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Water bodies - Water carriers or Waste carriers?

“Aren’t the drainage canals meant to be a place where we throw all our waste into it?”

I came across this statement and it had prompted a long disturbing thought deeper inside me on the state of water bodies around us. Be it a well, a pond, a lake, a canal, a drain, a river, or even a sea, everything wears a mask. A mask which is least expected, unpleasant and destructive. It seems like a fantasy story to say that most of these water bodies had directly fetched fresh water serving as an open source near to us. Most of our parents and grandparents used it for drinking or washing or cooking or bathing or any other domestic purpose. We would have heard them talk about it or even some of us would have experienced the neighboring water bodies to be usable and is now either dry or full of ‘unusable’ water or had disappeared. Had we given a thought on where does the fall of neighbourhood water bodies start from? Dumping wastes, be it solid or liquid, it starts here.

Are the water bodies like ponds, lakes, canals (drainage or irrigation), rivers or even sea just meant to our sewers or dump yards where we can dispose of our solid and liquid waste and go on with our daily routine? Can we be self-pleased of disposing wastes ‘far away’ like this and not caring to what happens next? Are our waste so simple to be disposed and are water bodies adequately far away to not affect us? Is this plight to be blamed only on individuals? We can see that most of our habitations have waste collection mechanisms. But are we using it wisely and had we thought on what happens to the waste after it is collected. One has to trace this and chances are that we end up near or in a water body/wetland. From Pallikaranai wetlands in Chennai to a small dump yard in a rural neighbourhood stands a testimony to this ‘inconvenient truth’.

‘Pond ecosystem’. A very familiar word for all of us from primary school science. A model ecosystem used to demonstrate on how an ecosystem functions, what exists in a typical ecosystem format and a laboratory to know on how everything are interconnected. The main idea of having pond ecosystem I presume is because pond is commonly available and hence easy to observe, learn, interpret, comprehend and relate to. But we had lost most of this natural, inexpensive service provider and of educational value. It is not that far and so will definitely affect our health, well-being and our environment. The water not just surface but also underground sources are polluted and are being polluted by this waste menace. Air is being polluted by a burning of this wastes.

Had we given a thought of how could we solve most of our daily concerns from health to environment? Most of us recognize that living in a clean environment is essential to be healthy and at peace. However, is it so hard to have a healthy environment around us?

Some familiar scenes from our neighbourhood:
Cow feeding on a domestic garbage dumped on a roadside (Jayamurthi Raja nagar, Mudaliarpet, Puducherry)

Garbage and sewage dumped into a 'drainage turned' irrigation canal (Karumandapam, Tiruchirappalli)
Let us start thinking from our homes starting from
·   What and how do we throw - Mixing up all the waste to be thrown away, contaminating the recyclable to become non-recyclable, degradable into non-degradable (or) segregated of waste and reuse the waste and reducing the waste.
·        Where do we throw - Unmindful dumping of wastes everywhere, on street corners or vacant plots or in the drains or in a dried or a full water body (or) responsible disposal through segregation and recycling
·    What happens to it - Trace our waste starting from where do we throw it, who picks it and what is their work nature, when do they pick it, what do they do with it, do they transport it, what type of transport is used, where do they dump it.  
·    What can we do about all this – Identifying small scale solutions, advocacy of local bodies, etc. there couldn’t be template solutions. But definitely it is not going to be tougher and at the same it is not going to be without challenges. 
A Challenging feasible task. It not just essential but it is critically essential to act. 
Some more familiar scenes from our backyards,
Mixed garbage burning near a pond (Maducarai, Puducherry)

Mixed garbage dump near a pond (Embalam, Puducherry)

Stray dog feeding on a mixed waste dump (Karikkalampakkam, Puducherry)
Let us explore on what the law, policy and constitution says,

