Swachh Bharat Abhiyan gives impetus to BMC's solid waste management efforts; Mumbaikars laud scheme

The size, diversity, and burgeoning population of Mumbai together present their own challenges in implementing waste-to-energy initiatives.

Devyani Nighoskar April 03, 2019 16:19:34 IST
  • The size, diversity, and burgeoning population of Mumbai together present their own challenges in implementing waste-to-energy initiatives.

  • The BMC understands that instead of dumping the waste in landfills, it needs to be recycled and converted into energy.

  • But though laws were introduced in 2012, implementation has lagged due to the BMC’s inability to deploy separate trucks for different kinds of waste.

Editor's Note: A network of 60 reporters set off across India to test the idea of development as it is experienced on the ground. Their brief: Use your mobile phone to record the impact of 120 key policy decisions on everyday life; what works, what doesn't and why; what can be done better and what should be done differently. Their findings — straight and raw from the ground — will be combined in this series, Elections on the Go, over a course of 100 days.

Read more articles from the series here

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Mumbai: In the early 2000s, Bandra’s Pali Hill Residents’ Association was still in its infancy when association secretary Madhu Poplai first began to urge residents to segregate waste at source. But it took a decade for the 40-year-old homemaker’s efforts to bear fruit when such segregation at source was made mandatory, and for the posh Pali Hill residents to take the issue of waste management seriously. Today, the 3,000-member association from 78 buildings and 23 bungalows, has a waste-to-energy plant that uses anaerobic digestion technology to treat around 900 kilograms of waste generated daily. The plant is located in a 100-square-metre area and the energy produced is used to light up the area’s 68 street lights and the compost is distributed amongst residents who plan to start a kitchen garden and donate the produce to old age homes.

“This being a posh area, residents don't deal with the waste directly,” said Poplai. “We needed to train the house staff on this”. The association started holding competitions for the staff to incentivise them. “Many times, people are unsure if an item, like a coconut shell or a fish bone, is wet or dry waste,” said Sushma Kothari, an association member. “So we had to teach them.” But even though the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) staff hold regular training sessions, some residents still do not cooperate. “Some still mix their waste," said Shanti, a domestic helper. Each building now has two staff members to segregate the waste. “It was the efforts of the BMC that made this possible,” added Madhu Poplai.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan gives impetus to BMCs solid waste management efforts Mumbaikars laud scheme

Members of the Pali Hill Residents’ Association with a BMC Supervisor at the Pali Hill Waste Bio Gas plant. Devyani Nighoskar/101Reporters

True, Pali Hill’s residents are more socially aware and have high disposable income. The challenge lies in replicating what Pali Hill has done to other, low-income areas. Arvind Baroacha, Junior Overseer at BMC’s H ward, which runs the Pali plant, is convinced it can be done. “The Pali Hill plant achieves two targets, compost and energy,” said Baroacha. “Other areas are still struggling with the former. Sanitary and other waste items are still ending up at landfills. At Bandra, we went door-to-door to create awareness. In poorer areas, we need to double our efforts to create awareness and train people. But what Pali Hill has done can be implemented everywhere,” added Baroacha.

Need for local solutions

Mumbai’s size, diversity, and burgeoning population together present their own challenges in implementing waste-to-energy initiatives which are being tried out in other areas. According to data provided by BMC’s ERS report 2017-18, “solid waste generated daily is around 7,200-7,500 metric tonnes. Around 5369 vehicles have been deployed to take waste to the dumping grounds. In the Deonar and Mulund landfills, the garbage is simply dumped and levelled whereas at Kanjurmarg, it is treated using bio-methanation”. The Deonar dumping ground, the city’s largest, has been operational for the past 87 years and is nearing the end of its useful life. The dumping ground is exploited by an aggressive garbage mafia, and incessant fires in the landfill have caused environmental problems for the area’s residents.

The BMC understands that instead of dumping the waste in landfills, it needs to be recycled and converted into energy. To achieve this, the BMC decentralised solid waste management (SWM) at the ward level. In accordance with the Solid Waste Management Act, 2016, BMC made it mandatory for all existing buildings and societies to segregate the waste at source. In late 2016, it declared that all small housing societies will have to process their wet waste within their compounds, while societies exceeding 20,000 square metres will have to install a waste processing unit. This was also made part of the Development Control Regulations (DCR) 1991.

