The death of a 70-year-old man suffering from respiratory illness in Kochi has given a new twist to the controversy surrounding the Brahmapuram waste plant fire in Kerala’s commercial hub.

Lawrence Joseph, 70, a resident of Vazhakkala near Kochi, died Sunday evening after suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). His family alleged that his condition deteriorated after he inhaled the toxic air emanating from the garbage hill at Brahmapuram, which has been smouldering for the last ten days.

Joseph’s wife Lizzy told the media, “His condition worsened since last Wednesday and he complained about breathing troubles. Due to the disgusting stench of burning plastic, he told me about the uneasiness and trouble breathing,” she said.

Congress MP Hibi Eden, who represents the Ernakulam Lok Sabha constituency, said Joseph’s death was due to exposure to toxic air. He is a victim of the Brahmapuram tragedy, said Eden

However, the state health authorities have not so far reacted to the family’s allegation.

Meanwhile, the Congress-led Opposition demanded a CBI probe into the fire incident at the Brahmapuram plant. In the Assembly, Opposition leader V D Satheesan said the government was not ready for a probe to shield the contractors who had taken up the bio-mining work at the damping yard.

The Opposition leader said the garbage was deliberately set on fire as the contractor had failed to clear the waste pile. “The company realised that an inspection from the government side would expose its failure to shift the garbage. Hence, it was deliberately set on fire. The minister is speaking on behalf of the firm. Was there any probe into the fire at the garbage hill? The minister is justifying the contractors only to protect the interest of certain quarters,” Satheesan alleged.

However, Local Self Government Department Minister M B Rajesh told the Assembly that the state government had effectively intervened. “When the United Democratic Front (led by the Congress) was ruling the Kochi Corporation (from 2010 to 2020), there were fire incidents at Brahmapuram. In 2015, the municipal Corporation handed over the waste management at the plant to the state government, which in 2018 decided to start a project for generating energy from the waste,” said Rajesh.

“But the UDF-led council made no effort to make the project a reality. Hence, the government had to engage a new contractor for bio-mining with a deadline of June this year. The work has been going on a war footing but the garbage (pile) caught fire,” he added.

“It should be seriously examined how waste management in Kochi, which had bagged the Centre’s award as a zero-waste city in 2009, has reached this sorry state. The waste management project was delayed during the UDF regime at the Kochi corporation from 2010 to 2020. The sewage treatment plant started in 2008 and was functioning well till 2010 when the LDF was in power from 2005 to 2010,” he said.

The minister said garbage collection, storage and disposal were done very scientifically in the initial years.

“Waste collection facilities were provided to all houses. There was a contract with Shakti Paper Mills to collect plastic waste and paper waste from households free of cost. Plastic waste was then not taken to the plant, and there was an agreement with the FACT to convert the organic waste into fertiliser,” the minister said.

The minister said the UDF regimes from 2010 to 2020 failed to maintain the garbage plant. He said a large quantity of inorganic waste piled up at Brahmapuram, which grew to around 5 lakh tonnes and led to the fire.

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