Ideas and Action for a Better India
By Rishi Aggarwal
I spoke at the “Sustainable Municipal Solid Waste Management Processing Technology for Developing Nations” conference organised by Waste to Energy Research and Technology Council – India, WTERT-India (www.wtert.in) and the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) on 18-19th February 2016.
My presentation was titled Achieving Swachh Bharat through better governed Municipal Corporations.
My presentation focused on the need for accountability and transparency in the functioning of the solid waste management departments of municipal corporations across India and the need for developing a performance appraisal of municipal corporations based on a certain set of parameters.
Municipal Corporations have to be seen and experienced as being fair, inclusive and facilitating innovation and entrepreneurship in the process of ensuring cleanliness and effective solid waste management.Their budgets and policies create the kind of influence and leverage, which no amount of advocacy by civil society groups or private capital can create on its own. When the three act in sync then magic can happen.
Unfortunately the governance of municipal corporations around the country is in a poor state leading to the wastage of thousands of man hours, destruction of private capital and frustration for those who have the talent to solve the problem. The Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) has so far focused on citizens responsibility to not litter and sweeping of streets, which is a needless distraction in my opinion. SBM needs to get serious about the more substantive issue of the functioning of municipal corporations in this regard. And this is well known even before SBM came into existence. At a more fundamental level delays caused due to change of governments and their need to showcase signature programs needs to be introspected upon. Core functioning of nationally important missions need to be insulated from non-core events.
Since the Conference was about Waste to Energy and dominated by the industry I thought it pertinent to point out that Indian need was not as much energy as much as livelihoods, which sustain themselves around the waste trade. On first principles it is accepted that material recovery from waste has to precede energy recovery and millions of individuals in the informal sector are currently helping in that process. Strengthened further within the ambit of existing rules and policies waste going to dumping ground can be reduced by an order of magnitude.
Within the energy realm, it should also be recognized that processes like bio-methanation too account as waste to energy. There is no need to be sending bulk food waste to mixed waste processing facilities when they be sent to a bio-methanation plant for producing fuel worthy gas.
What have we done from 2000-2015?
Even before we going to newer sets of rules it is important for us to understand how we have performed with regards to Municipal Solid Waste Management (MSW) Rules 2000. Read here. Fifteen years is a significantly long period of time and while nobody expects any policy initiative to have hundred percent success, fifteen year is long enough to expect significant success.
MSW 2000 Rules may need improvement to justify a new set of rules but are nowhere as deficient in their understanding of the situation and ability to impact as much as is borne by the existing situation. It has been a case study instance of implementation failure.
Even a casual look at the 2000 rules can tell anyone interested in the issue that they are sufficient to drastically reduce the amount of waste going to dumping grounds – that one need not be seeing the sight of overflowing dumping grounds in all the metro cities and having conversations about creating new sites.
A surgical approach for large dumps
The Waste to Energy (through incineration) industry made a persuasive case for applying the technology for established large dumping grounds which have become a health and environmental hazard. The issue of dioxins, which is a persistent fear among the opposition was handled well by citing the technical data and mainly through pictures of existing plants running in Europe which can even be situated in close proximity to residential and commercial districts. The recent Deonar fire clearly exposed a large part of Mumbai’s population to far higher levels of dioxins than any well running incineration plant would. So a bouquet of solutions may be required in the situation we have landed ourselves into. But clearly the day to functioning of the municipal corporation cannot be seen as supporting one solution.
Climate Change and Swachh Bharat Mission
Even as India keeps harping on Common But Differentiated Responsibility and stalls climate talks on the issue of not having finance or technology to reduce emissions there are numerous sectors where there is not need for any external finance or technology. If anything available finance and technology is being used to generate excessive emissions which could be avoided. In the case of solid waste management a large number of emissions are generated from the transport of waste for long distances to the garbage dumps. At the dumps release of methane and waste burning releases additional emissions. A drastic reduction in these emissions is possible by supporting buildings and other waste generating entities to drastically reduce the amount of waste being sent to dumping grounds.
In Mumbai a number of model buildings are emerging which feel the need to act responsibly towards their waste. A high level of source segregation has ensured that these buildings are not sending any waste to municipal waste trucks and thus nothing to the dumping grounds.
Make in India
At a time when we are discussing Make in India we need to be concerned about the difficulty encountered in doing business with almost all wings of the government and especially the municipal corporations in this case. In the fortnight leading to the Conference (in the post Deonar fire phase) and more so at the conference I have received enough anecdotes and experiences of business organisations wanting to partner with municipal corporations in some aspect or the other of waste management and having a nerve wrecking time – irrespective of whether they get business or not.
Those who get business are also not happy with numerous facets of dealing with the corporation.
Swachh Bharat Mission has the potential to absorb Make in India, Skill India and Startup India provided we are serious about it and create the right enabling environment. India needs thousands of waste management entrepreneurs and Make in India mission needs to take cognizance at the tremendous difficulties in the same currently. Ease of doing business with the government and the structuring of PPPs needs urgent attention. The excessive interference of the political class in the functioning of various departments and approaching their functioning from the purpose of have a vicious control of the contracts that can be dispensed has left little or no role for genuine innovators and solution providers to participate. Years of tampering with policies and contracts has led to the ugly sight and situation associated with cleanliness and solid waste management in India.