Sreelatha Santhan, a tribal woman, lives on a hilltop in Peringamala valley, 50 kilometers away from the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram. The hilltop comprises dense forests, verdant rolling hills, elephant corridors and rare species of plants. On 1 July 2018, Santhan left her hut and walked a distance of around 100 metres to a makeshift tarpaulin tent, which has become the site of a sit-in protest by tribals and environmentalists against a waste-to-energy plant proposed to be set up in Peringamala. “We were born on this virgin hilltop forest. This is the land where our forefathers lived. We know how to not harm it,” Santhan said, sitting on a desk made of bamboo sticks inside the tent. “We don’t want urban waste dumped here. We will die to protect it for our children.”
Peringamala is a part of the Agasthyamala Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO-recognised region of tropical evergreen forests in the Western Ghats. It was listed as an ecologically sensitive area, in 2013, by the Kerala State Biodiversity Board. In September 2017, the state government issued an order stating that six waste-to-energy plants will be set up in Kerala. The order came a year before Kerala even had a solid-waste management policy.
On 21 July this year, a paper was placed in the state’s legislative assembly, detailing how the proposed Peringamala plant will operate—waste from the capital city of Thiruvananthapuram will be collected and transported to the Peringamala hilltop. It will then be dumped at a state-run agricultural farm in Peringamala, and converted into electrical energy.