Fire issue rocks Kerala assembly proceedings, CM maintains silence
During the proceedings, even though the Congress-led opposition raised serious allegations against the government and the Kochi corporation, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan did not respond.
The Kerala assembly on Monday witnessed uproarious scenes over the fire incident at the waste dumping yard in Kochi’s Brahmapuram even as a 70-year-old man died of respiratory illness in the city and the family blamed toxic air for his death.
The deceased identified as Lawrence Joseph (70) was undergoing treatment for respiratory illness since last November but his condition worsened in the past one week. His wife Lissy Joseph said they visited their doctor on March 8 and he was sent home advising rest. He developed breathlessness last night, she said. “Even healthy people cannot breathe properly these days then we can imagine plight of people like him,” she said alleging toxic air that engulfed the city “deteriorated his condition”.
Despite requests, health department officials refused to comment on the matter.
During the proceedings, even though the Congress-led opposition raised serious allegations against the government and the Kochi corporation, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan did not respond. Instead, local self government minister M B Rajesh faced the volley of criticism.
Moving an adjournment motion, Congress legislator T J Vinod, who hails from Kochi, said a big “environmental crime” was committed in Kochi and people were leaving the city in large numbers due to health problems triggered by toxic fumes. He said the government’s efforts to mitigate the fire and billowing toxic smoke were negligent.
“Doctors have advised people with health problems to leave the city. A politically-influential contractor has taken eight lakh residents of the city for ransom. It is a man-made disaster and despite grave charges against the private firm, the government is shamelessly defending it,” he said. Vinod sought a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the matter.
Intervening in the discussion, Opposition leader V D Satheesan said dioxin released from the smouldering plastic waste was an integral component of infamous “Agent Orange,” (an herbicide used by US troops to poison out rebel fighters during the Vietnam war).
“Experts have warned about an alarming situation in Kochi that may trigger cancer, infertility and other ailments. But the CM is keeping a stony silence. And minister Rajesh is turning out to be a spokesman of the firm which is responsible for the terrible mess. How can the government be so insensitive,” he asked. He also chided health minister Veena George saying she visited the site after several days and “her only advice was to wear masks”.
But the government maintained that fire and smoke were under control and blamed the media for fuelling it. “Today morning in Kochi air quality index was 138 ppm whereas in Delhi it was 223. A section of the media is not giving a clear picture. And the firm engaged in bio-mining was doing it for several years and it has contracts in some north Indian states also,” said Rajesh defending the Zonta Infratech Private Limited, the firm employed for bio-mining at Brahmapuram plant. After a barrage of criticism, the firm said it had complied with all terms and conditions of the agreement entered with the city corporation and blamed inclement weather for fire. It washed off its hand saying the contract never contained provisions for recycling of plastic.
Meanwhile the high court on Monday directed the pollution control board to furnish all details about its findings on the fire and action taken report in last 12 days. When the PCB said the corporation will be fined again for not heeding to his earlier warnings, a division bench asked whether depositing the fine in a bank will suffice to address mounting problems of residents. The court also orally observed that all norms and procedure s for collecting and treatment of solid waste were flouted in the city.
Last week, the HC had registered a case suo motu after the fire that began in a small way in Brahmapuram plant on March 2 turned uncontrollable engulfing the port city with toxic fumes and smoke. In Delhi, minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan met Union health minister Mansukh Mandaviya and sought his help to carry out a study to assess health hazards and environmental impact of the inferno.