298 . Non-availability of open garbage dumps and lack of daily sweeping in residential areas were between 50% and 75% at Kochi and its score in the cleanliness of market areas was less than 25%.

The Madhya Pradesh model

Officials of Kerala can learn from the Madhya Pradesh model of waste management in cities. Cities of Madhya pradesh such as Indore and Bhopal have done wonders in Municipal waste management. Indore has been continuously maintaining the top spot in the Swacch Survekshan rankings. There has been massive public participation in this process. Indore city has used garbage to produce revenue. After filtration 50 percent of the nonrecyclable plastic waste is converted into fuel. Indore Municipal corporation generates manure, diesel, petrol, and gas from the garbage. On a day-to-day basis, 1900 tonnes of Municipal trash is being processed at Indore. This includes 1200 tons of dry waste and 700 tons of wet waste. The total estimated population of Indore is 35 lakhs. The Indore Municipal corporation was able to generate 14.45 crores from waste disposal in 2021, including Rs 8.5 crores from International Sale of carbon credits and Rs 2.52 crore as annual premium from Bio CNG production. As many as 150 city buses in Indore are run using this bio CNG. The Indore municipal corporation also raises revenue via green bonds. These green bonds which were listed in the National stock exchange of India received an overwhelming response with an overall subscription of 5.91 times the issue size. Bhopal, the victim of the worst man-made disaster in 1984, was able to bring great changes in solid waste management. While Kerala was busy destroying the natural environment of Brahmapuram in the name of waste management, Bhopal reclaimed nearly 37 acres of wasteland. The ugly mountainous pile of garbage existed on 37 acres of land in Bhopal. Today amongst these 37 acres of land 21 acres of land are recovered through biomining and the rest 16 acres were capped. Today this 37 acres is a wonderful landscape and the Municipal government plans to utilize this land for other purposes. The bioremediation technique adopted by Bhopal is a unique example of outstanding solid waste management in India.

Solutions ahead

The Kerala government must urgently study the waste management process being adopted across various other states of India. Critics may argue that the population challenge, population density, and weather factors are different in Kerala when compared to other states of India. However, what is required above all of this is the necessary will to execute good projects for the public regardless of political differences. If the state government and urban authorities fail to take any further action, then naturally the 'Absolute liability' clause of the Supreme court of India in M C Mehta VS Union of India will apply and this will eventually lead to people's loss of trust in the political system. Both the opposition and ruling parties must hence work together hand in hand for common good. In order to avert a disaster like Brahmapuram across other local self-governing institutions strict rules must be enforced. Hotels and restaurant chains must be subsidized to set up their bio gas plants within their premises. This would help them also generate the required biogas for cooking purposes. Individuals must take extra care while segregating the waste as the source. Instead of a centralized plant, mini bio decomposers could be installed within a distance of every 2-3 kilometres to encourage residents. Kerala follows a model where individuals have to pay the municipalities for waste collection and disposal. This must urgently be replaced by the model where the residents and consumers are rewarded for segregating the same and handing it over to the waste decomposer plants. Residents must be rewarded sufficiently for good mannerisms in waste disposal by way of incentives and recognition. Municipalities and state governments must explore innovative ways to generate revenue rather than burdening the citizens with more taxes. Only then the dream of garbage-free, clean cities will become a reality.

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