There is too much money in waste (mis)management. Proper waste management will mean less money for the corrupt and the criminals
The problem of garbage management in Delhi has reached such alarming proportions that in August 2018, the Supreme Court directed Lieutenant Governor, Anil Baijal, to set-up an expert committee to deal with the issues of solid waste management. The committee would have to meet every working day for the first two weeks to find solutions. But will this expert committee find some magic solution that we don’t know about?
Before this expert committee, another 16-member expert committee was set-up by the Delhi High Court in 2017 to formulate a long-term action plan with regard to collection, removal and disposal of all waste in Delhi. In 2016, the Delhi government had also set-up a committee, headed by state health minister, Satyendra Jain, to find solutions for waste management.
Delhi’s garbage problem is not new. The city ran out of dump sites way back in 2008. Since then, all five municipal corporations of Delhi have been dumping wastes illegally in already-filled landfill sites at Bhalswa, Ghazipur and Okhla. The environment, including the groundwater, in and around these landfill sites is highly polluted with toxins, causing innumerable suffering in the surrounding areas. Yet, the municipal corporations have done precious little to solve their garbage management issues. Do the municipal corporations not know what the solution is or is there another reason?
The expert committee setup by the Delhi High Court had submitted a detailed action plan in August 2017. Based on the recommendations, the committee also prepared the draft by-laws on solid waste management. After some pushing and shoving from the High Court, the by-laws were finally notified in January 2018. All five municipal corporations are now bound to enforce the by-laws in their areas of jurisdiction.
The by-laws have noteworthy provisions. They mandate that waste be segregated at source into three streams—biodegradable (wet waste), non-biodegradable (dry waste) and domestic hazardous waste. These streams of waste have to be stored in separate colour-coded bins—green, blue and black, for wet, dry and domestic hazardous waste, respectively. Municipal corporations have to ensure collection and transportation of segregated solid waste. They have to publicise the time slots for waste collection for each area.
To avoid the mixing of segregated waste, all secondary storage points (dhalaos) have been mandated to have colour-coded containers to store wet, dry and domestic hazardous waste. Municipal corporations have to convert the existing dhalaos into recycling centres for further segregation of dry waste. Further, under the by-laws, they have to set-up a deposit centre for each ward to collect domestic hazardous waste.
To minimise transportation cost and avoid landfills, the by-laws mandate decentralised processing mechanisms such as biomethanation and composting in the colonies themselves. For waste-to-energy plants that incinerate directly, absolute segregation has been made mandatory. To fund the waste management infrastructure, corporations have been asked to fix and regularly collect a user fee. To ensure compliance with the by-laws, provision has been made for imposing a penalty for non-segregation, open burning and dumping of solid waste in vacant plots.
If the by-laws are implemented in letter and spirit, Delhi will be able to solve its garbage problem in a few years. But the municipal corporations are reluctant to implement them. They want to, instead, set-up new landfill sites and waste-to-energy plants. Why?
In the hit Netflix serial, Sacred Games, the first big break in the world of crime for the protagonist Ganesh Gaitonde (played superbly by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) comes when he takes over the garbage dump site of fictitious Gopalmath in Mumbai.
“Mumbai’s riches are in its landfills”, says Kanta Bai, an associate of Gaitonde. Kanta Bai is absolutely right—the main reason why cities like Delhi and Mumbai continue to have landfills is because it is a major source of money for corrupt officials, waste transporters and criminal gangs who exploit the informal workers. If garbage is properly managed, landfills will vanish and so will the source of money for the corrupt.
But this will not be easy. There is too much money in garbage (mis)management. Delhi spends at least `1500 for the collection and disposal of each tonne of waste. This excludes the salary of 70,000 workers, called Swachatakaramcharis, involved in waste management. Delhi, therefore, spends hundreds of crores of rupees every year to collect waste from homes and businesses and dump them in landfills or burn them in waste-to-energy plants. The current system is designed so that private contractors get more money—tipping fees—if they dump more waste in a landfill. This is the precise reason why unsegregated garbage continues to be dumped illegally in the three landfill sites of Delhi.
If the municipal corporations implement the by-laws, a large proportion of waste material will get treated in situ and less waste will need to be transported to the landfill sites. This will mean less money for the private waste-haulers and less commission for the officials. It will also mean less siphoning of diesel and less fabricated muster rolls. This is the precise reason why there is so much resistance to waste segregation in the city. Garbage management in Delhi, like most cities, is about fighting corruption.
The action plan is clear: Delhi cannot afford a new landfill site and hence must implement its by-laws that mandate segregation and decentralised waste processing. This will require massive social movement. Inculcating the habit of segregating waste requires time, continuous campaigning, prodding and penalties. But once this is achieved, waste management is a profitable venture for the city and its citizens. This is what cities such as Indore, Thiruvananthapuram, Alappuzha, Panchgani, Vengurla, Bobbili, etc. have realised.
These cities practise source segregation and decentralised processing and are eliminating landfill sites and pollution. They are also making money from garbage management. Though these are small- and medium-sized cities, there is no reason why this model cannot be replicated in big cities like Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata. “My city could be one of Delhi’s wards”, says Laxmi Karhadakar, president of Panchgani Hill Station Municipal Council, with regards to solving the garbage problem of Delhi.
We’d better listen to her. Panchgani has 100% waste segregation, decentralised processing and no landfills. There is no reason why every ward of Delhi cannot become Panchgani.
The Author is Deputy director general of Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). Twitter: Bh_Chandra