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MCD elections: Why civic bodies have failed to clean Delhi’s garbage

At least 9,100 tonnes of garbage is shipped out of homes, shops, malls, schools, hospitals and markets to the 2,500 community bins, daily. Of these, East corporation generates 2,200 tonnes, North 3,800 while South civic body daily has to remove 3,100 tonnes of garbage.

MCD Elections 2017 Updated: Mar 23, 2017 10:55 IST
Ritam Halder & Vibha Sharma
MCD polls
Garbage strewn along the roadside near Geeta Colony during the strike by municipal sanitation workers in June 2015.(Arun Sharma/HT Photo )

Any talk about clean Delhi conjures images of the leafy burrough of Lutyen’s Delhi, the country’s seat of power with tree-lined wide roads swept clean everyday and rows of neat buildings.

For the other half of the city-state, however, it is a story of an unending struggle at urban sanitation.

Elections to the Municipal Corporation of Delhi will be held in April 23 and the spotlight has once again veered to the functioning of the civic body, which is primarily tasked with keeping the city clean.

But past experience show that it was anything but satisfactory for the people.

In 2015, a sanitation strike by employees of East Delhi Municipal Corporation saw the garbage management mechanism fall flat on its face. Garbage was strewn on the roads for days and the stench and sight were no less than a nightmare for residents.

Similar delays in salary payment led to more such strikes in the north and east corporations, with the latest in January -- when 15,000 sanitation workers in east Delhi struck work for 11 days. This was the fifth time when safai karamcharis went on strike, reflecting mismanagement in the civic bodies’ sanitation mechanism.

So what has gone wrong and why the capital of the country is in not able to clean its mess?

Lack of garbage segregation

At least 9,100 tonnes of garbage is shipped out of homes, shops, malls, schools, hospitals and markets to the 2,500 community bins, daily. Of these, East corporation generates 2,200 tonnes, North 3,800 while South civic body daily has to remove 3,100 tonnes of garbage.

It is here that an army of ragpickers and a few sanitation workers hired by the municipalities segregate the garbage, picking plastic, metal, cardboard and anything that they can sell to the recyclers. After sending 4,500 tonnes to waste-to-energy plant for incineration and 850 metric tonnes for composting, at least 3,800 tonnes makes its way to the city’s dump sites in Narela-Bawana, Bhalaswa, Okhla and Ghazipur.

Though the civic agencies claim to have hired private concessionaires to segregate, recycle and compress the waste, a large part of it remains unsegregated and sent to already filled dumping sites.

“Proper segregation of waste doesn’t take place as private concessionaires, in place of ‘waste pickers’, are being used from 2005. Cities such as Mysore and Cochin achieved results because of decentralise policy for collecting solid waste,” said Bharati Chaturvedi, director of NGO Chintan.

Lack of landfill management

For years, civic agencies have been repeating plans for reclaiming the oversaturated landfills but nothing has changed in reality.

The landfills at Bhalaswa and Ghazipur were commissioned in 1984, and Okhla, in 1996. Except for the Narela-Bawana dumpsite that was commissioned in 2009, the other three violate state regulations. They are not designed according to the Municipal Solid Waste Rules of 2000, which mandates all such dumpsites to have eco-friendly garbage management facilities. They have no certification from Delhi Pollution Control Committee and should have shut down in 2006. But the municipalities continue to dump trash here because they have no land to set up new sites.

And except for Ghazipur landfill, no measures have been taken to capture the methane gas emitted by the decomposing waste at landfills.

“For Bhalaswa landfill, North corporation has invited global tenders for reclamation. Similarly, East corporation has already signed an agreement with National Highway Authority of India for using the waste at Ghazipur landfill to widen the National Highway 24. Later, an integrated municipal solid waste-to-energy plant will also be developed here,” North corporation spokesperson YS Mann said.

Waste-to-energy plants

On March 10 this year, the North corporation opened India’s largest waste-to-energy plant at Narela-Bawana. The project will use 2,000MT of waste every day to generate 24MW electricity. Though the tendering for the integrated plant was done in 2009, the project got delayed due to a dispute between the North corporation and Ramky Group over alleged violations of agreement.

Apart from this, there are waste-to-energy plants at Okhla and Ghazipur which cater to 1,500MT and 1,000MT of waste, everyday. “To deal with the problem in future, we have approved project to set up of a waste-to-energy plant at Tehkhand to generate 15MW electricity,” said a SDMC official.

Waste-to-energy plant, however, is not the best solution to the problem, say experts. “These are flop shows and becoming hazardous for the community. No step has been taken for their reclamation and technology upgrade. All kind of unsegregated waste is dumped here for incineration,” Swati Singh Sambyal, programme manager, Solid Waste Management at the Centre for Science and Environment said.

Infrastructure

For transporting the garbage from community bins to landfills, the South Corporation has engaged 174 trucks and dumpers, North Corporation 150 and East Corporation 85.

North and South bodies have also engaged concessionaire in eight zones for collecting garbage door-to-door through tippers and trolleys. The South Corporation has converted community bins into fixed compacting stations wherein garbage is segregated and compressed before being taken to landfill. “We have already installed fixed compacting stations at 15 places in central zone and 100 more are targeted in near future,” said a senior SDMC official.

Chitra Jain, a resident of New Friends Colony, said, “The corporation has installed compactor at a community bin in D block and the place has started looking better now. But it is not a long term solution. The concessionaire is only segregating stuff that can generate him income (such as plastic) while rest of the garbage is compressed and sent to landfill. Also, other community bins in area are still in a mess and little attention is paid to clean the big drain in the area.”

Big ticket ideas

The South Delhi Municipal Corporation for the last three years has been talking about two construction and demolition waste plants at Bakkarwala and Ghummanheda. Setting up a processing unit for segregating waste was also proposed in east Delhi last year. However, that project is waiting for the National Green Tribunal’s approval as the 30-acre land offered by the Delhi Development Authority for this falls on the Yamuna floodplains.

Convenor of Yamuna Jiye Abhiyaan, Manoj Misra of east Delhi, says the municipal corporations’ performance in terms of sanitation services in the city has been below par. “The MCDs deserve some credit for actually collecting garbage door-to-door from many localities. Otherwise, whatever amount of promises they have made, nothing has been realised on the ground. They have not done anything to reduce the burden over the oversaturated landfills.”

According to him, the civic bodies and irrigation and flood control department have also failed to protect the drains, which are still being used for dumping waste.

“Especially the construction and solid waste, which couldn’t be dumped at the river bed due to NGT’s direction, is now disposed into drains as there is no one to keep a watch on these defaulters.”

The way forward

To change things on the ground, the Solid & Plastic Waste Management Rules, 2016, were notified in April 2016.

“The new bylaws emphasise on collection and segregation of garbage at source, developing local segregation points, integration of informal sectors for segregation of waste and proper disposal. If all goes according to plan, we will be able to implement the Delhi Municipal Corporation’s SWM rules by mid 2017,” said a senior south corporation official said.

The rules will make it mandatory for any waste generators, be it domestic or commercial, to segregate garbage into three categories.

“They will need to separate wet (biodegradable), dry (plastic, paper, metal, wood, and so on) and domestic hazardous wastes (diapers, napkins, blades, batteries, mosquito repellents). If they don’t do that then it will invite penalty,” said PK Gupta, commissioner, North corporation.

The civic bodies need to implement these if there has to be any change in the garbage mess of Delhi. With active participation from people of the city, hopefully, in the next five years the capital city will turn into a cleaner and greener place.