Solid waste management rules (2016), Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate change has clear prescription on the duties of different ministries and departments to local municipal bodies and authorities till individuals. Below are some relevant duties from the above discussed context.
Every waste generator shall
  1. Segregate and store the waste generated by them in three separate streams namely bio degradable, non-biodegradable and domestic hazardous wastes in suitable bins and handover segregated wastes to authorized waste pickers or waste collectors. 
  2. No waste generator shall throw, burn or bury the solid waste generated by him, on streets, open public spaces outside his premises or in the drain or water bodies.
The local authorities and Panchayats shall
  1. Arrange for door to door collection of segregated solid waste from all establishments. 
  2. Setup material recovery facilities or secondary storage facilities with sufficient space for sorting of recyclable materials.
  3. Allow only the non-usable, non-recyclable, non-biodegradable, non-combustible and non-reactive inert waste and pre-processing rejects and residues from waste processing facilities to go to sanitary landfill and the sanitary landfill sites shall meet the specifications however, every effort shall be made to recycle or reuse the rejects to achieve the desired objective of zero waste going to landfill.
This rules can be explored on the official website of MOEFCC -

Article 51A in The Constitution Of India 1949
It shall be the duty of every citizen of India
(g) To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wild life, and to have compassion for living creatures;
(h) To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;

Don't forget to comment your thoughts and also to share your actions.... 


  1. Good one..!! photos talks a lot about the urgency of the situation.

  2. heart dampening indeed... way forward articulated well... like pouvi has mentioned... photos added the essence and it looks shit alarming

  3. Thanks... If possible do also add your thoughts on the way forward actions.

  4. Well written dear writer. My land is full of tasmac water packets, carry bags, shampoo packs. Not a common man mistake. Plastic was pushed on us by our own govts by adversing it s a light weight,recycled and cost economic. Though late, we have to awake. Keep writing. Much needed content.

  5. Yes.. It was pushed on us. But its time we as informed beings push it back and say no to plastics. And also trace our trash dump and act, ask questions wherever needed and influence for positive change. Because the leftover water bodies are our only hope to survive in a natural environment.

  6. Very well written with pictures worth thousand words. It's a problem in every nook and corner in India.
    The things we treat as Holy are the ones getting the shittiest treatment by us, be it water bodies (Ganges), Domesticated Cows (Political underpinnings of this symbol).
    Even in Metros like Bengaluru, which is known for good sewage treatment system and waste management, we often come across local water bodies becoming a pile of mixed waste. In my area, in HSR layout, which is considered a model for waste management, the segregation of waste is mandated from household level, and particular days are assigned for picking up of waste by the BBMP. However, I think this system work in HSR as it was planned neighborhood with a majority of people inhabiting, being higher up in social and economic level. So it might be easier to channel the efficiency of this waste management system. However, mismanaged neighborhoods with no planned waste management system are aplenty in Bengaluru. Even the adjacent area of HSR Layout, i.e. Agara carves out a different scenery all together. Where you can find canals and rivers overflowing with wastes and a pungent smell passing through the whole area.
    I wonder is the policies and efforts are only measured up for more privileged and woke part of the society! Equitable Waste Management Policies doesn't seem to be a case here.

  7. Yes Mohit. This is the case with most cities or towns in India.
    Just one clarification. In less affluent areas the issue is more visible while in high end areas it is less visible. But doesn't mean the issue is solved. One will have to trace the path of the waste after dumping it in dustbins. As more informed citizens our duty doesn't end with responsible disposal alone. Segregation is good. But how long and how much of non-degradable stuffs are we throwing away and what is happening to everything we throw. The major issue in waste management in our country is the issues exists in various levels, starting from our production and consumption patterns to throwing out of home till disposal or recycle or degradation. Cradle to Cradle is just an aspiration yet. It is high time we focus on issues at every level in parallel and in a inclusive manner. Policies always exist, but the trouble is either ignorance or non-participation. Hope more participation and more awareness can lead to better outcomes.


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