In the aftermath of heavy rains, a horrific river of solid waste trash flows down from a dump yard 2.5 kilometres away to drown an entire village in the outskirts of Mangaluru city.
Mandara village is a victim of a man-made disaster that was waiting to happen due to the irresponsible attitudes of the city municipal corporation.
We have heard of mudslides washing away coffee plantations, houses, vehicles and human habitations. They seem to be so ‘yesterday’ when you hear of a river of solid waste trash coupled with leached material drowning an entire village!
Thanks to the callousness of the municipal authorities, what was once considered a model agrarian village — Mandara — is now fully submerged under several lakh tons of solid waste, turning the entire area of over five square kilometres of fertile land and thriving township into a ghost town.
And all this has happened within Mangaluru city’s limits — a city pegged to become a smart city soon and one that has been on the list of the top ten clean cities in the country.
Mandara was a village known for its scenic beauty. Despite being located within the Mangaluru City Corporation (MCC) area, it was away from all the undesirable influences of the city. Twenty-six families with about 110 people were living there with the income they got from selling coconut, areca nut and pepper.
On that fateful morning of 16 August, roughly three lakh tons of solid waste slid down from the Pachanady dumping yard and travelled two kilometres along with the flowing storm waters to cover the entire village.
Fortunately, no lives were lost. A few days before the disgusting deluge swamped the village, a few residents had noticed with alarm the incursion of waste from the Pachanady dumping yard and had alerted the villagers to save themselves.
“It happened during the afternoon during heavy rains, had it been in the night many of us would have been buried under this river of garbage says the septuagenarian Radha Bhat who had been living in Mandara for over 50 years.
Pachanady — A Dump Yard Gone Wrong!
Pachanady had been a bone of contention between the civil society and the Mangaluru City Corporation for the past 30 years.
In 1982, the first meeting of the first council of the Mangaluru City Corporation had resolved to start dumping the city’s municipal waste at Pachanady village, which is divided into two wards — Pachanady and Kudupu.
In the late 1980s, when the city graduated into a corporation from a municipality, the dump yard used to receive only two truckloads of garbage. The area under dumping — 17 acres — has remained unchanged even as the volume of garbage being dumped there has increased multi-fold.
“Today Mangalore city generates 300 tonnes of garbage every day and each of our 10 compactor trucks with 10-tons capacity makes three trips daily to the dumping yard.
“During festival times this number records at least 20 per cent increase, the green garbage generated during the three months of monsoons is also to the tune of 200 tonnes per day,” says an official of the Antony Waste Handlers Private Limited.
Unique Waste Processing Company that has been hired by the Mangaluru City Corporation has an installed capacity of processing 200 tonnes per day, “... but it cannot reach the optimal processing level every day due to segregation problems and also due to the nature and composition of the solid waste.
“In a typical week, for only four days the plant reaches up to 80 per cent of its installed capacity,” say the plant engineers. So what happens to all the unprocessed, backlog of garbage?
It is obviously shunted to the waiting lot. This is an old-technology machine in the business of waste processing.
“Obviously somebody messed up with this mass of mess. They messed up [in a] big way, that has ended in the disaster of a very cruel kind and showed the world that what happens when the people at responsible posts do not work.
“I am now alarmed at the possibility of the river of leachate reaching downstream water bodies and joining Malavoor dam which is seven kilometres away,” Bhaskar Moily, the former Mayor (2018-19) told Swarajya.
Due to the toxicity of the garbage, a fair amount of methane was constantly being released over the last 20 years or so; many a times the garbage pileup would catch fire and burn for months.
Nearly everybody living in the vicinity of the Pachanady dump yard have chest-related infections and cancers. The local medical college camps had recorded many such cases in the past.
Leachate Leaks Into Malavoor Dam
The possibility of the leachate reaching the Malavoor dam has spooked both the environmentalists and officials of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board.
The Board officials — who had a meeting with the MLAs of Mangaluru city North and Mangaluru City South, Dr Bharath Shetty and Vedavyas Kamath — told Swarajya that the pollution control board will monitor the situation at every exit and entry point of the storm water drains.
“It is such a bad development and I have already taken stock of the situation along with Dr Bharat Shetty and soon will evolve a foolproof way to mitigate the situation arising out of the garbage dump.
“Mandara houses and its surroundings will be restored to its pristine beauty,” Vedavyas Kamath told Swarajya.
Experts Are Weighing Options
In the meanwhile, technocrats and other experts have arrived from Coimbatore and Chandigarh and have taken stock of the situation.
“This is an extraordinary situation, I have not seen anything like this before. The garbage has travelled over 2.5 kilometres from the dumping area into the valley.
“The site chosen for the dump was unscientific as it is perched on a hill which has slopes on the southern side. The mountain of garbage had acted as a water reservoir on top of the hill.
