The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) spends nearly 10% of its annual capital expenditure to manage the city’s waste — it will spend Rs1,354 crore in 2016-17. But this is far from reflected in the garbage strewn across Mumbai’s coast.
The Union environment ministry released the revised draft of the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2016 in April this year, making waste management at airports, ports and railway stations the municipal corporation’s responsibility. However beaches seem to have been overlooked.
“There are no laws to control beach litter, not just in Mumbai, but across the country,” said Dr SR Maley, a Mumbai-based scientist in solid waste management. “It is the responsibility of the civic body and the coastal authority to take action and implement a mandate for the city to control plastic pollution at beaches and levy a fine on citizens breaking the rules.”
Maley said the civic body can easily replicate garbage collection models implemented in countries like Japan. “There needs to be a three-bin system [dry, wet and electronic waste] at every 200m along the beach and door-to-door collection of waste at slums and residential buildings. A fine for littering on the beach and a ban on using plastic products is needed,” he said, adding that the beach cleaning machines are only being used at Girgaum Chowpatty.
According to the BMC, the city treats 75% of its sewage at 50 pumping stations before releasing it into the sea. The untreated waste is carried by nullahs or storm water drains into the sea. “While we have faced difficulty in laying sewer lines in land belonging to the military, forest and Mumbai Port Trust, more than 70% of the city’s households are connected to sewer lines.” said a senior official from the sewage operations department of the BMC.
Pradip Patade, environmentalist and resident of Girgaum, who has studied marine species along the Mumbai coast, said, “We are not respecting the sea, which is threatened by anthropogenic [human] activities and the main problem is storm water drains that carry sewage and garbage into the sea.”
Environmentalists and citizen activists said the municipal body was not entirely to be blamed for Mumbai’s filthy beaches. “We need to stop consuming anything that has non-biodegradable packaging,” said Anand Pendharkar, wildlife biologist and educator. “One way to solve the littering problem could be to have drinking water stations around beaches that will ensure that people don’t buy bottled water, which adds to the litter problem.”
A major problem is the lack of awareness among slum residents about the proper disposal of waste. “However, this has changed after introducing the Swachh Mumbai Prabodhan Abhiyan (SMPA) – wherein lakhs of slum dwellers have been educated by SMPA volunteers about waste composting and segregation to ensure that our beaches are clean,” he said.
Officials from the solid waste management department confirmed the SMPA was helping regulate waste from slums. “For example, at Kandivli West, the Shree Aastha Mahila Bachat Gat has taken up the task of composting organic waste. The BMC organised 340 street plays and installed nirmalya kalash (collection bins) to ensure that puja waste does not litter the beach. The idea is to make people adopt methods that are simple, easy and affordable,” said Subhash Dalvi, chief nodal officer, SMPA.
Meanwhile, the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) under its Nirmal Sagar Tat Abhiyaan – a coastal protection and management program — that received the chief minister’s nod in May, has issued tenders for a state-wide beach restoration project. “Our focus is to ensure cleanliness and proper solid waste management so that we can boost tourism. We will involve the local community in identifying the problems at each beach,” said a senior official from MMB, adding that the project is likely to start by the end of the year.
Sunil Kanojia, head of the Sea Guardian Lifeguard Association, Juhu, said the BMC could get assistance from groups like his. “We go to schools and colleges to get students to help us clean beaches. It would be easy for a huge corporation like the BMC to get similar help. They can also ask their corporators to work with the fishing community and slums on the beaches to keep the places clean.”