If you head north-east from Margao, away from the beautiful beaches of south Goa, you will soon come upon something that gives you an idea of the state of the state as it prepares for a legislative assembly election on 4 February. Chances are you will smell it before you see it. Some five kilometres from Margao lies the Sonsoddo dump, a hillside that has collected waste from Goa’s commercial capital for over 40 years. When the veteran environmental activist Claude Alvares’s Goa Foundation took over management of the site in 2008, he estimated that it contained 120,000 tonnes of garbage. That amount has only grown, as over 50 tonnes of unsegregated waste is trucked in every day. As you would expect, the dump attracts legions of flies and other pests, and is home to over 400 stray dogs.
Every year, monsoon rains mix with the garbage, causing toxic leachate to pollute the area’s groundwater. Many residents have been forced to leave as a result. There is talk of “scientific capping” of the dump, but the ad hoc measure applied so far has been to cover the garbage with tarpaulin sheets. This costs the Margao municipality over Rs 10 lakh a year, and is not very effective. Over the years, there have been numerous allegations of overbilling and corruption in the process. The exercise is also inevitably delayed until after the first rains, the sheets are sometimes blown off by the wind, and the resident dogs often chew them up.
This is part of a long history of dysfunction in the dump’s management. In the last two decades, responsibility for it has passed, with alarming frequency, between the Margao Municipal Council, the Goa State Urban Development Agency, several companies with little or no expertise in waste management, and the Goa Foundation. The foundation has been brought in twice, and, despite making significant progress in treating the waste using earthworms and effective microorganisms, has pulled out both times: in 2006, alleging non-cooperation by the MMC, and in 2009, with Alvares accusing the municipality’s chief officer of interfering to ensure “that Goa Foundation does not get Phase II of the project.” In 2008, the MMC terminated an expensive contract, awarded earlier by the urban development agency, for the construction of a waste management plant by an industrial equipment manufacturer. The termination was opposed by Joaquim Alemao, then the state’s minister of urban development. Three years later, two Bharatiya Janata Party leaders—Damodar Naik, then an MLA for the Fatorda constituency, which neighbours Margao; and Manohar Parrikar, then the state’s leader of the opposition, who gave up the state’s chief ministership in 2014 to become the country’s defence minister—accused Joaquim of corruption based on irregularities in the tendering for the project.