India on a cleaning spree

Sanitation schemes, deterrents, public awareness programs, fines, strict municipal laws, and community engagement-every nation around the globe has a variety of action plans to keep its cities squeaky-clean.  Indian cities too are looking for expedient solutions to solve the littering, waste and sanitation conundrum.

Making Indian streets, parks, railway stations, offices, water bodies, schools, and hospitals clean by 2019 is the target to be achieved under the Swachh Bharat Mission envisaged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It will not only require funds and technical expertise to execute the Mission but also an exhaustive campaign to change the attitude towards sanitation among the masses.

The mission’s targets in urban areas include construction of 1.04 crore individual household toilets, over five lakh community and public toilet seats and 100 per cent door-to-door collection of solid waste and its transportation and disposal in all the cities, towns and villages. While launching the mission last year, Pranab Mukherjee, President of India, underlined the significance of the mission and said: “We must not tolerate the indignity of homes without toilets and public spaces littered with garbage. Swachh Bharat Mission will be our tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary to be celebrated in the year 2019.” The union government, under the Mission, targets to eliminate open defecation, convert insanitary toilets to pour flush toilets, eradicate manual scavenging, achieve 100 per cent collection and scientific processing/disposal/reuse/recycle of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW), bring about a behavioural change in people regarding healthy sanitation practices, and generate awareness among the citizens about sanitation and its linkages with public health.

On the service delivery side, the government has plans for strengthening of urban local bodies to design, execute and operate systems and create enabling environment for private sector participation in capital expenditure and Operation and Maintenance expenditure (O&M) in the waste management sector. Swachh Bharat Mission is to be implemented over a period of five years in 4041 statutory towns at a cost of Rs 62,000 crores (USD 9.7 billion), of which the Centre will pitch in with Rs 14,623 crores.

It is quite strange that the government has not directly focused on prevention of littering at public places in the Mission objectives. However, the central, state and local governments across the country have been sensitizing people against littering and urinating at public places through various advertising campaigns, though there has been no mention of deterrents and fines. Littering, a visible indicator of cleanliness, needs a little more attention in the present scheme of things for expediting the process of making our cities litter-free, and spick and span.

“Municipal Authorities lack technical and managerial capabilities to manage Municipal Solid Waste. The level of service is therefore extremely poor and needs out of the box solutions”

PU Asnani, Chairman, Urban Management Consultants


Public attitude

People in Indian cities spit and litter on roads and public places with impunity. Littering on roads and public places is a menace. The laws to fine and punish offenders remain in the statute books with near-zero enforcement. Many countries have set examples for keeping their public places clean by ensuring strict adherence of municipal laws.

In Singapore for example, the penalties for violating public cleanliness laws can be very steep indeed. Citizens convicted of littering can be fined up to S$1,000 (Rs 45,000) for the first conviction. Repeat convictions cost up to $5,000 (Rs 2,25,000), and may lead to community service orders or anti-littering lectures to curb repeat offenders. In the case of a third offence, law-breakers may be made to wear a sign reading “I am a litter lout”. The island country also imposes stiff fines on people for offences like putting spent chewing gum anywhere other than a bin, for failing to flush a public lavatory and so on.

There are many other countries where dropping a cigarette butt or throwing a used water bottles or cold drink cans could invite a hefty fine but Indian cities have not been able to formulate a stringent mechanism to impose the existing laws which restrict people from throwing garbage on roads. There are other countries where community engagement has been a success in keeping cities clean. One may wonder about the disciplined behaviour of Indians when they visit these countries and their completely different behaviour when back at home. Why overseas? Indians seem to behave very differently within the country itself. The spanking clean surroundings in some of our metro stations are in stark contrast to the situation outside or in the Suburban rail stations.

PU Asnani, Chairman, Urban Management Consultants, says that municipal authorities do not appreciate citizens’ role in keeping cities clean and fail to involve them as stakeholders in the decision making process. The level of service is therefore extremely poor and needs out of the box solutions.

                                                                                                                                      “Most of the MSW in India is dumped on land in an uncontrolled manner. Such inadequate disposal practices lead to problems that are impairing human health and are resulting in economic and environmental losses”

Suhash Bhand, Founder, Organic Recycling Systems

Solid Waste Management

Solid Waste Management in India requires an overhaul for several reasons. Waste generation is increasing by leaps and bounds as per a recent Central Pollution Control Board report. On a daily basis, urban India generates 188,500 tonnes of MSW-68.8 million tons per year. It is expected to grow at 1.3 per cent per capita p.a.-and waste generation increases by 50 per cent every decade.

