Kochi fire: A week on, smoke yet to settle | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Kochi fire: A week on, smoke yet to settle

By, Thiruvananthapuram
Mar 10, 2023 12:52 AM IST

The fire that broke out at the solid waste dump yard last Thursday was controlled by Sunday but there was no let up in smoke emanating from it that had spread over 30km radius.

Kochi continues to reel under the toxic smoke billowing from its solid waste dump yard in Brahmapuram for more than a week as authorities have begun organising medical camps in several parts of the port city on Thursday after residents complained of breathlessness and discomfort.

Fire and rescue personnel at the Brahmapuram waste treatment plant, in Kochi. (PTI)
Fire and rescue personnel at the Brahmapuram waste treatment plant, in Kochi. (PTI)

The fire that broke out at the solid waste dump yard last Thursday was controlled by Sunday but there was no let up in smoke emanating from it that had spread over 30km radius.

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The air quality index remained more than 300 PM 2.5 (fine particulate matter in the air) for last five days, according to the statistics of the state pollution control board. On March 5, it was 441PM , on March 6, it was 445, March 7 recorded 465, March 8 recorded 324 and March 9 (morning) 380. Less than 50 is the index value for good breathable air quality and before the dump yard fire average air quality index in city was below 100.

On Monday, the high court had registered a suo moto case stating that the “city was like a gas chamber”. Later, on Wednesday, the government had transferred district collector Renu Raj. But many bureaucrats said it was unfair to make the collector a “scapegoat” as the legacy waste was accumulated in the yard for more than two decades.

Besides medical camps, number of patients visiting private hospitals complaining respiratory tract issues has also gone up considerably, said the Indian Medical Association Kochi chapter. “When plastic is burned it releases toxic gases like dioxins, furans and polychlorinated biphenyls in the atmosphere. Many people are flooding hospitals with respiratory issues. Long term effect of this is really alarming,” said IMA district president Dr Sreenivasa Kamath.

“Quality breathing air is a citizen’s right. My daughter has some respiratory problem and I have kept her in a closed AC room. Like my daughter many are under house arrest. A week has passed and people are still gasping for breath and blame game has peaked as usual,” said former high court judge justice Kemal Pasha slamming the city corporation and district authorities. He sought strict action against the erring officials and the firm engaged in botched bio-mining at the yard.

“I never had breathing issues. Two days back I found it hard to breath and had itching in my eyes. Later I was advised to go to an oxygen parlour. We have no idea how long the toxic air will continue like this. Is this Kerala No 1, as our rulers parrot day in and out,” said sales executive Sony Sebastian.

People like him said they cannot remain indoors fearing toxic air as it will affect their employment. The government always flaunted the beautiful port city as the role model of the state but the latest fire and toxic fumes have left many holes in its claims. Many international news channels also played it up blaming “the country’s poor waste management system and toxic releases.”

After the court’s rap, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had called a high-level meeting on Wednesday and took a decision to not allow anymore plastic waste in the yard. The meeting also gave a strict instruction to the corporation to dispose bio-waste at the source itself and avoid its accumulation. “We are doing everything possible to mitigate the situation. We don’t want to create other waste mounds,” said the industry minister P Rajeev. The court has sought details of decisions taken at the meeting.

While registering the suo moto case, the high court had asked officials “not to indulge in blame game” but find “a lasting solution”. On Wednesday it asked the government to file a report on all decisions taken at the meeting chaired by the chief minister and other steps taken to detoxify the city and set a timeline for it. “The court intervened because it is the guardian of citizens’ rights,” the division bench said while directing the corporation to submit short and long- term measures to meet the exigency. The court will hear the case again on Friday.

Meanwhile, outgoing collector Renu Raj issued a message during the women’s day which also marked her exit from the district. “Hearing you are a woman is a proud feeling. But you feel bad when it is said you are just a woman,” she said in her message.

The opposition Congress and BJP said just making the collector a “scapegoat” will not cover up the alleged graft and inaction and they sought action against mayor Anil Kumar and the firm that was assigned for bio-mining of yard, spread over 110 acres.

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