Municipalities get thumbs down on solid waste management

Study by a non-profit says guidelines on including informal sector in waste management are being ignored

By Moyna
Published: Tuesday 14 August 2012

Photo courtesy Aman TrustA study by a non-profit working with waste pickers, says civic bodies across the country are not recognising the role of the informal sector in recycling waste. The report, titled Failing the grade, by environmental research and action group, Chintan, is an evaluation of implementation of solid waste management rules in the country with special focus on the integration of waste pickers. Fourteen cities were studied to examine whether the recommendations made by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India in 2007—the only CAG report on waste management—have been implemented in the past five years.

In March 2007, CAG had released a performance audit of management of waste in India. One of the observations made in the report related to the lack of recognition of the informal sector. “Only 17 per cent of the sampled states recognise the role of waste pickers,” the report had said. The CAG report also noted that solid waste was not only poorly handled due to non-compliance (of rules and regulations by state pollution control boards and municipalities) but also due to the lack of monitoring.

CAG indictment had little effect
The Chintan report says five years on, there are new rules and new policies in place that refer to the informal sector, but their implementation remains, as the CAG noted then, “unmonitored”.

Director of Chintan, Bharti Chaturvedi, says the 2007 report was taken as the reference point because it is a government document that comprehensively quantifies municipal solid waste management in the country. She adds that the Chintan study was carried out over the past seven to eight months to ascertain whether the 2007 CAG report recommendations had been implemented. “We believe four to five years is a long time to implement CAG recommendations, but we were appalled to see that there is general impunity and apathy,” she adds.

The report evaluated the solid waste management proposals under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) submitted by different cities along with corresponding master plans in the light of field visits, discussions and observations. The cities studied included Patna, Ahmedabad, Faridabad, Varanasi, Mathura, Allahabad, Hyderabad, Indore, Bengaluru, Nagpur, Rajkot, Cochin, Pune and Delhi. The report reveals that several cities, such as Patna and Nagpur, have displaced waste picker-inclusive systems instead of nurturing and upgrading these. This has been done by privatising various elements of waste management like house to house collection of garbage and its segregation at the landfill (see table).

While commending the Chintan study, Dharmesh Shah of Global Anti Incinerator Alliance (GAIA), an international network of advocacy groups, states that the CAG report itself needs to be looked at critically. CAG recommendations emphasise on appointing a nodal authority for solid waste management. "It proposes that Union environment ministry be that authority. It is very unrealistic to expect that the ministry or the equally unresponsive Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to take on this additional charge," says Shah. It is well known that both the ministry and CPCB are high ineffective when it comes to enforcing existing laws, leave alone recommendations, he adds.

Waste pickers displaced
The report states that JNNURM could have encouraged the inclusion of the informal sector in waste management systems but failed to do so. Of the eight detailed solid waste management projects Chintan could access,  six of the cities mentioned waste pickers in their plans—Ahmedabad, Faridabad, Varanasi, Allahabad, Indore and Cochin. A check revealed the reality is different. In Ahmedabad, waste pickers lost their doorstep collection work to a small private company. In Varanasi, a private company, A2Z, was contracted for solid waste management, including doorstep collection.

While criticising the existing policies on waste management, Chintan report make the following key recommendations:

  • Door to door collection of garbage should be carried out only by waste pickers or organisations working with them;

  • dry and recyclable waste from any source should be given to waste pickers or their organisations;

  • basic infrastructure should be provided or subsidised by municipalities

Bharti explains that while a number of new rules like e-waste rules (2012) , plastic rules (2011) and National Action Plan for Climate Change (2009) that have come into force in the past five years emphasise the need for participation and involvement of the informal sector, the municipalities have failed to implement them. Worse, cities have privatised waste collection leading to the loss of livelihood for a number of waste pickers.

Waste disposal challenge

Amount of solid waste generated by cities: 0.1 million tonnes

Amount of solid waste generated annually: 36.5 million tonnes

94 per cent of the waste collected is dumped on land

5 per cent of the waste collected is composted

Money spent by urban local bodies on collecting and treating waste:

Rs 500 to Rs 1,500 per tonne
Waste collection efficiency of Indian cities: ranges from 50 to 90 per cent

Source Central Pollution Control Board's report, titled Assessment of status of Municipal Solid Waste Management in Metro Cities and State capitals

“Thinking around solid waste in India has been more technical than managerial. It has rarely been seen as a tool to alleviate poverty for the thousands of informal sector workers who trade and recycle the waste.” says the report. It adds that collection figures do not take into account the fact the nearly nine to 20 per cent of the waste is collected for recycling and removed from the waste stream by a range of informal sector actors, including waste pickers, small and large waste dealers and buyers.

Citing a few positive steps taken by the municipalities the report states that there are “glaring deviations” in each city studied. For example, under “good practices”, Bhopal's orders on door to door collection, Delhi and Pune’s door to door collection and Bengaluru's identity card system find mention in the report.

But at the same time the report states that in Pune “inclusive collection of waste from the doorstep co-exists with mass displacement of waste pickers from a Hanjer run landfill.” It adds that while identity cards and collection centres for waste pickers are among the most encouraging new trends in India, there is little evidence of door to door collection that includes waste pickers at a city-wide level in Bengaluru. In Delhi, the New Delhi Municipal Council has included waste pickers for door to door collection, but the three new city municipal corporations have set up a series of waste-to-energy plants and are contracting out waste handling and collection to private companies, thus displacing waste pickers and waste traders, adds the report.


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