“When the volume of water became more the water pushed the garbage down into the valley,” said Sadasivan from Coimbatore. The panel of experts is in favour of using high power winches coupled with super dozers and mining trucks to lift the garbage using the ‘baling technique’.
Commissioner of Mangaluru City Corporation, Mohammad Nazeer, has rapped the MCC environmental engineering and health department for the lapses in the past.
“But it not just the departments but an entire range of individuals, political heavyweights and party functionaries are to be blamed for this entire episode. The council under Congress rule had been meddling too much into the affairs of the dumping yard.
“They allowed all kinds of trash to be dumped there including biomedical, amputated human parts, dead animals, and many other toxic materials. They also allowed trash from other taluks [from] as far as Puttur, Buntwal and from Kasargod by greasing their palms.
“They charged Rs 3,000 per truckload trash illegally. Every day nearly 30 loads of trash from unspecified areas with unspecified load used to be dumped here,” says local activist Mahesh Shetty.
The former councillor and former mayor, K Shankar Bhat, had raised this question many a times on the floor of the MCC council but the ruling party had covered its tracks, remembers a senior scribe who has covered the MCC for a long time.
The National Environment Care Foundation (NECF) Southern Zone activist, Shashidhar Shetty, likened it to a disaster. The danger to human life, environment and animals has been sidelined in the entire episode.
The NECF has viewed this deluge of garbage seriously and will hold the authorities of the Mangaluru City Corporation and the district administration culpable for this disaster.
Mandara Keshav Bhat Legacy In Danger
Rajesh Bhat nephew of the great Tulu writer, Mandara Keshav Bhat, recalled the serene and green surroundings Mandara village had before the deluge.
Pointing to the red-bricked house at Mandara, he said, “It was here that my uncle had written the ‘Mandara Ramayana’ in Tulu language. We made all the arrangements to hold the centenary of Mandara Keshav Bhat in December and that of the Mandara House, which was completed just after my uncle was born.
“Only recently my family spent huge amounts of money to restore the house to its pristine condition and also renovated the family Daiva Sthana and Naaga Bana, but this horrific event has dashed our hopes totally.”
His family has now been shifted to a one-room apartment in a housing board apartment block. He despairs that he has no means of income.
Rajesh and his brother Ravi had waded through neck-deep muck into their house to recover the idol of Annapoorneshwari and other paraphernalia that had been a part of the family for more than 200 years.
“Let the government take over the Mandara House and turn it into a museum after they clear the unholy mess the Mangalore City Corporation has created there. I think the house itself could cost more than 1.25 crores and the plantations and the water bodies would have cost another crore of rupees.”
In Mandara village alone over 76 acres of horticultural and agricultural land has been submerged under the mountain of garbage. Twelve drinking water wells, six perennial water bodies, 3,000 areca trees, and 1,500 coconut trees have been lost.
The devastation has spread wider than what meets the eye. In the adjacent village, all three water bodies and six wells have been contaminated. More reports of contamination of land as well as water bodies were coming in even as this report was being written.
Gopal Moily and his two brothers and their family used to grow paddy on their six acres of land that was fully irrigated with perennial water sources.
“Like me, there are 25 other families who all now face a bleak future. My cattle, dogs and a 1100 sqft house are all compromised due to this disaster,” Moily said.
Officials of the Mangaluru City Corporation and its experts on water management are now apprehensive about the underground water veins being polluted with the leachate from the deluge.
“There could be a chain reaction of this horrific incident. Though we have taken all precautions at the site of the deluge, there are other places that might get insidiously affected — basically dug wells, minor ponds and water bodies.
“The storm water may have carried the contamination over a very wide area and can have far-reaching effects,” they say.
Following the horrific deluge of trash, people living around the Mandara village and all along the 2.5 kilometre stretch of the deluge are now apprehensive about continuing to stay in the vicinity.
People in nearby towns and villages, including the downstream areas of Vamanjoor, Kudupu, now fear that their drinking water is contaminated.
“If the storm water could pass through the garbage heap it could also get into our water bodies downstream, it is not rocket science to know it. If the authorities do not do something about mitigating the situation, many of us may move away forever,” said Rathnakar Shetty of Pachanady village.
Several new houses built recently in Pachanady village have been abandoned and Pachanady village is slowly turning into a ghost town. They have however left their domestic animals and pets behind.
Here are some data points to put this disaster into perspective:
- Three lakh tons of trash stored there since 20 years.
- Almost 90 per cent of it is plastic. Mangaluru is the largest user of plastic in the state after Bengaluru, using 2.2 tons of polythene carry bags per day as per an estimate.
- MCC officials have no answers to the question why so much trash had been accumulated despite installing a full-time processing unit to dispose the trash.