In­dia is re­vis­ing the way it man­ages solid waste. A man­ual for this, pre­pared by the ur­ban de­vel­op­ment min­istry, pro­poses pro­vid­ing le­gal iden­tity to rag­pick­ers and waste deal­ers but over­looks cer­tain ground re­al­i­ties


Draft of the re­vised mu­nic­i­pal

solid waste man­age­ment man­ual over­looks cru­cial is­sues

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 Ge­sellschaft für 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 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.

Pro­tec­tive gear is not suf­fi­cient. “It is time the gov­ern­ment pro­vided some space to the rag­pick­ers for the job they do. They can­not op­er­ate in somebody’s back­yard or ad­ja­cent to a drain for­ever,” says Rakesh Solanki, pres­i­dent of the Del­hibased En­vi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence Re­search Foun­da­tion (esrf ).

But how much space will they re­quire? Ac­cord­ing to Ra­jesh Mit­tal, di­rec­tor of Green Planet Waste Man­age­ment company in Delhi, pro­cess­ing about 15 kg of unsegregated waste will re­quire one square me­tre of area.This much land in Delhi costs about 100,000.

` Mit­tal adds that 87 per cent of house­hold waste is re­cy­clable, most of which is re­cy­cled by the in­for­mal sec­tor. “The con­cern here is that the in­for­mal sec­tor only re­cy­cles waste that is com­mer­cially vi­able,” says Solanki. “The man­ual has failed to pro­vide any in­cen­tive to this sec­tor to deal with com­mer­cially un­vi­able yet re­cy­clable waste.”

Pro­vide more space

Ac­cord­ing to cpcb, 70 per cent of the to­tal solid waste in the coun­try is col­lected and only 12 per cent is treated. Seg­re­ga­tion at source, col­lec­tion, stor­age, treat­ment and sci­en­tific dis­posal of waste are in­suf­fi­cient.

Con­sid­er­ing the prob­lem of waste stor­age, the man­ual pro­poses re­place­ment of neigh­bour­hood stor­age de­pots with metal con­tain­ers to main­tain hy­giene.But it does not say where they should be placed. “It is bet­ter if some spa­tial re­quire­ments are pro­vided in the man­ual. Their place­ment should not lead to traf­fic con­ges­tion or un­hy­gienic con­di­tions,” says Srini­vas, se­nior town plan­ner in moud.

The man­ual is also silent on a strat­egy to re­duce en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion caused by ex­ist­ing land­fills. Th­ese sites have been pol­lut­ing un­der­ground wa­ter for decades and are highly in­flammable. In­dia in­curs huge eco­nomic losses on ac­count of en­vi­ron­men­tal costs, and more than 20 pub­lic health dis­eases are caused by poor waste man­age­ment, notes Shanker Ag­gar­wal, sec­re­tary, moud.

Im­prove tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise

The man­ual lays down stage-wise re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies, such as pre­par­ing de­tailed project re­ports and us­ing ad­vanced in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy tools like ge­o­graphic and man­age­ment in­for­ma­tion sys­tems. Th­ese would be ir­rel­e­vant if the tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise of the ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies is not en­hanced.

The man­ual also pro­poses pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship (ppp) for waste man­age­ment projects. Rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the work­shop pointed out that ppp projects re­lated to msw Rules did not run through­out the con­ces­sion pe­riod in the past due to tech­ni­cal, fi­nan­cial and le­gal con­straints. They noted that in­stead of sug­gest­ing new ppp projects, the draft should learn from the past. Srini­vas be­lieves that ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies need to have the right ex­po­sure to im­ple­ment ppp projects. “Ev­ery de­tail can­not be in­cor­po­rated in the man­ual, ”says an ex­pert com­mit­tee mem­ber from moud.

Ru­ral In­dia for­got­ten

The man­ual makes no men­tion of waste man­age­ment in ei­ther ru­ral In­dia or the 3,892 towns with­out ur­ban lo­cal bod­ies, thus ex­clud­ing about 70 per cent of the coun­try.It is the def­i­ni­tion of the mu­nic­i­pal au­thor­ity that de­ter­mines the ar­eas that will be cov­ered by the man­ual. The draft rules, which are sup­posed to pro­vide the def­i­ni­tion, are yet to be no­ti­fied.

Ru­ral ar­eas con­sume biodegrad­able waste more ef­fi­ciently than ur­ban ar­eas but plas­tic and elec­tronic waste have emerged as ma­jor prob­lems in ru­ral ar­eas, says Solanki.It is not clear whether the gov­ern­ment will draft a sep­a­rate man­ual for ru­ral waste.

Spe­cial waste

A few kinds of spe­cial waste that find men­tion in the man­ual in­clude plas­tic waste, bio­med­i­cal waste and waste from slaugh­ter­houses. They need spe­cial han­dling and dis­posal for the safety of hu­man health and en­vi­ron­ment. How­ever, in In­dia, such waste usu­ally gets mixed with mu­nic­i­pal solid waste.

The man­ual fails to recog­nise other kinds of spe­cial waste like “sea­sonal waste”. This gets gen­er­ated dur­ing a par­tic­u­lar sea­son like Di­wali, when the quantum of waste dou­bles, or dur­ing re­li­gious fes­ti­vals like Kumbh Mela in Al­la­habad, when 30 mil­lion peo­ple ar­rive in the city and pro­duce waste beyond the stip­u­lated quan­tity. Oth­ers in­clude hazardous waste such as mer­cury ther­mome­ters and com­pact flu­o­res­cent lamps, hor­ti­cul­tural waste and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal waste. Th­ese wastes fi­nally find their way to the land­fills.

The man­ual does not rec­om­mend ap­pro­pri­ate ways of dis­posal for all th­ese wastes, nor does it sug­gest how to in­crease the aware­ness of the work­ers han­dling spe­cial wastes mixed with solid waste. Guide­lines for us­ing re­cy­clable pack­ag­ing ma­te­rial are also miss­ing. Pack­ag­ing to­day is done by me­tallised lay­ers of alu­minium, tin and plas­tic, which are quite im­pos­si­ble to process.

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.

12-year-old Bit­too (right) bleeds and of­ten catches in­fec­tion as he rum­mages through piles of garbage at the Bhal­swa land­fill with bare hands

Saleem, 11, col­lects only plas­tic waste. Each mem­ber of his fam­ily of rag­pick­ers picks a dif­fer­ent kind of waste

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