Villages paying the price of failing urban waste management

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Last week, the Maharashtra Assembly rocked with the demands to suspend the Aurangabad Police Commissioner Yashasvi Yadav. It was under Yadav’s supervision that the police had beaten up a group of protestors not even sparing women and children.

The people of Naregoan and Mandki were protesting against the dumping of waste by the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) in their villages. Almost 10 km away from the city of Aurangabad, these two villages had become garbage dumping centres for the municipality. When villagers opposed this, AMC decided to collect and load garbage trucks amid police protection. The locals resisted and were then met with brutal force by the police. The opposition raised the issue in the assembly and the Chief Minister Fadnavis was forced to the Commissioner on long leave.

But is the dumping of waste in the peri-urban area just a law and order situation? Or is there something more underneath, which is simmering and which has to do with the way the cities are developing and managing their waste problems.

Aurangabad city produces 430 metric tonnes per day (TPD) of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) and since February 2018, the locals of the Naregaon-Mandki had stopped the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) from dumping the waste in their villages. Around 5500 metric tonnes of waste had accumulated (since February) in the city which required to be lifted. The waste was lifted under police protection which was resisted and subsequently led to police brutality on the agitating villagers and locals.

Aurangabad is not an isolated case but we see that it is a nation-wide phenomenon where many big cities fail to manage solid waste and eventually dump it in places of habitation outside the city.

Discontent between locals, villagers

The cities in the country generate phenomenal waste which now has increased from 200 gm/day to 500 gm/day. There is an annual increase of 1.3 % per year owing to change in lifestyles. India generates almost 1,50,000 tonnes of waste per day. Seventy percent of urban waste is dumped into landfill sites. These sites are not within the city and hence peri-urban areas are identified for such landfill sites. There is a simmering discontent in between the locals or the villagers near such sites and the municipal authorities, which often takes the form of violent protests even leading to stopping the municipality from dumping its waste.

In a similar case in Varanasi the waste is dumped in the neighbouring Ramana village where the villagers have held several protests to stop the garbage dumping. The local MLA and the city municipality both are governed by the BJP. Despite that, the MLA representing Ramana village had threatened the city officials to find another place of dumping as the villagers were facing lots of inconvenience because of the dumping ground.

The much hyped Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is a flagship programme of Modi government of which he has spoken during Independence Day speeches, from the towers of Red Fort, and even in his election campaigns. Every layer of the government has been roped in from the top to the bottom for the promotion of the same. Not just that, a cess of 0.5 percent on all taxable services has been levied on the Indian population to help raise the money for the campaign. Apart from open defecation free India another task of the mission (SBM) was to ensure proper management of solid waste especially in the cities. The outcome, however, after 4 years of its implementation is not as desired and the confrontation in between the cities and the peri-urban continues to intensify with very little intervention to mitigate the problems emanating from handling of solid waste in the cities.

85 % of waste either untreated, goes to landfill site

The Planning Commission Report (2014) reveals that 377 million people residing in urban area generate 62 million tons of MSW per annum currently and it is projected that by 2031 these urban centres will generate 165 million tons of waste annually. To accommodate this amount of waste generated by 2031, about 1,175 hectares of land per year would be required. The study carried out in 59 cities (35 Metro cities and 24 State Capitals) by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) reveals that 39,031 TPD of MSW was generated from these cities/towns during the year 2004–2005. For the same 59 cities, another study was carried out by Central Institute of Plastics Engineering & Technology (CIPET) during 2009–2010 for Central Pollution Central Board wherein it was seen that these cities are generating 50,592 TPD of waste. During the year 2011, about 1,27,486 TPD MSW was generated from across the country, out of which only 89,334 TPD (i.e. 70%) was collected and 15,881 TPD (i.e. 12.45%) processed or treated (CPCB, 2013).

This shows a startling figure where, more than 85 percent of waste is either not treated or goes to the landfill site. It is the management of solid waste within the cities through de-centralised forms of governance, management and treatment that is required. Large scale solutions of transferring the waste from one corner to another and then dumping it onto the peri-urban areas is not the solution. According to an India Spend analysis, we have almost 3 million truck-loads of untreated waste. If these trucks are laid end-to- end, it will equal to half the distance from the earth to the moon, or rather 15 trips from Mumbai-Los Angeles. On top of that the landfills are overflowing and a majority of them are throwing poisonous gases into the atmosphere. The Ghazipur landfill site near Delhi is a classic example where the fire is always seen at the site even during rainy season.

De-centralised solutions like segregation at source and even treatment of bio-degradable material in a de-centralised form will not only help in reducing the cost of transfer to landfill sites but will also help in reducing the burden on them. There are innumerable forms of waste treatment from bio-methanisation to the conventional composting and even incineration at source (ward/ Mohalla etc) that has to be practiced. This will also result in reducing the conflict in between the urban and the peri-urban. But, the state i.e. the government both at the National and the state level have to bring in adaptive solutions with strong support to ensure that the waste is managed and handled properly. Just to keep it to the municipality, citing the solid waste management rules of 2000 further revised in 2016, which lay the onus on the city government will not help!


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