Bio-mining project restores fresh water lake in Kerala, earns applause of residents

Published on Jul 04, 2022 12:21 AM IST

Mountains of retrieved bottles, slippers, wood, tires, plastic bags and hospital waste are seen segregated outside the reclaimed land. Major cement makers, road construction firms and furnace companies take the segregated waste from the plant regularly.

A 15.8 acre of island dumped with waste, situated on the low-lying banks of ecologically-sensitive Ashtamudi Lake, is getting cleared through a reclamation project that is into final stages. (HT Photo)
A 15.8 acre of island dumped with waste, situated on the low-lying banks of ecologically-sensitive Ashtamudi Lake, is getting cleared through a reclamation project that is into final stages. (HT Photo)
By, Kollam (south Kerala)

With multiple urban areas struggling with landfills and mountains of waste, a municipal corporation in south Kerala, Kollam, is tackling the accumulated solid waste via bio- mining.

A 15.8 acre of island dumped with waste, situated on the low-lying banks of ecologically-sensitive Ashtamudi Lake, is getting cleared through a reclamation project that is into final stages. The project has earned the praise of many including the World Bank and Niti Aayog. A team from the World Bank had even visited the site last week.

The area consisting of 1.04 lakh cubic meters of waste is being dissolved through bio-mining. Bio-mining is a scientific process of excavation, segregation, treatment and gainful utilization of accumulated waste lying in dump sites usually referred to as legacy waste.

“It was a dump yard for over seven decades. We started the project in January this year and it will be completed in a couple of months. This is the state’s first bio mining project and even international agencies have lauded it. Many agencies are involved and we are getting it done with utmost care,” said Kollam Mayor Prasanna Earnest.

Mountains of retrieved bottles, slippers, wood, tires, plastic bags and hospital waste are seen segregated outside the reclaimed land. Major cement makers, road construction firms and furnace companies take the segregated waste from the plant regularly.

Local people now say water quality of the Ashtamudi Lake and their water sources has improved manifold after clearing the dump yard. Traditional fishermen too agree to the same. “I get good quality pearl spot fish these days,” said P Raghavan, who has been fishing for four decades.

“Daily we are removing 500 to 1000 metric tonne of waste. Since the waste is old, there are chances of gas emission, so, we take all the precautions. We check moisture level and de-odor the waste regularly using organic materials only,” said project engineer of Zigma Global Environ Solution Limited, a private agency involved in the project, Arun Krishanan.

Local residents say that repeated protests against the waste being dumped here fell on deaf ears until the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered the Kollam Corporation in 2018 to deal with the legacy waste scientifically and reclaim the area. Later a tender was floated and Zigma won the contract worth 11 crore .

“Results are there to see. Quality of air and water surrounding the dump yard has improved a lot. Many people in the area were also suffering from skin diseases and respiratory tract ailments. We hope the situation will improve,” said retired government employee P K Sugunan.

The Ashtamudi Lake is among the Ramsar convention sites, an international treaty for conservation and sustainable use of waterfowl habitat named after the Ramsar city in Iran where the convention was signed in 1971.

There was a big hue and cry to protect the lake. But it took long. Once reclamation started, various aggregates like fine soil, coarse soil, stones, refuse derived fuel and other recyclables like metals and plastics were recovered in large quantities. The recovered items are also now fetching money.

“This is first integrated landfill mining project undertaken in Kerala and the first in India to be carried out in a Ramsar designated site. We agree that waste management solution needs to be flexible. We work on triple bottom line — people, planet and prosperity,” said Zigma director Prashant Singh.

As a result of the reclamation in Ashtamudi lake 73,647 tonne of carbon dioxide will be saved which is equivalent to carbon sequestered by 89,005 acres of US forests in one year or 12,02,234 tree seedlings grown for ten years, he said.Activists and nature lovers say that the bio-mining project was a game-changer for the fresh water lake but they strongly feel that people will have to change their attitude towards the waste disposal.

“It is not the duty of local body or government alone. Every individual should take the responsibility to deal with the waste at its originating point otherwise, such mountains will come up. People’s attitude should change,” said Kerala tourism infrastructure limited MD and renowned architect Manoj Kumar Kini.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Ramesh Babu is HT’s bureau chief in Kerala, with about three decades of experience in journalism.

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