Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Garbage gets attention - but of what kind?

The state of waste management in India today can be best described as deplorable. The draft manual on municipal solid waste management prepared by the government overlooks the practical problems of the sector. India needs a manual that can be implemented, not one that adds to the existing pile.
ON THE way to Delhi via National Highway-1, the Bhalswa dumping site can be seen from as far as 5 km. In the 22 years of its existence, the landfill, which is the size of four international sports stadiums, has become almost 15-storeys high. “We spend our time controlling fire from the gas that this mountain of waste releases. And when it rains, the mountain slides,” says a senior engineer at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), requesting not to be named. “Nobody wants to handle this department.” Delhi generates close to 4,000 truckloads of waste every day. All its three landfills, including Bhalswa, were exhausted seven years ago but the city has nowhere else to dump its waste. MCD has gone to court demanding 250 ha from the Delhi Development Authority for new landfill sites.
Almost every city in India is seeing rifts among land authorities, local bodies and communities over solid waste management. As the country’s economy is growing, it is consuming more, thus, generating more waste. India produced 127 million kg of municipal solid waste per day in 2011-12, as per official estimate. This is 12 times of what Delhi generates. Actual amount could be much more. The World Bank estimates that solid waste generation in India will rise by 243 per cent from 2012 to 2025. After years of mismanagement, the government is now revising rules and manual to deal with the growing solid waste and incorporate the large army of ragpickers and waste dealers in the formal system.
Years of inaction
The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) formulated the Municipal Solid Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, or MSW Rules, in 2000. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) prepared a manual to facilitate the interpretation and implementation of the rules. But the rules barely got implemented. After 14 years, MoEF is now revising the MSW Rules, 2000. An expert committee, including officials from MoUD and Deutsche Gesellschaftfür Internationale Zusammenarbeit, an infrastructure and environment firm, has drafted a manual for the revised rules.
But the drafting of the manual before the notification of the rules has faced criticism. Activist-lawyer Harshad Barde, who works on waste management, asks, “How are we supposed to comment on a draft manual that is meant to facilitate a rule that has not even been notified? First give us the rules.”
In July this year, MoUD held a workshop in Delhi to finalise the draft manual. Some 250 professionals from the environment and urban development ministries, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), urban local bodies and private players from across India were present to deliberate on the draft. It provides detailed guidelines for formulating a waste management plan and defines institutional responsibilities and financial requirements. But fails to provide a practical approach to integrate ragpickers in the formal sector, allocate space for community bins and landfills and address waste management in rural India, among other lacunae.
Count the ragpicker
To better utilise the services of ragpickers and waste dealers, the manual proposes providing them legal identity and protective gear like boots and gloves. The ragpickers can be seen in action on top of the Bhalswa landfill. As soon as a truck unloads garbage, they jump into the heap and start segregating. Within minutes, all that is left is unsaleable waste. “We bleed every day and catch infection,” says 12-year-old Bittoo. “On lucky days I make Rs 300, but sometimes I make nothing. We get beaten up for climbing this hill of waste, but practically we do their [municipality’s] job,” he speaks quickly as he focuses on his work... read more: