Event ReportsPublished on Feb 24, 2014
While the civic agencies responsible for daily cleaning of streets and removal of garbage are not demonstrating the desired level of efficiency, many urban residents do not follow any of the waste disposal rules, making waste management increasingly difficult.
Improving accountability in management of municipal solid waste

The management of solid waste is becoming increasingly difficult in many urban centres of the world. This is observed from the huge waste deposits and unhygienic environmental conditions, which are a common sight. It is most unfortunate that such uninhabitable living conditions are increasingly becoming a way of life for the urban residents.

While on the one hand, the civic agencies responsible for daily cleaning of streets and removal of garbage are not demonstrating the desired level of efficiency in waste management, on the other, many urban residents do not follow any of the waste disposal rules, possibly due to non-availability of facilities, or lack of concern towards their living environment.

These problems were discussed in great detail in the ORF-GIZ Workshop on Improving Accountability in Management of Municipal Solid Waste held on February 24, 2014 at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi. The objectives of the workshop were to:

(a) Understand the conventional procedures and new methods followed by civic authorities, other agencies and informal workers in the collection, transportation and disposal of solid waste;

(b) Identify the gaps and constraints in the existing waste management procedures and discuss ideas for strengthening the waste planning and implementation mechanisms.

It was the fifth in a series of urban workshops organised by ORF and GIZ. The previous workshops covered four different urban topics - trends in India’s urban population, need for new urban settlements, affordable housing, and effective implementation of urban development plans.

The opening remarks were given by Dr. Regina Dube, senior advisor and head, Sustainable Urban Habitat, GIZ India. She said that though a number of steps have been taken by the government for the management of solid waste such as formulation of MSW Rules, preparation of SWM Manual, JNNURM reforms, but not much progress has been achieved. For example, scientific treatment and sanitary disposal has not picked up, most PPP projects are not showing favourable results, and enforcement of standards is a major issue. In her opinion, in addition to the many reforms underway in India, the university system needs to be properly tuned to the challenges in solid waste management.

Dr. A. K. Keshari, professor, Department of Civil Engineering, IIT Delhi gave the first presentation and drew the attention of participants to the following points.

Enormous amount of waste is being generated in cities and its composition is extremely heterogeneous. This is collected and transported to the disposal site without segregation. Inadequate and ecologically unsound infrastructure facilities available at disposal sites are a cause for concern, as it results in contamination of rivers, ground water, release of gaseous substances, leachate generation, etc., besides adversely affecting human health. The problem could be overcome by having an engineered sanitary landfill.

The occurrence and growth of leachate in areas with large amounts of refuse is dangerous. It can migrate to surface as well as ground water and remediation becomes almost impossible. This has major implications for those cities which are highly dependent on ground water. Leachate migration can be contained by making different layers within the landfill site.

Waste generated can be utilised for different purposes in a very effective manner, such as in road construction, use up to the plinth level in housing, in gardening, etc.

The amount of waste generated in India is much less than that of developed countries, but the problem is more acute in India because the system is not geared to cater to the problems.

Dr. Amiya Kumar Sahu, president, National Solid Waste Association of India, Mumbai, spoke about his experiences and highlighted the following areas of concern during his presentation.

It has to be understood that each and every person is accountable for waste management, and there is no point in blaming each other. What is needed is a change in attitudes as to how much importance do we give to the issue of handling waste.

Size of the community bins, their placement on roads, availability of segregated bins, collection frequency are major issues. This results in overflowing bins, an unhealthy environment, and mixing of all types of waste.

There exist deficiencies in the current waste collection and transport system. It must be designed using appropriate technology and should be based on road width and distance to be covered. Installation of a shredder within vehicles could help in reducing the volume of waste to be transported.

Political leaders need to play a more proactive role. The problems of ULBs are very well understood, but the motivation to get things done seems to be lacking.

The third presentation was given by Dr. N.B. Mazumdar, Chairman, Expert Committee for Revision of MSW Manual, MoUD, GoI, Delhi. In his opinion:

It is important that every person who generates waste abide by the rules made for waste management. Further, it is the responsibility of every citizen to pay for receiving any kind of waste collection services. A common practise has been default on these two fronts, which creates problems. Greater devolution of powers to ULBs and effective enforcement of rules would go a long way in overcoming the problem.

Land availability for waste treatment, processing or disposal is a serious problem. A common perception is that waste is not a paying activity, and therefore, arranging land is considered as an unviable business. Difficulties are also faced due to insufficient earmarking of spaces for different kinds of waste in the land use plans.

Before allocation of land, it is necessary to ensure that the land selected by the ULBs is environmentally suitable. ULBs should go for a bid after addressing this aspect so that immediately after the bid is allotted, the actual work can quickly begin.

Mr. Ravi Agarwal, director, Toxics Link, Delhi gave the final presentation during which the following points were covered:

The solid waste management system is extremely complex and has a strong relationship with livelihood and poverty. Therefore, any attempts aimed at reforming the system must take into account the existing social realities. In the past, lead acid battery waste rules were formulated without sufficient attention paid to social and environmental factors.

Many innovations take place at community level (between the household and waste bin) visible from novel ways adopted in waste picking, its segregation, use of local technology, etc. Any privatisation, corporatisation or decentralisation efforts must be done without interfering with such innovations. Besides efficient waste collection at the local level, this approach would also help in reducing conflicts with existing waste pickers.

Municipal agencies are often blamed for weak waste management, however, not much importance is given towards their capacities and the help they need in areas such as project selection, technology, subsidies, etc.

In India, work is underway on the setting up of very expensive and complex technologies as used in incinerators. These methods will not be successful unless sufficient thought is given towards investing in regulation of such technologies, which would also come at a heavy price.

Composting plants have been set up however it is difficult to sell compost due to lack of markets.

Up to 20 per cent of waste is being recycled but evidence of a bankable project on recycling in large cities is lacking. For making recycling units bankable, entrepreneurial energy must be tapped.

Sufficient thought is not being given to developing a system that handles segregated waste. Since this is not available, people do not give importance to waste segregation at source.

The industrial sector usually shows little interest in setting up waste collection systems, despite a mandatory requirement. This issue needs to be better regulated.

The presentations by speakers were followed by interactive discussions with the participants of the workshop. Some of the issues that came up for discussion were regarding containment of leachate in mines, ULBs’ coordination with multiple ministries, micro tunneling to create holes acting as filters, suggestions for IIT and MoUD to work together, the need for subsidies to be given at the product level, the JNNURM mandate of user charges being collected from the household and lack of reliable data in the country.

Earlier, giving the introductory remarks, Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow, ORF Delhi, mentioned that the ORF-GIZ urban workshops were being conducted to build a better understanding of the development problems that exist in towns and cities of India and to discuss ways in which such problems can be overcome. With respect to the issue of waste management, he said that whether it is waste segregation, collection, transportation or disposal, much work needs to be done, as in most urban centres, the local governments are unable to achieve the desired levels of cleanliness.

(This report is prepared by Dr. Rumi Aijaz, Senior Fellow and Ms. Archana Rath, Research Intern at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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