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India’s problems are faecal in nature

India’s problems are faecal in nature
We hear sirens of 100 smart cities ringing aloud. Many have attempted to define them, but amidst the different visions emerging, from digital to <g data-gr-id="145">wi</g>-<g data-gr-id="144">fied</g> cities, efficient transport and housing for all, we do not hear the word clean cities or healthy cities. Perhaps, it is included or perhaps the word SMART takes care of everything. The question to ask is: have we got the sequence of our needs in the cities right? Sure, we need housing, sure we need wi-fi enabled public spaces, we need public transport that takes us to our destinations, quickly and in comfort, but we sure as anything else need, above all, a healthy and clean city. Look around us anywhere and we see garbage and filth in varying sizes.

Many people talk shit, a difficult situation is ‘being in deep shit’. Nobody talks about the real thing because that is not conversation. Excreta is not polite talk anywhere. Waste of any kind is a waste of time for the average person. We now need to understand that waste does not go away by itself, it has to be treated and managed with a determination and resolve of the entire populations, be they in a rural setting or an urban one. The popular perception is that somebody will clean things up, the streets, the office space, the house and who cares as to where the waste ends up, so long as it is not in my backyard. Really, it is time for all of us to wake up and our environment, for decency’s sake, because we are generating about 50 million tons of municipal solid waste annually and barely 20-30 percent is being recycled and processed. 

<g data-gr-id="151">Rest</g> is dumped anywhere and everywhere. We are now beginning to see it, feel it and smell it and suffer it increasingly. The scenes in <g data-gr-id="156">city</g> after city, town after town, show that there are cesspools of filth, <g data-gr-id="157">plastics</g> and overflowing sewerage. Leave aside some elite areas, or the <g data-gr-id="171">kothi</g>/<g data-gr-id="172">bunglow</g> zones, the spectacle of garbage everywhere is the most stark reminder of a time bomb ticking as it takes its toll on the health and prosperity of the citizens.

The magnitude of waste is huge and has different dimensions. It begins with our mindset. ‘ I pay my taxes, there is a body set up by the government, hence it is their job to clean the garbage’. This is pretty much the pervasive attitude. We have mentally liquidated our own responsibility to keep public places clean. We are intensely afflicted by the ‘broken glass’ theory. If there is a building with a pane broken, the other panes will be smashed progressively by different passers-by. It really takes one person to start a garbage dump. He does it and everyone else follows suit. We are witnessing a tragedy of the commons in our lives. Public spaces belong to the government so they should clean it up and since they don’t do it, they are corrupt, lazy and inefficient. Do we have a responsibility or not? We need to realize that nature does not produce waste, it is the people who do. We obtain what we need and throw it away when the need has been met. Think of anything; a paper, empty packaging materials, worn out fabrics, and keep multiplying endlessly. It is all piling up somewhere on a landfill site. And now increasingly we are seeing it on the roads and streets where we traverse many times <g data-gr-id="159">everyday</g> because landfills are overflowing and have reached saturation points. Waste is posing serious threats to our lives. Just last month, the National Green Tribunal sought an undertaking from the government authorities for a time frame to complete the Treatment storage and Disposal Facility for hazardous waste as it has been languishing for years. Where are we headed?
 Population growth and rapid urbanization has meant  bigger and denser cities and increased waste generation in each city. 

The data compiled by reputed researchers indicates that of the 366 cities studied, these were generating 31.6 million tons of waste in 2001 and are currently generating 47.3 million tons, a 50% increase in one decade. It is estimated that these 366 cities will generate 161 million tons of MSW in 2041, a five-fold increase in four decades. At this <g data-gr-id="141">rate</g> the total urban MSW generated in 2041 would be 230 million TPY (630,000 TPD). As the MSW Rules, 2000, mandate “landfills should always be located away from habitation clusters and other places of social, economic or environmental importance”, which implies lands outside the city, therefore, increase in MSW will have significant impacts in terms of land required for disposing the waste as it gets more difficult to site landfills.  Besides, <g data-gr-id="135">farther</g> the landfill site gets from the point of waste generation (city), greater will be the waste transportation cost.

Solid waste is only a part of the problem. We have <g data-gr-id="124">bio medical</g> waste to contend with. District wise biomedical waste generation potential is estimated based on the number of hospital beds. To illustrate the magnitude, the total quantity of biomedical waste for the state of UP alone, is estimated at 20.7 MT per day. A WHO study has shown that, of the total biomedical waste, about 85 percent is non-infectious, 10 percent is infectious but non-hazardous and rest 5 percent is both infectious as well as hazardous in nature. The State’s pollution authorities are getting their act together to regulate but have yet to make a significant impact on compliance. This is the story in state after state and we can scale the amount of this waste for the country as a whole.

