All stakeholders have a role to play in waste management

This Gandhi Jayanti will mark the completion of four years of Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), the largest “behavioural change” programme ever to be launched globally to bring about quantitative and qualitative shift in the way a country addresses sanitation. The good news is that while the quantitative achievements are impressive -the overall sanitation coverage of India has touched 92 per cent – the qualitative shifts are also just beginning to be visible.

Take Gurugram as a case in point. Being a real estate, corporate and medical hub and a city that is continuously expanding, it has immense challenges both in terms of waste management and construction and usage of toilets. The current official figure of waste generation in Gurugram is 850 metric tonnes per day; the city’s waste is growing at almost a double rate than the national average. Of this, not even 20 per cent is composted or recycled. Besides, the city has a significant moving and floating population, so the need for public, community and mobile toilets is quite high.

The city did improve its ranking in the Swachh Sarvekshan Survey 2018 to 105th rank (of 4,203 cities). This was due to the points earned under the Survey for a) constructing more toilets and meeting “open defecation free” targets b) introducing door-to-door waste collection. The real success indicators, however, is making attitudinal shifts with respect to open dumping, open waste burning, waste reduction and segregation and in maintaining functional toilets. In fact, it is these qualitative shifts that will help make the SBM truly sustainable.

There are some positive trends. For one, awareness levels about basic sanitation and waste practices in various communities such as schools and RWAs as also at the individual level has gone up. The tendency to throw garbage willy-nilly and not look for dustbins has reduced; if nothing else at least there is more guilt in throwing garbage on the wayside. It is a little easier now to find a dust bin or a public toilet in parks and public places. Most construction sites now have a mobile toilet for the construction workers. About twenty housing societies, several schools and hotels in Gurugram have started segregation of waste and composting of wet waste at their local level and all bulk waste generators seem more aware and responsible. Besides, due to regular training and feedback under SBM, there has been a significant capacity build-up among sanitation officers, consultants and workers at the municipal corporation level.

But it is still a long road ahead.  For example, a comprehensive awareness programme for smaller waste generators such as “street vendors” and “shopkeepers” in crowded markets need to be put in place. The built toilets need to remain functional and clean, and the liquid and solid waste off these toilets need to be treated sustainably through sewers or septic tanks. The city’s landfill at Bandhwari with mounds of piling waste (from both Gurugram and Faridabad) is not just an eye sore but a health hazard for all, especially for villagers in its vicinity. Though Ecogreen Energy, the company entrusted with integrated solid waste management of Faridabad and Gurugram is treating waste at the landfill, the task needs more urgency.

 One thing that the SBM too seem to have missed is that the ragpickers need to be integrated formally into the waste value chain. Besides, if the city incorporates of bye-laws on waste (just like Delhi) it will not only earn points under the Swachh Sarvekshan 2019 but improve enforcement. Greater citizen’s participation and feedback will shift ownership of SBM from the municipality to the ground level.  For this, waste champions in the city need to be recognised and awarded.

At an individual level, we all can make a difference. Being vigilant and not allowing waste burning or open dumping in our neighbourhoods is the first step. Besides, if each one of us individually or as part of our society/RWA/condominium segregate our waste and compost our wet waste; that in itself will take off 70 per cent of the burden from our landfills. “Saying no to plastics” by carrying own metal bottles and cloth bags for shopping and avoiding plastic cutlery while hosting parties can reduce dependence on plastics since they are non-biogradable and non-recyclable.

All in all, SBM is an ambitious programme given the scale of investments and the scope of work; covering both waste management and construction of toilets (and now also including sewage and water management), spanning both urban and rural India and spread across diverse stakeholders. It has made some difference at the awareness level and at the infrastructure level. Now, the real challenge is to bring about lost-lasting attitudinal changes so that it takes a form of a “jan-andolan” where every citizen feels and acts as a key stakeholder. 

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