Urban growth in India is going haywire. Infrastructure is crumbling; cities are choked with pollution and garbage. Majority of the urban populace has very little access to basic environmental services. New government at union level has prioritized cities as an important area for India’s transformation. Urban centres are and will be the engines of growth. It’s important to understand policies and their implication on urban India. Swach Bharat Abhiyaan (Clean India Mission), Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and Smart Cities Mission are talk of the day. In this blog –post we will be looking at Solid Waste Management framework proposed in Swach Bharat Abhiyaan and Smart Cities Mission.
Guidelines begin with Presidential address to the joint session of parliament on 9th June, 2014: “We must not tolerate the indignity of homes without toilets and public spaces littered with garbage. For ensuring hygiene, waste management and sanitation across the nation, a “Swachh Bharat Mission” will be launched. This will be our tribute to Mahatma Gandhi on his 150th birth anniversary to be celebrated in the year 2019”.
The ambit of Swach Bharat Abhiyaan is fairly big. It incorporates detailed elements including toilet designs when it comes to sanitation. The guidelines also include framing of solid waste management. Urban and rural India are the geographies of the mission.
Mission strategy on solid waste management includes focus on special groups and talks about integration of informal sector workers in waste management.
“In their efforts to streamline and formalize SWM systems it shall be the endeavour of ULBs that the informal sector workers in waste management (rag pickers) are given priority to upgrade their work conditions and are enumerated and integrated into the formal system of SWM in cities.”
The document states that the integration and enumeration of wastepickers should be done. But it doesn’t appreciate the role they play in recycling the generated waste. Nowhere in the guidelines had union government recommended either strengthening recycling industry or enforcing Extended Producers’ Responsibility. It subtly and in places explicitly suggests ‘waste to energy’ as a worthy technology to deal with dry waste. For wet waste it suggests large scale composting.
The mission costs for both sanitation and solid waste management is Rs. 62009 crores as mentioned in the outlay. Government of India earmarked support is Rs. 14623 crores. States are to contribute 25% of the overall costs. Other sources have been listed in the outlay. Those are user charges, Swach Bharat Kosh, market borrowing, corporate social responsibility and other forms of external assistance.
Mission recommends preparation of ‘city sanitation plan’ and ‘state sanitation strategy’. Many states have undertaken the daunting task, others are lagging behind. Sanitation plan includes preparation of detailed project report (DPR) for solid waste management in consultation with citizens. “The Manual on Municipal Solid Waste Management, 2000 published by M/o UD and revised from time-to-time, may be referenced for DPR formulation and implementation.”
There is a vague mention of litter control interventions in the mission guidelines. Most of the litter on the streets is packaging material of Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG). To keep the cities litter free enforcement of Extended Producers’ Responsibility on FMCG companies is must. Guidelines clearly shy away from mentioning it.
Instead the mission guidelines suggest subsidization of waste to energy projects. “In order to promote projects of waste to energy, it is clarified that the central government Grant / VGF may also be used for such projects, either upfront or as generation based incentive for power generated for a given period of time.”
After explicitly suggesting incentive mechanism for waste to energy, guidelines leave the states to freely choose the technology for SWM projects, toilets and street sweeping. One wonders why such incentive mechanisms are not created for recycling industry and which will help to unleash its true potential. In the section – ‘Clarification on Grant v/s Viability Gap Funding’ revenue streams such as compost from organic waste, recycled construction material from C & D (Construction & Demolition) waste, Power from waste to energy plants are recommended for viability gap funding. Funnily, it is the only reference to the word ‘recycle’ in the whole document. Otherwise there is no mention of it.
The guidelines are oriented towards technological solutions which will have severe implications on informal waste workers, whose integration has been asked for in the beginning of the document. Going ‘waste to energy’ way is a flawed approach. It will throw many informal waste workers out of business and their numbers are not small. 25000- 30000 wastepickers, 20,000 sorters and other workers in informal waste stocking units, more than 5000-7000 scrap dealers all will go out of business in just one city i.e. Bangalore. Imagine how much loss of livelihood will happen at national level! According to one study conducted in Bangalore, more 15000 wastepickers send around 1050 tons of dry waste for recycling every day, saving Rs. 84 crore to Municipal Corporation annually. According to a recently published paper in Economic & Political Weekly, wastepickers collect more than 10,000 MTs of waste daily for sale to recyclers. The informal waste economy centered on recycling amounts to more than $280 million (Rs1726 crore) annually. The robustness of recycling industry in India is recognised all over the world. There are many environmental and social benefits of informal waste economy which are yet to be accounted. In this context the subsidy to ‘waste to energy’ plants and silence on recycling comes out to be very odd.
Smart City Mission and Solid Waste Management
The objective of Smart Cities Mission “is to promote cities that provide core infrastructure and give a decent quality of life to its citizens, a clean and sustainable environment and application of ‘Smart’ Solutions.” ‘The core infrastructure elements in a smart city would include: sanitation, including solid waste management.’ The illustrative list of smart solutions in the Smart City Mission guidelines is also very suggestive of ‘Waste to Energy & Fuel’. Waste to compost, Recycling and Reduction of C&D waste are other two areas mentioned in it. It seems recycling and enforcement of EPR are not smart solutions for the Ministry of Urban Development responsible for the two given missions.
The mention of informal sector inclusion is made in the annexure referring to ‘scope the of work for Smart City Consulting Firm’ which will make submission on behalf of selected city by state government.
Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) is not involved in solid waste management. Explicit hinting of ‘waste to energy’ clearly shows the technological preference of the two missions. Absence of the word ‘recycle’ or ‘recycling’ leaves one completely dumb-folded. Management of litter is asked for. Source of litter generation – packaging material of FMCG is not recognised and as a result guidelines are silent on EPR. The guidelines begin with a call for inclusion of informal waste workers. The call is no more a lip service as recycling as an important technology and principle has not been recognised in the whole framework. Recycling will be the backbone of Prime Minister’s ‘Make in India’ campaign and has a critical role to play in manufacturing sector and cleanliness of our cities.