Delhi produces about 10,000 tons of waste every day and disposal? Not more than 30-40% is treated! <g data-gr-id="139">Rest</g> is part of our daily stench and hazard in our lives affecting our health and life. The Pollution Control Board’s site does not tell the full story. It lists only 43 critically polluted clusters in which Delhi has six, Najafgarh drain basin including Anand Parbat, <g data-gr-id="138">Okhla</g> and Wazirabad. In <g data-gr-id="136">fact</g> the entire range of colonies located along the drain are facing hazards of huge proportions and some of them are the prized ones. There are some attempts at treating solid waste, some bare attempts at treating construction and demolition waste and almost negligible at e-waste and medical waste.

The situation in the slums is even more abysmal. With no sanitation facilities, water being accessed from the ground sources, all they get is contaminated output as a consequence of lack of toilets and garbage disposal. We have Hepatitis B and C assuming epidemic proportions. There are over a six and a half thousand slums, housing over a million households. About 16 % live alongside the nallahs/drains, 27.65 % alongside railway lines and about 53% in other areas bordering on industrial belts and residential areas. These are veritable health hazards and the waste from these areas goes into drains, nallahs and dumped in open areas.

As of now, a landfill of the size of West Bengal is needed to dump the 21630 metric tons of construction and demolition waste and still more if the waste from the infra projects is added. Recycling is minimal and whatever facilities exist they are broken. BIS does not include recycled waste as standard for use. This when sand is scarce and bricks expensive, we still are not willing to address this issue.

To add to the heaps, India’s usage of feminine care products is at 12% and this adds 9000 <g data-gr-id="272">mega <g data-gr-id="284">tonnes</g></g> of waste, enough for a landfill of 24 hectares. Due to heavy use of polymers, the waste is not <g data-gr-id="273">biodegradeable</g>. We have not even accounted for hazardous waste and e-waste yet. Moradabad, on the banks of the Ramganga <g data-gr-id="282">river</g> has become one of the biggest informal e-waste recycling hubs of India. <g data-gr-id="281">Global</g> recession has affected the brassware industry, so the handicraft workers are now extracting metals from electronic products. The e-waste in Moradabad comes from all metro cities, and it has become a home business in this town. The dismantling and recycling <g data-gr-id="280">is</g> carried out mostly in basements or rooftops. 

The burning and battering of motherboards releases deadly toxic fumes and circuit boards are cooked over flames to obtain copper and gold is extracted through acid baths spewing even more toxic <g data-gr-id="286">gases</g> into the air. The consequent damage to health and air and water is beginning to happen. The water samples are stated to be showing zinc, copper, arsenic and other heavy metals. In short, totally contaminated and guaranteed to damage, impair and shorten lives. This is happening even now.

A plush Delhi colony has been turned into a dumpyard. The residents of Shivalik in the South Malviya Nagar, have been running around complaining to all that their area is stinking and no one can even stand in the colony. This is happening in July, 2015. A Batra Colony in nearby Panipat is afflicted with contaminated water and garbage strewn all around and people have begun to die of diarrohea. These are all preventable deaths. The story is the same in city after city.

For the first time, a very reputed organisation carried out a survey of 71 cities, and published the results in the second volume of the 7th State of India’s Environment Report. Each city has been mapped to know more about how much waste it produces and where it ends as well as the pollution levels in the ground water. An eye opener for all of us except that we don’t want to see it! In the words of the authors of this document, ‘ a frightening scenario emerged from the individual city profiles….of policy that was mindless of reality or reality that was increasingly out of hand’. Each city showed that it was not even mindful of its growing problem of waste from its water.”

The complete lack of waste management in rural areas has resulted in large mounds of trash, predominantly plastic, piling up all along national/state highways and taking over vast tracts of the hinterland. As the waste is <g data-gr-id="289">non</g>-<g data-gr-id="290">degradeable</g>, the amount of damage is going to be extensive. Cattle too are already affected as they consume this inorganic trash. According to some studies, people in the rural India are generating 0.3 to 0.4 million tons of trash per day. There have been programs like the Total Sanitation Campaign, but these have had limited impact because of various factors. The other dimension is the problem of <g data-gr-id="291">agri</g>-waste. Our crops are contaminated with heavy metal residues due to sustained use of chemicals for increasing production. There is ever present danger of dengue, malaria due to rising levels of plastic waste and clogging of water tanks and irrigation channels. 

Rough estimates indicate that about 50grams per capita per day to 250 grams is generated in rural areas. In peri-urban <g data-gr-id="278">areas</g> it is around 150-250 grams per day. In rural remote <g data-gr-id="275">areas</g> it is about 50 grams/per day. The government does have schemes and programs, but their efficacy is a question mark.

Yes answers are tough, but we will have to bring them on if we do not want to choke on our own filth. The argument of the cost is unacceptable as life is valuable. We have to install waste management corporations funded by the joint sector in every city. These corporations will have to knit the rag-pickers community into partnerships for waste collection and segregation. Funding will have to come from levies and state budgets through ear marking of moneys. Smart cities will emerge only if we make the credible effort to manage waste.
Raj Liberhan

Raj Liberhan

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