Local authorities in Delhi can use imaginative by-laws to clean up the city

Households must be rewarded on segregating waste and collectors, both formal and informal, should be trained

By Swati Singh Sambyal
Published: Thursday 31 August 2017

Illustration: Tarique Aziz

On August 2, the Delhi High Court asked the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) to draft by-laws for the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, and place it before the court within two weeks. Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar gave this direction while hearing two petitions seeking directions to municipal bodies and other authorities to prevent the spread of dengue, chikungunya and malaria. A 16-member committee—comprising representatives from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ministry of Urban Development, Centre for Science and Environment and MCD among others—formed by the court had submitted its long-term action plan report. The court asked the MCD to examine the committee’s plan and give a time table before asking for more land for garbage disposal.

So what are the problems afflicting Delhi’s waste management system? To begin with, we do not know how much waste Delhi generates. The corporations woefully lack capacities to enforce rules and to ensure compliance. There is dearth of infrastructure to support decentralised processing. The city has over 2,300 dhalaos—structures to collect and store waste—which are the breeding grounds for mosquitoes. The city also has over 1,630 unauthorised colonies in three municipals alone where there is no waste management system in place.

Over 80 per cent of the waste is processed through incineration, though studies show that the calorific value of Delhi’s waste does not support incineration. It is more than a year since the Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM), 2016, were notified, but the MCD has not revised the by-laws as yet.

Moreover, all the three existing dumpsites in Delhi—Okhla, Bhalswa and Gazipur—exceeded their capacities way back in 2008. MCD has been asking for more land to process and dispose garbage. But the answer does not lie in more landfill space. The court appointed committee, in its report, has highlighted four steps to transform the system. Firstly, we must operationalise segregation at source. Every household must compulsorily segregate wet, dry and hazardous waste. All MCD contractors must be made to collect segregated waste from colonies. We also need to urgently incentivise segregation—by awarding and recognising households. Secondly, we need to strengthen the collection and processing systems to reinforce segregation. This can be done by training collectors, both formal and informal, and by enhancing the accountability and transparency by creating a Management Information System (MIS). Thirdly, we must create decentralised and semi-decentralised space systems to increase the processing capacity. This can be done by converting dhalaos into dry waste sorting stations or decentralised composting centres, wherever space is available. This will also generate maintenance jobs for the informal sector.

MCD should encourage households to treat wet waste at source by creating incentives for the adoption of decentralised technologies such as biomethanisation and composting. Bulk waste generators such as mandis (wholesale markets) should be pushed to decentralise processing—through biomethanisation plants to treat wet waste. Hotels and restaurants (with a seating capacity of less than 50) must be made to compulsorily adopt a Zero Waste Policy to treat wet waste at source. Institutions and government organisations too must compulsorily adopt decentralised waste management.

There is also a need to create market linkages for composting. MCD should create a system to procure compost and give coupons that can be used in all cooperative dairy and vegetable outlets like Mother Dairy. On a trial basis, this model can be implemented in a few residential colonies. At present, a fine of c50 is imposed for littering. However, this needs to be revised to Rs 500-1,000 per violation. But most importantly, the MCD needs to respect the court’s order and enact imaginative by-laws at the earliest and create a system where everyone will be a willing partner to clean up the city.

(This was first published in the 16-31 August issue of Down To Earth magazine, under the headline 'Don't rubbish the court').

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