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Garbage in Goa

It’s still a massive menace, prescription but there may be some relief on the way

Agnelo Dias is a livid man. And not without reason. A heap of unsorted garbage has been accumulating at Firguem Bhat in Merces along the roadside near his home.

He has been running from pillar to post to get the village panchayat to do what it has been elected to do — collection and proper disposal of waste.

But no. “Nobody is even bothered. It has been lying there for close to three weeks. They are not acting, ” Dias lamented.

“Why would they?” his friend interjects. “There are no kickbacks to be made from this. They don’t stand for elections to do what their job is. We know where their real interests are,” he said.

Dias’ frustration has been echoed by the state’s populace for close to a decade now, with successive governments not taking the issue seriously. Policy paralysis, lack of interest from the governments and ubiquitous red tape turned garbage into one of the principal issues last year’s general assembly elections were fought on.

Garbage is undoubtedly one of the main obstacles preventing Goa from reaching its potential as a preferred tourist destination for the discerning traveller – in addition to the unsightly blight on the countryside that makes locals and visitors alike scratch their heads in disbelief and ask, “How could a place this beautiful allow this to happen?”

Eighteen months into the new government and the wait for one of its premier promises is still on. Nevertheless, there are bright spots on the horizon. The government has actually begun work to bring in garbage treatment plants, though the going is unlikely to be easy.

Goa’s chief minister Manohar Parrikar has already made his plans clear and has already set a number of them in motion. The most talked about among these is the “German technology” in-vessel treatment plant planned at the Saligao Hill for treating wet waste. The government also wants to start an ambitious reverse synthesis plant that can turn plastics into its parent crude oil residue. Both these are expected to work alongside a new garbage collection scheme which will collect dry waste, segregate it and send it to the respective plant.

“The Saligao plant will treat garbage completely in vessel. There will be no odour, no emission of gasses. These plants are in operation in Germany, Austria and Hungary,” Goa’s Urban Development Minister and Mapusa MLA Francisco Souza said, adding that the government is organising a trip to these three countries to demonstrate the efficacy the treatment plants.

However, the villagers of Saligao and Pilerne are skeptical. “The only thing the government has been saying is ‘German technology’. We want the government to explain in detail what exactly they are going to be doing,” Yatish Naik of the Pilerne Citizens Forum said.

However, with the Chief Minister himself attending a presentation meeting organized at the Saligao panchayat Hall, many of those fears have been allayed.

“We are in no hurry to go ahead with the project. We want to make sure that we have everyone on board before we can start work,” Souza said, adding that it would take around six months to import the machinery and have it installed once the project work begins.

The government has also decided to start the collection of dry waste on a pilot basis. One city, Panjim and one village, Cansaulim, have been selected for the pilot. This will be complemented by a system of fines for dumping garbage from November 15 to December 15.

The government will appoint officials under the Goa Biodegradable Control Act, 1966, to book those littering. The Act empowers collectors, deputy collectors, excise inspectors, mamlatdars, joint mamlatdars, block development officers (BDOs), among others, to levy a fine up to Rs 5,000 for littering.

“If the experiment is successful, then it will be implemented in other villages and cities across the state,” Environment Minister Alina Saldanha said.

But for now the situation on the ground remains the same, and the vast majority of what’s happening is just on paper. Here and there some garbage does get collected, such as the waste from the national highways. But the citizens of Goa have yet to see real progress.

What best sums up the sentiment is what was said at one youth meeting where folks were deliberating on holding a garbage collection drive as part of their social awareness. The youngsters noted the lack of options for disposing of waste.

As one participant put it, “We are going to collect garbage, that’s fine. But what are we going to do with it?”