Waste management in India – the need for a comprehensive and sensible policy

Mainak Chakraborty August 14, 2010

India generates around 0.2 to 0.3 million tons of waste on an average everyday. A city like Bangalore generates around 3500-4000 tons of waste while Mumbai and Delhi average almost double of this. The onus of disposing this waste in a safe way falls on the municipal corporation. While the developed nations also face the complicated issue of waste disposal, there is a fundamental difference – other nations have been able to achieve high levels of source segregation and have done much more scientific studies on the various disposal techniques and more importantly, implemented them through active public-private participation.

India, primarily lacks the space in the cities to dispose off the waste. Secondly, though we have a waste management policy, the existing players don’t have the required technological capabilities and hence there hasn’t been an effective implementation of the same. Bangalore’s waste lands up in the outskirts of the city in villages. In the last decade, atleast 6-8 villages have become uninhabitable. Mavelipura, outside Bangalore, is a grim reminder of the same and there are lots of similar cases all around the nation. Apart from the obvious environmental hazards, there are direct and indirect economic costs to this – while the healthcare costs go up due to the air and water pollution happening in the vicinity of the populace, so do the remedial costs for mitigating the contamination of water table due to the seepage of the waste into it. On top of this, all this results in a fall in the local economy due to uninhabitable conditions, finally resulting in migration, thus creating a social disaster as well. So, it is not just a case of moral obligation but an economic crisis too, which the Govt doesn’t seem to realize or if so, address at the moment.

What has been happening at the moment are just quick-fix solutions, with the sole beneficiaries being the ventures providing them. Fundamentally collecting garbage and dumping them in the outskirts of the city is a multi – thousand crore business. While no investment is made in the scientific disposal of these wastes, the profit margins for these businesses are extremely high. And what has evolved over time is a huge illegal nexus of municipalities with land owners who earn a quick buck by leasing out agricultural and wetlands for waste disposal. So, even though these landfills being (mis)managed by these ventures are unscientific and the source of problems mentioned in the paragraph above, no one seems to be doing anything, probably due to the political backing which these players enjoy.

Another worrying trend seen worldwide and which is now starting off in India is due to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) based ventures mushrooming in the country. Based on the UN convention, if a venture reduces greenhouse gas emissions, that will directly earn them carbon credits which is market tradeable. This means that all the waste management firms can claim to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and using the carbon credits they might earn in the future, raise funds in advance. While these firms might just end up incinerating the waste, they directly are throwing millions of livelihoods literally into the dumps as the informal sector of ragpickers get displaced. Especially in India, where this network is huge, this problem will become rampant when corporates undertake what the ragpickers have been doing for ages and is their sole source of livelihood.

The way to tackle this problem is for the government to ensure that the policies laid down in the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 be implemented properly. Schedule III of the policy framework very clearly defines the specifications of landfill sites, which if followed should never pose the problems currently being faced. However, hardly any of the rules seem to be in place. What is needed foremost is proper execution of the same and strict actions against the offenders. Also, the rules should be modified to include the ragpicker network into the picture by incorporating them into the initial level of segregation rather than bypassing them and handing over that chunk of work to corporates just trying to make a quick buck.

Bangalore, CDM, Development, Essay, waste management, India, Technology Share this Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

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