What does this say of us? is a question i have been asking the past 15 years or so. Does it mean that we have become so apathetic and cynical? Or, have we reached our rock bottom of humour. Humour me? We in Darjeeling can laugh at anything and we take pride in it. How many times have i come back from funerals with a stitch from laughing too much. What does this say of us?
For me when i look at this photograph taken by Ashesh, it says, ‘the time is now’. The time is now for us to reflect on our lives, attitudes and behaviour with regard to waste. It is time for us to change for if we do not do it today there will be no tomorrow. Yet most of the time we just laugh it off and have jokes about the impending Gunami thats going to hit the town and paint us yellow.
It is time we recognise that the quantity and quality of waste has changed and no longer can we just roll it down the hill, burn or bury. It is also time we change our mindset from my clean house only, blame the neighbour, municipality to ‘I am responsible’.
For too long have we lived on top of the hill and believed in the cleanliness of our beautiful Darjeeling town. It is time we wake up to the fact that we have constantly rolled our waste down the hill and never taken responsibility of it once it crosses our sight. We hear of stories during the British Raj when the siren meant that people living downstream had to run as our waste would be opened into the river. Talk to old people in Pool Bazaar and Bijanbari if you do not believe me. Now we do not blow the siren, as our waste flows down the same water ways 24×7.
We in Darjeeling roll our waste down the hill without any segregation and without any treatment. Officially the Darjeeling Municipality dumps the waste above the Hindu Burial Ground(Murdahatti), but all of us know that we roll our waste in our closest jhora or just down the hill. Recently a private company based in Siliguri has started collecting some of the biodegradable waste but besides this recent development rest of the waste is just rolled down the hill. In some sense this was fine when Darjeeling was being established but today the quantity and type of waste has changed dramatically and one cannot just roll down the waste. Consumerism and the packaging industry has grown leaps and bounds resulting in complex waste which is not just non-biodegradable but toxic. Packaging material using layers of plastic, paper, metal and paint is increasing day by day with no management solution as of now. This means we are making our living environment a pile of waste, a waste which will never go away. Not just happy piling up, this waste is contaminating our soil, water and air. All supposedly pure in the Darjeeling Hills. Most of it just washes downhill and contaminates everything downhill. But true to the cyclic aspect of nature, from downhill comes our food, veggies, fruits contaminated by our waste. Loads of times these waste choke our drains and in the monsoon pulls us downhill with landslides. All one has to do is to take a trip down to Bijanbari or Rungdung and look up at our town and see the number of landslides.
Today, we do not have to wait for our contaminants to come back to us through food or water; every winter, the chute burns throughout the day and covers most part of the town. No wonder we have asthma, skin allergies on the rise. The combination of biodegradable waste and pressure built with the pile of waste, combustible methane is produced at the chute. Along with plastics raising temperatures during the dry sunny days of winter, the chute bursts into flames with a bang with all the smoke rising into town. Unsegregated waste with plastic burning like releases these smoke we see in the photograph with extremely toxic and carcinogenic(cancer producing) gases like dioxins and furans. They also contribute to climate change. Yet, we shake our head with disgust when we see the waste pile burning in plains and do not realise that our own is also burning at the base of the hill. That’s because waste is low in our priority and is actually out of our sight and mind. I find it amazing that people from Kutchery onwards towards Lebong see the smoke everyday when they come into town but have nothing to say when they reach town. Where is the fresh air we are so proud of when we head down to the plains? Truly, ‘Contaminate your bed and one day you will suffocate in your own waste’ Chief Seattle 1854.
Yes indeed it is time demand our right to life which is based on a clean environment. It is also time we take responsibility of our own waste and manage it properly. “Be the change you want to see in the world.’ Mahatma Gandhi.