By Eleanor Sangma
Years of dumping the town’s waste in one area has led to major consequences for the residents of the place. People of Rongkhon Songgital in the town of Tura are speaking out against the landfill that has plagued them for years.
The landfill has led to major pollution of air and water. Over the last couple of years, it has also led to the disappearance of graves in the local cemetery.
Krenith Ch Marak, whose family lives closest to the dumping ground said, “There is no wall and the garbage is just thrown carelessly.” The waste has spilled from the plot allotted to the Municipal Board to the cemetery of Rongkhon Songgital and the stream below. “Every day they throw the trash here and leave, while we are the ones left to suffer,” he stated.
Living next to a garbage dump has many consequences. During windy season, households in the area have to suffer through the stench of waste. When the wind blows from that side towards their houses, the people cannot bear the smell that comes with it. “At night, we have to sleep with masks on our faces in order to be able to sleep,” he stated. Even human waste from people’s homes are let all out in the open. Sometimes random people also throw rotten meat on the roads, which the residents of the area have to throw away.
“It’s like they do not even consider us humans,” he expressed his disappointment at the inaction of the authorities. He added that the authorities do realize the risk of health hazards at hand but have failed to consider the health of the people from the area. “The whole point of a municipal board is to get rid of all waste and ensure safety for people in town, however that is not happening,” he stated. “People from the locality do understand the difficulties of the people in charge but it’s a given that this plot of land is not enough for proper waste management,” he added.
He expressed that their biggest request would be for the Municipal Board to move the ground to some place far away from any settlements. “They keep telling us to wait and we have been patiently waiting. We do understand and we do respect them, but nothing has taken shape till today,” he stated. The area has many households who do not want garbage dumped in their homes. “Most importantly, we do not have space to bury our loved ones,” he said. The whole plot is filled with garbage. “I do not even want to imagine being buried and having my remains in that place forever,” he added.
Chegan N Marak, publicity secretary of GSU said, “The accumulated waste in the area is leading to pollution, especially of water.” Garbage has spilled over to the Ringrey stream below the plot. A lot of people are forced to use this water due to water crisis, according to Marak. “This water also flows to and mixes with Sela Wari, which in turn flows towards Pelga. Everyone uses water from Pelga. This does not stop here, and further flows across borders as well, eventually making it an international issue,” he claimed. He stated that there is no separation of biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste. This waste spills to the water that people use and poses risks to everyone’s health.
Having accumulated over the years, the non-biodegradable waste has created an artificial mountain under which graves get buried. Marak stated that many graves have disappeared with no trace of some of them. “In the end, it won’t be a cemetery anymore. It will be a garbage dump if no one does anything now,” he added.
In the previous year, a fire was started in the area. Locals claim they cannot say for sure who did it or why, but the repercussions of that one incident was felt throughout the locality. “The air was so polluted we could hardly breathe. The stench of waste was unbearable,” Marak stated, recalling the event. In order to safely get rid of the waste, he said, “They need to bring a different machine which is able to burn waste without polluting the air.”
“In December of 2018, the high court had ordered Tura Municipal Board to clear the waste so the people could preserve the cemetery. They were also ordered to move the landfill to another place,” Marak said, adding that none of the orders have been fulfilled. “On behalf of the GSU, the Rongkhon Songgital Youth and the people from the locality, we have three demands,” he stated. The people would like the construction of a retaining wall and the garbage that has spilled over to the cemetery and the water to be cleared. “Even if they cannot compensate family members of those whose graves have been lost, they can at least clear the waste,” he added. The third demand of the people would be moving the dumping ground away as soon as possible.
Another resident of the area Chekam Sangma stated that the landfill has been causing a lot of problem for the people living there. Besides the issue of disappearing graves, when someone from the locality dies, people digging the graves have to suffer through the unbearable smell of waste that has accumulated. Everyday life is also affected. “We can’t even cook in peace as a lot of flies gather around the kitchen because of the waste,” he stated. He added that the locality would like the waste to be dumped somewhere else or if better technology is used in order to carry out the necessary.
Jeffrey D Sangma, Chairman of Tura Municipal Board stated, “We are in the midst of processing a new land for the purpose of proper waste management. Right now, it’s in the government’s hands.” The government will do a survey before the cost of the operation is determined. “It will take a bit more time, and people will have to bear with the situation for another month or two,” he said. Since the procedure takes a long time, it has been a long wait. The government is also trying to speed up the process, he added. They need the cooperation of everyone involved, including the people from the village. In their previous attempts to move the dumping ground, they had encountered objections from villagers near the selected plots. “We have found a new plot which is about 15 kms from the town. The government is in the midst of processing it,” Sangma stated. The area is far from human settlements and water bodies.
The landfill is a matter of public health and safety. Tonnes of waste gets disposed off there, most of which do not get processed. The people of Rongkhon Songgital have been fighting against the same for years.