Millennium Post

Why are we looking backwards?

With the persisting issue of garbage disposal, municipal corporations look disinterested amidst one lakh metric tons of waste produced every day

Why are we looking backwards?

Narendra Modi Government, at the helm of affairs of governance in India since May 26, 2014, has taken innumerable groundbreaking decisions with the sole aim to provide the anticipated good governance to the nation. However, there are certain areas where due to lack of foresight and the requisite thought process for implementation by the executives, the desired results still seem a far cry.

When the Ministry of Urban Development under the PM's able guidance came up with the plan to have 100 Smart Cities in the country, it was a milestone decision, though yet to be adequately implemented especially with regard to Garbage Disposal or management of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) in hundreds of India's cities and towns. It seems that the municipal corporations are taking one step forward by initiating 'Swachh Bharat Mission' and immediately taking three steps backwards by not implementing the scheme properly with the last mile action of proper disposal of the MSW. Each of our cities generates thousand metric tons of solid waste daily. If the same is not disposed of regularly, the muck is bound to pile up and form stinking mountains of garbage and that's exactly the story everywhere!

The practice in existence, prior to the year 2000 regarding disposal of MSW, used to be dumping of the daily solid waste collected from the cities and towns at a secluded place away from inhabited colonies, known as Landfill Sites (LFS). These LFS became redundant post-2005 almost in the whole world except the under-developed/developing nations. In the West, due to several hazards associated with the LFS, it was completely banned. Basically, over a period of time toxic leachate which is produced in the LFS, penetrates the subsoil and contaminates the aquifer. Even after designing scientific LFS with plastic sheets spread beneath several layers of stone, sand, and mud, the leachate would somehow leak and contaminate the aquifer and thus with this realisation, the scientific community in the West and the US advised the respective Governments against the LFS accordingly banning them. In Europe, all LFS have been permanently closed since 2005 and existing LFS have been converted into green belts. MSW is incinerated on a regular basis.

Compare that with the condition here in India and especially with respect to the National Capital Territory of Delhi. Stringent comments of the Hon'ble Supreme Court published in all the front pages of National Dailies on August 7, 2018, in this regard is needed to be taken seriously and acted upon. India is a progressive nation which wants to be powerful and lead the world as "Vishwa Guru". Yet being so backward in its thought process regarding this extremely sensitive and important aspect which is threatening the environmental ecosystem, draws a contrast. 200 districts out of 707 (as per the last count) in the country have traces of inorganic arsenic in the groundwater/aquifer due to which several skin and other chronic diseases are plaguing the inhabitants. To add fuel to fire, corrective measures to manage the disposal of lakhs of metric tons of garbage generated daily across the country are not efficiently implemented by the existing system. People have to endure filthy streets, lanes, and bylanes with large foul-smelling mountains of garbage and LFS (There are three LFS in Delhi each more than 100 ft. in height). Further, Leachate from these LFS/garbage dumps continues to contaminate the aquifers in most parts of the country.

Incineration or burning of the garbage at a high temperature between 800º-1300ºF is the most popular and tested method adopted across the world to dispose of the solid waste on daily basis. The burning of the MSW also generates energy in form of electricity which could be utilised in the respective cities and towns. Delhi is also experimenting with this technology for the last 5-6 years but the measure is 'too little and too late'. Delhi generates about 10000 metric tons of MSW on daily basis and to dispose that, it is essential to adopt the latest technology and scientific measures. But sadly, the executives are not taking enough interest in this regard and the result is extremely disheartening. It is polluting the city, the surrounding air, and highly toxic leachate from these piles of garbage is spoiling the aquifer while contaminating the groundwater storage of precious potable water which is already a scarce commodity. Authorities responsible for the disposal of garbage generated on a daily basis should take all possible measures to adopt the latest scientific methods to get rid of the solid waste. Setting up of incinerators is a costly affair. Further, it has certain basic procedures and parameters with respect to quantity and type of garbage which can be incinerated.

Neither can we afford and nor should we look for fresh LFS where garbage can be dumped. Also, one likes a landfill site by their homes. Various proposals for scientific disposal of garbage are lying closed in the files of all concerned authorities - be it Municipal Corporations of Delhi, Delhi Development Authority, Lieutenant Governor's Office, Ministry of Urban Development, Delhi Pollution Control Board or Central Pollution Control Board. Everyone needs to join hands with judicious application of ideas to find the best possible method suitable for Delhi and other Indian cities to move towards a cleaner environment in a bid to actually make these cities smart.

Jai Swaccha Bharat! Jai Hind!

(The author is a retired Air Commodore, VSM. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Ranjan Mukherjee

Ranjan Mukherjee

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