Sonsoddo has grown bigger with garbage while highways and fields in Goa continue to be buried under garbage that is furtively flung. Even if this government dealt with this fire, what’s the guarantee there will not be another fire because promises will be forgotten? So the time gap of eight months between signing an MoU with Fomento Green and laying the foundation stone is an indication of how much in a hurry the Goa government was to keep its citizens, safe!

June 4, 2019

Pushpa Iyengar

The Week that Was
The video of Deputy Chief Minister Vijai Sardessai slapping a mobile phone out of the hand of Margao Municipal Council Chief officer’s (Siddhivinayak Naik), during his visit to Sonsoddo (, is a metaphor of how successive politicians have been totally dismissive about the gargantuan, literally, problem at that dumpyard and have ignored it.  Tax payers have been burdened financially along with having to endure the stinking garbage – and this time a serious health hazard – and today the fire there, which went on for seven consecutive days, is the result of 40 years of neglect.

CM Pramod Sawant’s claim that he will put out the fire in three days is also the same kind of BS that politicians wanting to evade an issue have mastered and got away with.

Even if this government dealt with this fire, which seemed to have a life of its own thanks to the Margao Municipality neglecting to segregate garbage as a result of which all the wet waste buried under the mountain putrified and emitted methane that was feeding the fire relentlessly, what’s the guarantee there will not be another fire because the frenzy will have been forgotten and so will the assurances?

And that has been the way for the the last 21 years, despite handing it over to a string of companies to manage it. Sonsoddo has just grown bigger with garbage that the plant there is not able to deal with while highways and paddy fields in Goa continue to be buried under garbage that is furtively flung from a moving vehicle.

No smoke without fire

In fact, this is not the first fire there.  Digambar Kamat, Margao MLA and former CM, who visited the Sonsoddo site on Saturday, said, “A similar fire had occurred in 2006 and it was decided to put mud and the fire was controlled. Here only water was considered for extinguishing the fire which kept it going from within.”  

Then on January 28, 2009, a fire that began late on January 24, ignited again.  At that time, it was described as the worst. The Goa State Pollution Control Board admitted that the situation was indeed “grave” and posed “severe” health hazards.  The fact that the one raging now is graver and causing more severe health hazards, with people living around the area, scooting out of there, is a reflection of the lip service by bureaucrats and of course, politicians over a period of time.

 The long and short of it

The series of failures began in 1998 when the MMC signed up with Komex India Limited, an agreement that lasted barely two years. Then for four years, till 2004, MMC managed waste on its own but then brought in the Goa Foundation which lasted two years again. Then it was Hyquip Private Projects limited(work order was Rs 7.84 crores), again for two years, which was believed to have scammed and finally walked out over disagreements with the MMC over payments. Then it was back to the Goa Foundation (which was paid Rs 17 lakhs only over 18 months!!) till 2009 , till the latter chose to leave because of “non-cooperation” in making a landfill available.

 Then Sonsoddo became MMC’s baby again and finally, it signed a deal with Fomento Green after inviting bids in 2009, to set up a solid waste management plant on a design, build, own, operate and transfer (DBOOT).  While the concessionaire agreement between MMC and Fomento was signed on February 1, 2011, the foundation stone for the project was laid only on October 2, 2011. So the time gap of eight months is an indication of how much in a hurry the Goa government was to keep its citizens, vulnerable to a ticking time bomb, safe!

It reminds me of the evening at Chorao about 13 years ago in which the renowned architect late Charles Correa was in conversation about how Goa could be saved and while other heavyweights in the room were nonchalant or apathetic, one Goa-lover was passionately arguing about the signs of decay he was noticing all around him.  And Charles Correa was silent, listening to the argument, and said finally, “Why should the man on the street alone fight? What is the government doing?”

 You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours

What has also been the problem is that every incoming government has its own friends to give the contract of the dump to and they would rather let Goans down, but not their crony capitalists.  An example was when Urban development minister Joaquim Alemao had visited Sonsoddo during the 2009 fire and had hotly contested any criticism about Hyderabad-based Hyquip saying, “It had worked quite efficiently and I can vouch for that. It was the delay on the part of our government to effect their payments in time that the problems arose for Hyquip.”

Alemao had gone onto say, after expressing disapproval of Goa Foundation’s(it was appointed to handle composting at the site)  handling of Sonsoddo,  “Claude Alvares (director of GF) should have been here to offer suggestions over measures to control the fire.”

“No money will be paid to the MMC for the first phase of the project (estimated to cost over Rs 55 lakh) until the proposal is cleared by me,” Alemao had declared, and questioned the wisdom of the MMC in signing an MoU with GF to that effect without getting the proposal cleared.  So sell out a Goan, who has fought to protect Goa’s environment, and bat for a company which has no stakes in Goa. That’s the way it goes.

Not in my backyard

The western world which loves to criticize third world countries about how dirty they are have routinely thought nothing of shipping their garbage to these countries for decades.  But now, third world countries are saying “enough”.  And an example of that was on May 31when Philippines sent back truckloads of garbage exported by Canada. 103 containers, falsely declared by a private firm as recyclable plastic scrap, had been shipped in batches from Canada to the Philippines in 2013 and 2014.

Sixty-nine containers containing 2,500 tonnes of household waste, including plastic bottles, bags, newspapers and used adult diapers, rotting in ports in Manila for six years were loaded on the Bavaria, a 40,000-tonne, Liberia-registered container ship. Canada paid for the cost of shipping the trash, pegged at some 10 million pesos (S$260,000). “Baaaaaaaaa bye, as we say it… The garbage is gone, good riddance,” foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin tweeted.( Caption for picture:  The port in Subic Bay in the Philippines where a transport vessel, MV Bavaria, is berthed to load waste Photograph: Jes Aznar/Getty Images )

Environmental activists have been calling for a permanent ban on such imports following reports of other trash shipments from Australia and Hong Kong.  This month over 200 tonnes of rubbish from Australia landed in Manila. Another shipment of 26 tonnes of mixed plastics, misdeclared as “assorted electronic accessories”, from Hong Kong, were found at a port on Mindanao island. Earlier this year, the Philippines had shipped back 6,500 tonnes of garbage to South Korea, declared as plastic flakes.

Malaysia had earlier announced it was shipping 450 tonnes of imported plastic waste back to Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United States. For years China had received the bulk of scrap plastic from around the world, but stopped taking trash in an effort to clean up its environment.

“Why do we need to repeatedly remind the world that we are not a garbage dump?  We refuse to be treated as rich countries’ trash dumps,” said Greenpeace Southeast Asia. Hear hear!

…and Closer home

Closer home, back in 2005, 1000 tonnes of US toxic waste was dumped at Tuticorin Port in Tamil Nadu.  And an Indian company had brought it in claiming it was wastepaper, but the truth came out when port authorizes stumbled on the carcinogenic waste during a routine check.  But despite the Madras high court ordering it be shipped back to New Jersey, three years later, the garbage was still sitting there.

In October 2007, a huge controversy erupted after toxic waste sent from New York was seized at the Kochi port. Similarly there have been huge furores in the past over the dismantling of toxic laden ships like the Blue Lady and Clemencau in India.

According to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), the world now produces nearly 300 million tonnes of plastic every year, and most of it is not being recycled. WWF documented a dramatic rise in the production of single-use plastics since 2000.An additional 104 million metric tonnes of plastic is at risk of leakage to our ecosystems by 2030 without a drastic change in approach, it warned.