HT Spotlight: Down in the dumps, Punjab cities cry foul


Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal’s big plan to clean up the urban squalour by setting up ultra-modern waste management plants has run into a rough weather, thanks to opposition from within the party and residents. Mired in controversies and public outcry, Rs 636-cr projects have failed to take off in Jalandhar, Patiala and Amritsar. The Bathinda unit was shut a week after trial run. HT digs deep into the garbage mess.

Several crore rupees are down the drain, as the Turkish-model garbage treatment plant here is lying waste.

Started as a pilot project on the turf of the ruling Badal family, the 20-acre plant on the Bathinda-Mansa road ran into public opposition in just a week of the trial run in January. Unable to control the odour, the management shut the facility. After last November, the project has missed several more deadlines. National Green Tribunal (NGT) approved it in 2014 and Delhi-based JITF is the operating company.

People who live around it have protested many times in the past few months. An example of poor groundwork, the plant is reduced to a dumping zone for tonnes of solid waste brought every day from Bathinda. The plant was to cater to 18 municipalities and treat at least 350 tonnes of waste.

The site’s proximity to the residential areas is a concern that the Punjab government and Bathinda Municipal Corporation overlooked. The plant is just 100 metres from more than 15 colonies, with the green belt included in the plan not yet grown. In 2013, people moved the Punjab and Haryana high court against the selection of site but the case was moved to the NGT, which dismissed the objection.

Besides environment and health, the plant has hit the realty market in Bathinda’s peripheral area, taken the price of each square yard from Rs 12,000 to Rs 8,000. Jit Singh Joshi, convener of the residents’ committee against the project, said: “It is the matter of our existence, and a fight for our future generations.”

Plant head Nitesh Tripathi said the PPCB scientists and consultants from Thapar University will suggest design and chemical-technology improvements to stop the odour from leaking.

Since the game about a treatment plant at Jamsher started in July 2011, former hockey skipper Pargat Singh is solid in defence of the interests of his Jalandhar Cantonment constituency.

Delhi-based company JITF Urban Infrastructure was to claim Rs 2 lakh a tonne for door-to-door collection of garbage from 23 local bodies of the Doaba region and its incineration on 23 acres at the village nearby. From Day One, people of more than 10 villages are up against the project, though Punjab Pollution Control Board (PPCB), the central environment department, and National Green Tribunal have cleared it.

The state government claims no health risk is involved, but villagers already are sick of the Dairy Complex project under which all the city’s scattered cattle farms were moved outside to one area. With no sewerage or bio-gas plant provided, the cow dung and other waste from these dairies fouls their noses.

Emboldened by Pargat’s opposing the treatment plant project last July, many villagers said openly before a high-powered committee led by SK Sandhu, special principal secretary to the chief minister, that at the clearance stage, the PPCB had overruled their concerns.

“Driving through Jalandhar Cantt’s heart, more than 400 trucks of solid waste from different places will empty at Jamsher every day. Leave villages, even in the city would be hell,” said Pargat.

The solid waste management plant for Patiala and nearby districts announced in 2009 at Dudhar village, 20 km from here, has failed to take off because of opposition by the locals, backed by higher education minister Surjit Singh Rakhra.

Locals see it as a major health hazard. Malkiat Singh, member of the sangharsh committee formed by nearly 20 villages to oppose the plant, says, “Why should we allow urban people to use our village as a dumping ground? Don’t treat villagers as second-class citizens. If urban people generate solid waste, they should handle it in their cities. We won’t allow solid waste of four districts to be dumped here.”

He says, “If the plant is built here, it will ruin 20 villages in the vicinity.” Dudhar village initially had passed a resolution to allow the project and signed an agreement, but now its residents, besides those of nearby villages, have started opposing it.

The holy city is grappling with garbage mess.

While the city — that witnesses a significant tourist footfall every year and generates around 600 metric tonnes of garbage daily — has no regular system of lifting and disposing of waste, the Rs 290-crore solid waste management project is caught in political crossfire with vehement protests from various quarters, including residents of Bhagtanwala — where the plant is proposed to be set up.

At the forefront of these protests is Akali MLA Inderbir Bolaria who has openly slammed his government for choosing his constituency (Amritsar south) to set up the plant. The entire city’s waste is dumped at Bhagtanwala in an unprofessional manner. The 25-acre yard is surrounded by scores of residential colonies that house nearly 60,000 people. The foodgrain market is just yards from it.

Residents say the plant will make their life hell as garbage from adjoining districts will also be brought to Bhagtanwala. The project, conceived in 2006, will also have private funding. Once functional, it will process 900 tonnes of garbage each day and produce electricity.

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