SWM is in a crisis as the population attracted to cities continues to grow which is increasing the quantities of domestic solid waste while space for disposal is decreasing. To solve the problem, municipal bodies are looking to the development of sanitary landfills around the periphery of their cities as a first solution. However, there is an urgent need to focus on reducing the amount of garbage sent to land- fill sites as the preparation of landfill sites will require acquisition of more land and result in increasing day-to- day operational cost. Also required is optimum management of collected waste through reuse and recycling.

Another major issue cities in India face is that 100 per cent waste generated in households is not collected by the corporations. There are still many cities where door-to-door waste collection facility is not provided by civic bodies. The government cannot strictly enforce the ‘do not litter’ law if they do not provide appropriate facilities to the people. People cannot be fined for throwing garbage on streets if they do not have any other alternative.

Even the waste which is collected from households is not treated and is dumped in landfill sites causing severe environmental damage by polluting ground water and air quality around these sites. The regulations for treatment and reuse of garbage, as per the Manual of Solid Waste Management released by Ministry of Environment in 2000, are largely ignored. This is adversely impacting the environment and human lives. Suhash Bhand, Founder, Organic Recycling Systems, says that mixed (non-segregated) nature of Waste in Indian cities is the reason why recycling and reusing of waste is not possible. Most of the MSW in India is dumped on land in an uncontrolled manner despite having legislation in place. Such inadequate disposal practices lead to problems that are impairing human and animal health and are already resulting in economic, environmental and biological losses.

“We must not tolerate the indignity of homes without toilets and public spaces littered with garbage. Swachh Bharat Mission will be our tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary to be celebrated in the year 2019”

Pranab Mukherjee, President of India

There are several municipal corporations which have begun campaigns for collecting segregated waste at source by encouraging citizens through awareness programs and incentives.  However, it is sad that not a single state in India has achieved 100 per cent solid waste collection so far. Apart from household waste, the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change has formulated rules for handling of other kinds of waste such as bio medical waste, e-waste, industrial waste, construction waste, etc. Management of hazardous waste is increasingly becoming a major concern as haphazard dumping of hazardous wastes is resulting in severe environmental impairment. The adverse effects of hazardous wastes as well as the significant potential risks posed by them to life and its supporting systems are increasingly recognized. In 2012, the Supreme Court Monitoring Unit reported numbers of contaminated dump sites in each state. The report states that there are around 150 such sites; out of which 40 are in Andhra Pradesh, 21 in Odisha, 18 in Karnataka, and 10 each in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.

According to Sustainable Solid Waste Management in India (2012) report by Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council (WTERT), Columbia University, informal recycling can be integrated into the formal system by training and employing waste pickers to conduct door-to-door collection of wastes, and by allowing them to sell the recyclables they collect. Waste pickers should also be employed at Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) to increase the percentage of recycling.

Single households, restaurants, food courts, and other sources of separated organic waste should be encouraged to employ small scale biomethanation and use the biogas for cooking purposes. Use of compost product from mixed wastes for agriculture should be regulated. It should be used for gardening purposes only or as landfill cover. Rejects from the composting facility should be combusted in a waste-to-energy facility to recover energy. Ash from WTE facilities should be used to make bricks or should be contained in a sanitary landfill facility.

The Report suggests that such a system will divert 93.5 per cent of MSW from land-filling, and increase the life span of a landfill from 20 years to 300 years. It will also decrease disease, improve the quality of life of urban Indians, and avoid environmental pollution. This will also help in improving the lives of informal workers in waste management (e.g. rag pickers) by providing them regular remuneration, improving their working conditions, and integrating them into the formal systems of SWM.

“The toilet is a tool for social change but building toilets is not enough. What you need is a widespread motivation and information campaign”

Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder, Sulabh Foundation

Other components

Open defecation is a major issue in the country as over 50 per cent of Indians do not have access to toilets. Around 22 million girl students in India do not have separate toilet facility because of which many of them drop out.

Providing toilet facility to one and all is a target that the government is trying to achieve by 2019 under the Swachh Bharat Mission. However, their plans to engage corporate and multilateral organisations seem to be failing as most of the corporates such as Tata, Reliance, Infosys, and many others did not achieve the targets of constructing toilets as assigned to them in 2014. However, apart from building toilets in schools and public places, the government has made strict rules requiring that even construction labours be provided with access to temporary toilets at all sites where construction or maintenance work is taking place or where construction labour is temporarily housed.

“Building toilets is not enough. What you need is a widespread motivation and information campaign,” says Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder of Sulabh Foundation, a non-profit organisation which has built 1.3 million household toilets in villages. There are many households where toilets exist but people still defecate in the open for several reasons. There is need to bring about a revolution so that people start using toilets. Manual scavenging is another social issue associated with sanitation. According to Census 2011, there are over 11,000 people who are still engaged in manual scavenging despite the law that prohibits the construction and use of dry latrines. Manual scavengers in urban areas need to be identified and adequately rehabilitated, which entails upgrading the insanitary toilets linked to their employment to sanitary toilets.


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