- CSE says that Survekshan's top cities follow poor waste management models
- It says that these cities focus on a centralised model without segregation
- The government says that the Survekshan considered decentralised models too
India’s top three cleanest cities of according to Swachh Survekshan 2017 – Indore, Bhopal and Visakhapatnam have adopted “environmentally unsustainable practices” for waste management, claims Centre for Science and Environment (CSE). In an analysis of the Swachh survey, CSE asserts that the survey has prioritised cities which practice centralised waste management without rcesou segregation. However, government sources in the Ministry of Urban Development refute these claims. So what exactly is the issue with centralised waste management and why is it a concern?
Decoding the Problem: Centralised Waste Management Systems
First to establish the concerns raised by CSE – its assessment says that Indore, Bhopal and Visakhapatnam have waste management mechanisms in place which focus on the collection of unsegregated waste which is transported to landfills with a minimal amount of it being processed. This centralised cluster-based approach means that the problem of overburdened landfills continues to persist.
Additionally, this means that these cities do not meet the statutory requirements of the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules (MSW Rules), 2016 that clearly state that all solid waste needs to be segregated into three categories at the household level – wet, dry and domestic hazardous waste. These rules also specify that waste to energy plants should not burn mixed waste and also classifies landfill disposal as the “least preferred option”.
“When it comes to solid waste management plants, we need to shift our focus towards decentralised processing of waste which means segregate and treat the waste at source. In that way, we will cut costs of transport and make households and institutions part of the solution. But, that is nowhere on the agenda of India. There is a push of centralised plants, which means time again we are spending millions on transportation – why not look at reducing that cost? If we compare this to a decentralised system, it is working well for us, but, that is not being pushed by anyone. Waste to Energy plants are being suggested for towns that not even need them. The focus has to be on segregation. All these plants are taking mixed waste as of now, we need segregation and then processing of waste in place. Currently, everything is working the other way round,” explains Swati Sambyal, Programme Manager, Environmental Governance (Municipal Solid Waste) for CSE.
“Of the top 50 cities, 31 cities are in these three states and all which are pushing a cluster-based waste management approach which involves waste to energy plants and landfills for processing and dumping of waste,” states the CSE report on Swachh Survekshan 2017, adding that there was an “urgent need” to change the methodology of the Swachh Survekshan to encourage sustainable practices such as segregation of waste at source and recycle-and-reuse.
However, the Indore Municipal Corporation says that it is in the process of moving towards a waste collection model which encourages the source segregation of waste at the household level.
“For over eight months we have been running a campaign to encourage waste segregation. This is one of the reasons that we have done so well in the Swachh Survekshan,” Asad Warsi, Consultant, Indore Municipal Corporation tells NDTV, “All of our door-to-door waste segregation vehicles have separate compartments for wet and dry waste. We have distributed blue and green bins to all households and currently have 400 volunteers who go from house to house creating awareness. Additionally, we are ramping up our capacity to treat this waste.”
Cities With Decentralised Systems and Segregation at Source Left Out: CSE
CSE’s analysis goes on to say that the cities which are actually working towards household-level segregation, decentralised recycling and reusing waste have been given very poor rankings in Swachh Survekshan 2017. Examples given include Alappuzha in Kerala which has a decentralised model for waste management which has been accorded the 380th rank in the survey and Panjim City which came in at the 90th place.
“Both Alappuzha and Panjim have no landfill sites or waste-to-energy incineration plants. Most of their waste is converted into compost or biogas. Inorganic wastes like plastic, glass, metals, papers etc. are sent for recycling. These cities make money from solid waste rather than spending crores in collecting and transporting wastes to landfills. Still, Swachh Survekshan 2017 has not given any recognition to these cities,” explains Swati Sambyal.
However, this is something which has been refuted by the Ministry of Urban Development.
“In the Swachh Survekshan both types of waste processing—promoting centralised or decentralised processing of solid waste—were considered and given equal weightage. In our questionnaires, we even had included a question on on-site composting. This is clearly stated in the methodology and parameters that were set,” a source in the Ministry of Urban Development tells NDTV.
The Way Ahead: Expert Speak
Bharati Chaturvedi, Founder and Director, Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group, on the other hand, said that while the top-ranked cities may genuinely be clean, the next thing they needed to work towards was a decentralised system.
“It is a fact that many of these cities are not currently doing decentralised waste management. That said, I do think that the Swachh Survekshan is a nudge in the right direction but what interests me is whether these cities will be able to move towards a decentralised model of waste management by the next edition of this survey,” she says.
“I know that many of these high-performing cities are setting up systems to move towards a decentralised system. For instance, Chandigarh (rank 11) is in the process and so is the NDMC (rank 7), although the progress has been slow. What we need is a formal target from the Ministry for these cities to move towards at least 80 per cent decentralisation,” Ms Chaturvedi adds.
The government’s current thrust seems to be promoting the segregation of solid waste at its source with a nation-wide campaign slotted for launch on June 5 to promote this and composting. But will that mean extra weightage for this approach of waste management and how will it impact ratings next year is something that has not been worked out yet. It will be crucial round of rankings next year as the coverage of cities by the Swachh survey is set to increase 10 fold from this year’s 434 cities to 4041 statutory towns and cities.