Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Keeping Goa Clean and Green - Scrap dealers, Regional Plan and Sensibility

Last Thursday (5 March 2009), Azad Maidan in Panjim was the site for a protest demonstration organized by the All Goa Scrap Dealers Association. The reason for demonstration was to draw attention to and protest the sealing of scrap-yards in various parts of Goa, as well as the harassment that they face at the hands of the police, various authorities as well as village organizations and panchayats in the State.

The scrap dealers at the meeting recounted a tale which indicated that though they have been harassed since at least 1999, this official harassment has now become unbearable. Their scrap yards are being summarily sealed, without notice, based on the argument that these sites are hazardous and the breeding ground for disease. Now this is a bizarre argument and needs to be addressed.

It is true that scrap-yards are sites of potential hazards and disaster. However, this is only when scrap-yards are not subject to controls and not properly managed. To their credit, the Scrap Dealers Association has itself indicated that there is a need for a law under which the operation of the scrap yards could be recognized, managed and monitored. There is no law they argue that can deal with us and our livelihoods, and rather than just shut us down, the State needs to actively create a system and framework through which we can be regulated and monitored.

The Draft Regional Plan on 89 indicates that there is a legal framework for solid waste management, the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules 2000. It also indicates however, that “it now needs to be addressed at the implementation end. It is here that the institutional framework and the “will” to tackle the problem seems to be lacking”. However, this is where the brilliance of the Draft Plan ends. It makes no reference to the clearly widespread network of scrap dealers across Goa who would be a useful ally in the attempt to keep Goa clean and green. This gap merely reiterates the point that I, and others, have been consistently making; that the Draft Regional Plan, needs a lot more work before it can be presented to the population as a serious effort at Regional Planning. What is even worse is that the absence of any process to actually involve groups in discussing these policy issues (since the pro-developer State government is only interested in spatial planning issues) has meant that this and other crucial issues are being left unattended to. As the Scrap Dealers Association warns us, a failure to attend to issues of scrap, and on the contrary to attack those who deal with it, will result in Goa being awash in a sea of highly hazardous waste materials. The crucial point that we have to grasp is that while scrap yards are hazardous, they can be managed. To leave industrial waste just lying around, is to invite large scale pollution and health risks over generations.

Where does one locate these scrap yards is a crucial question that even the Association tries to deal with. They point out that when the scrap yards were started they were located at the edges of towns and villages. However, with the expansion of the cities, these scrap yards are now surrounded by dwelling places. The Association suggests to the government that they allocate sites for scrap yards in remote locations, and that those managing these places be licensed and that there be regular and frequent inspections of these sites within the framework that needs to be articulated.

I would however differ with the scrap dealers, and I suspect with most of the Goan population, on this point. One of the fundamental problems with industrial and consumeristic society is that it seeks to hide the unpleasant aspects of production so that we can continue to consume by focusing on only the pretty stuff. As a result, we continue to generate waste and problematic social relations. I would argue that scrap-yards must be allowed to exist within the limits of villages and towns. Such a location would resolve a number of issues. By placing it within the limits of these areas, it would generate a natural system of monitoring where the residents of the area are themselves interested in the systematic maintenance of the scrap yard. It is such stimuli that produce the socio-political context for effective local self governance. Further, such a location would impose on the now rather unaesthetic scrap yards, the requirement to improve their aesthetic appearance. An aesthetic location also holds the possibility of being a more labour-friendly location. Too often the issue of waste-management is not seen from the perspective of the labour employed there. To include such a perspective and focus would generate a more holistic and sustainable waste management system.

It is possible that these scrap-yards would need spaces outside of towns and villages as well. My argument is that in placing these scrap yards within habitations, we also create a more effective system of collection, where merely by the locating the scrap yard within the village or urban neighbourhoods, people realize that throwing tube lights or batteries outside the house, is not only a waste management problem, but also an economic waste that also lays the foundation for health problems of future generations. In one shot the majority of waste-management problems in Goa could be resolved by integrating the Scrap dealers Association into the attempt to keep Goa garbage free.

Locating the scrap yard within the village and town, would allow us the opportunity to prevent the demonisation of the communities engaged in scrap-collection. Lets face it, one of the fundamental problems with the opposition to the scrap dealers is the fact that they are largely ‘lower-class’ Muslims. Building an integrated system of waste management, and marketing the same, would also help us resolve the communal tensions that are being produced, by showing how Muslims in fact contribute to the safety and economic well-being of the villages and towns in our State.

Rather than extract payment from the scrap-dealers, the State ought to subsidize their efforts by providing them land, providing them at subsidized rates the necessary technology to maintain responsible scrap-yards. In return for this State support, the scrap yards could be required to ensure basic labour standards within their establishments, and also further their outreach into the communities that they already service.

There can be no doubt that the Scrap dealers perform a valuable function to Goan society. To hound them, is to lay the logs for our own funeral pyre. What we need to do, is to involve them into the Regional Plan process, so that we can emerge out of the process with a legal framework, an administrative setup and social engagement that would ensure a lack of mistrust, misinformation and a healthier (both economically and physically)

(Published in the Gomantak Times, 11th March 2009)

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