Better waste management can reduce air pollution load during Delhi’s winter | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Better waste management can reduce air pollution load during Delhi’s winter

Dec 16, 2021 07:23 PM IST

The national capital’s shortcomings in its waste collection and pollution crisis are intrinsically linked and the connection becomes much more visible as temperatures drop and the wind speed slows down

New Delhi: Empowered communities, strict enforcement and more efficient municipal waste collection. Experts say that these are among measures that can lead to an improvement of Delhi’s problematic air quality by curbing the open burning of municipal solid waste across the city. The national capital’s shortcomings in its waste collection and pollution crisis are intrinsically linked and the connection becomes much more visible as temperatures drop and the wind speed slows down.

Delhi generates more than 11,144 tonnes of municipal waste every day and multiple studies estimate that between 2 to 3% of garbage is burnt in the open (Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times) PREMIUM
Delhi generates more than 11,144 tonnes of municipal waste every day and multiple studies estimate that between 2 to 3% of garbage is burnt in the open (Sunil Ghosh / Hindustan Times)

Delhi generates more than 11,144 tonnes of municipal waste every day and multiple studies estimate that between 2 to 3% of garbage is burnt in the open adding particulate matter, sulphur and nitrogen oxides among other pollutants in Delhi air. A senior municipal corporation official from the north MCD said that the instances of waste burning increase significantly during the winters as people use various components of domestic waste to light small fires to keep themselves warm.

HOUSEHOLD WASTE

While the economic survey of Delhi claims that 100% of household-level waste is collected but garbage collection in several unplanned low-income housing areas is still fairly weak which leads to garbage being littered on roads and empty plots. The scale of the problem can also be gauged from the fact that as the air quality in Delhi starts to plummet after Diwali, more than 250 municipal teams are deputed on night patrolling duty to look out for burning piles of trash.

East Delhi Municipal Corporation mayor Shyam Sunder Aggarwal said that one team each for “day and night patrolling” have been deputed in all 64 wards to control garbage burning incidents. “Each team is comprised of four members from the departments of sanitation, health, horticulture and maintenance. The corporation has issued fines worth 12.64 crore since 2018,” the mayor said.

Swati Singh Sambyal, a waste management expert based in Delhi says that rather than increasing penalties, strict monitoring and enforcement is required to tackle waste burning. “We need to empower RWA’s, societies and have monitoring committees at the local level to ensure waste burning is controlled. Social engineering is the key. There have been interventions in Delhi which have been intermittent but what we need is the continuous raising of awareness that leads to behavioural change. This also means engaging with different stakeholders - RWA groups, voluntary organizations, NGOs. The goals should be to minimize littering and ensure efficient collection. Less the litter, fewer chances of plastics and leaves getting burnt,” Sambyal said.

EMPOWERING LOCAL COMMITTEES

A report on “Fixing Delhi’s Pollution” by the Indicus Foundation also argues that empowering and rewarding communities while also making them liable, is perhaps the most powerful mechanism in dealing with pollution from garbage burning at the neighbourhood level. Atul Goel, president of URJA (United Residents Joint Action) – a collective body of RWAs, said that RWAs and citizen groups need to be empowered for a sustainable change to take place. “We are back to square one after every pollution season. URJA has been arguing for local area planning groups or safai nigrani samitis where citizen representatives and officials can come on the same platform. We need to systematically upgrade the road sweeping and cleaning at the household and street level. A simple lack of wheelbarrow to lift garbage at street level will lead to the pile being set alight,” he added.

While waste burning in Delhi is banned with the provision of hefty NGT mandated fines, trash burning is a normal occurrence during the winters and its impact is often ignored by residents, ironically the worst affected by its effects. From high chloride content in the PM10 particles from burning plastics and PVC products to polychlorinated biphenyls from contaminated oils, the burning of household waste adds several toxins to the air we breathe. In a comprehensive study on the city’s air pollution sources, researchers from IIT Kanpur have estimated that daily emissions from garbage burning contribute around 1968kg per day of PM 10, 1771kg of PM2.5, 738kg of nitrogen oxides, 123kg of Sulphur dioxide and 10,332 kg of carbon monoxide which is released when garbage is left to smoulder slowly for a long period of time. The IIT study said, “Any form of garbage burning should be strictly stopped and monitored for compliance. It will require the development of infrastructure, including access to remote and congested areas, for effective collection of MSW and disposal at landfill sites.”

CHALLANS

Garbage collection needs to be backed by the effective implementation of penalties and challans. Data from the three municipal corporations shows that while the challan rates are high, the corporations have a woefully low recovery rate of garbage/plastic burning and NGT air pollution challans. The recovery rates over the last 4 year period consistently remain less than 20%. Between 16 October and 14 December 2021, the South MCD has issued open burning garbage challans worth Rs89.8 lakh but only 2.66 lakh have been recovered. Similarly, during the last year, the north corporation has issued 816 challans with penalties worth 40.4 Lakh in violations related to garbage dumping/burning but the civic body was only able to recover Rs1.6 lakh from violators. A senior north corporation official from DEMS (department of environment management services) said that the corporation plans to file FIRs with the help of area sub-divisional magistrates in order to increase the recovery rate. “We will be required to take the harsher step of prosecutions and FIRs otherwise no one will take these fines seriously,” the official remarked.

Atul Garg, director of Delhi Fire Services said that the winter season is especially challenging as the department receives 25-30 garbage fire related calls every day with a special team deployed to manage waste burning related calls.

Additionally, while the erstwhile EPCA had directed in 2019 that security guards should be provided electric heaters by RWAs to prevent bonfires, the idea has largely remained a non-starter. Goel from URJA said that the direction was not practical. “RWAs can provide blankets and better clothes to help the guards during winters,” he added. Chitra Mukherjee, a consultant on circular economy and sustainable livelihood who has been working on Delhi’s waste management related issues, said that enough regulations and fines already exist to tackle the waste management crisis in the city and the focus of municipal bodies should be on enforcement. “Despite the provisions of heavy fines on non-compliance on waste segregation, illegal dumping and waste burning, the same annual cycle is repeated every year. Various smaller cities are performing much better in tackling their waste management problems and Delhi will also need to return to basics. The improvement can only begin from household and community level,” she added

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