India's city compost policy needs overhauling

Promised financial incentives for sale of city compost did not prove to be a game-changer in promoting its marketing and production 

By Richa Agarwal
Published: Friday 15 February 2019
Packaged city compost at IL&FS plant, Mysuru. Photo: Swati Singh Sambyal/CSE

The Swachh Bharat Mission had committed to ensuring that all organic waste produced in Indian cities is processed into making compost by October 2019, but it doesn’t seem likely. Currently, not even 5 per cent of organic waste generated by cities is converted into compost.

To meet the ambitious target, the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers had announced a Policy on Promotion of City Compost to promote city compost in February 2016. The advertisements and punch line ‘Compost Banao, Compost Apnao’ (Make compost, use compost) did catch on but the lack of an appropriate market and ineffective implementation didn’t give this much-needed practice the desired popularity.

India currently produces close to 1.5 lakh tonnes of solid waste every day and its biodegradable fraction ranges between 30 per cent and 70 per cent for various Indian cities. This means there is a huge potential for compositing, the most natural form of processing wet waste. But, uncontrolled decomposition of organic waste in dumpsites and also leads to emission of potent greenhouse gases. So, it is imperative that necessary actions be taken to promote appropriate disposal mechanisms for solid waste management.

Also, with increasing food demand and depleting soil quality, city compost plays a very important role as a replacement or supplement to chemical fertilisers in replenishing the nutrient-depleted soil. That’s why compost must reach our farmers.

Moreover, while the policy’s agenda was right, the subsidy design and implementation was designed to fail as it was a not taken seriously by any of the three ministries — Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, Ministry of Chemical and Fertilizer, and Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare.

According to the mobile Fertilizer Management System (mFMS) portal, fertiliser companies have claimed market development assistance (MDA) for 0.12 million tonnes of compost, whereas 30 compost manufacturers have claimed MDA for the sale of 62,394 tonnes of compost. So, in total MDA was claimed for 0.18 million tonnes of compost in 2017–18.

According to MoHUA, in 2017, the average compost production increased to 16,000 tonne per month from 12,000 tonnes per month in 2016. The fact that the full subsidy has not been disbursed to any manufacturer or marketer in the last three years is concerning.

The policy on promotion of city compost was rolled out to facilitate its marketing through fixed MDA of Rs 1,500. This subsidy was to reduce the selling price of compost for farmers. It required agreements amongst municipal body, compost manufacturer and compost marketer, including fertiliser companies. But, unlike the predictions that the new financial incentives will boost promotion and production of compost, it did not prove to be a game-changer.

The vacillating manufacturing and selling cost of the compost, associated additional costs, questionable product quality, no direct incentive/subsidy to farmers and lack of knowledge among other concerns, ensured city compost didn’t become a popular option for farmers.

Also, the money allocated for MDA subsidy in the last three years is so meager (Rs 15 crore for 2016-17 and 2017-18 and Rs 10 crore for 2018-19) that it could not meet the requirement of even 2 per cent of the SBM’s target. In addition, the process to claim MDA is so tedious that most manufacturers and fertiliser companies have not received any payment under it.

Another issue with the policy is the conflict of interest. A firm producing chemical fertilisers and its dealers are unlikely to be enthusiastic about selling organic compost till there is a legal mandate. The current policy has subsidy but no legal targets. They are just “supposed to” co-market fertilisers with city compost in a way that there are 6-7 bags of urea and 1-2 bags of city compost.

To create a demand for quality compost, it is necessary to ensure that robust waste management systems are developed in cities, with source-segregation and promotion of decentralised waste management at its heart. We also need a much more serious policy to scale up production and consumption of city compost. It should also support other factors such as by reforms in terms of  fertiliser control order norms, defining testing frequencies,  better testing laboratories, stringent targets for fertiliser companies etc. There is clearly a need and demand for quality city compost in India waiting to be recognised.


(The author is a research associate in municipal solid waste unit of New Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment. She recently co-authored a report titled ‘Charting the future of city compost’, which analyses gaps in the existing compost promotion policy and suggests changes to strengthen it)

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