But though these laws were introduced in 2012, implementation has lagged due to the BMC’s inability to deploy separate trucks for different kinds of waste. However, it needs to be acknowledged that with the support of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan initiatives, sustainable waste management in Mumbai is being implemented better than before. The BMC’s website has eight benchmarks to measure its success.

For instance, in Byculla West’s Sri Laxmi Residency Co-op Housing Society, most households have been trained to segregate waste. “BMC personnel were present to teach us,” recalls Deepali, a homemaker. “They also gave us pamphlets in Hindi and Marathi. It is very easy to segregate now,” added Sulbha, her neighbour.

“I run a tiffin business and generate food waste that we duly segregate,” said Lata, who is still awaiting the compost unit promised. The society has women ragpickers working under the Parisar Yojana coming in every morning to pick up segregated waste from households, checking and disposing of them in the trucks. “Most houses do it, but some, especially bachelors, don’t,” said Nirmal Jagtap, one of the ragpickers. However, he asks, “What's the point of it, considering that the BMC truck carries all the waste mixed up together?"

Citizens and environmentalists pointed to some obstacles preventing effective implementation of the BMC’s decentralisation model. Unavailability of composting seems to be a problem in several parts of the city. “We have been penalized by the BMC before, and they have promised us a composting unit which is yet to be given,” said Satish Nikam, the housing society head. When contacted, Hridaynath Meher, AHS (SWM) of E Ward, said that the corporation is doing its best. “The government has been supportive and we are working on an integrated plan to increase awareness through posters, and we also have the right infrastructure in place,” added Meher.

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan gives impetus to BMCs solid waste management efforts Mumbaikars laud scheme

But the right infrastructure requires space, which is not easily available in this congested city. “Perhaps we can make community compost pits where small buildings can treat their waste, to utilise space better,” suggested Saurabh Gupta, founder, Earth 5R, a citizen-led sustainability movement, adding, "Mumbai’s decentralised model was hailed by many leaders at a recent convention I attended in Paris.” He added that while the Swachh Bharat campaign has been helpful, “it is also science-driven leaders like Aaditya Thackeray, who are responsible for effective solid waste management in Mumbai."

Rishi Aggarwal, an urban planner and founder of Mumbai Sustainability Centre, has also been championing the cause of decentralised waste management. “The BMC needs to deploy more staffing and funds for better coordination,” he said, adding, “People need more handholding. Awareness needs to be increased, especially in slum pockets.”

Deputy Chief Engineer, Solid Waste Management, Damodar Pimple, agrees that the response in slum areas has been inadequate. “We are going door-to-door to reach these people,” said Damodar. “Legal action has been taken against 360 societies. Waste generation has come down by almost 4,000 tonnes in the last four years. We want to cut it down further.”

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan gives impetus to BMCs solid waste management efforts Mumbaikars laud scheme

A BMC employee at work at Pali Hill Bio Gas plant. Devyani Nighoskar/101Reporters

Electoral campaigns for sustainability

Electoral campaigns tend to ignore issues like solid waste management, which is integral to the city’s sustainable development. Pali Hill is part of Mumbai’s North Central Constituency while Byculla is part of Mumbai’s South Constituency. Most people we spoke to in the above two constituencies said that the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been pivotal in providing solid waste management that much-needed push. “Several governments tried to implement, it but I think this government really gave it an impetus,” said Sushma Kothari. Lata, from Byculla's Sri Laxmi Residency, said, “Earlier we weren't even aware of this. It is a good step by the government.” Nisha, a 23-year-old media student from the same colony, also felt that the regular advertisements of Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, coupled with the BMC’s efforts, have influenced the people.

Ashish Shelar, MLA from Mumbai North Central, who worked towards installing the Pali Hill Bio Gas plant, refused to comment on the issue. Waris Pathan, the MLA from Byculla, said, “We are conducting regular meetings with the BMC. We have also provided dustbins and conducted awareness camps in slum areas.”

“There is still a misconception that SWM is an elite concern, but 60 percent of our people are in slum pockets,” said Latoya Ferns Advani, media chairperson, Mumbai Regional Congress. “All our dump yards are overflowing. The Congress would like to highlight that we can turn the crisis into an opportunity by converting waste into energy and generating employment opportunities for the urban poor through this.”

(The author is a Mumbai-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters)

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