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Issue 4
, 2007
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Solution is urgently needed for rapid reduction in municipal waste: Urvashi Dhamija

Parvinder Singh
Source: Toxics Link, Date: , 2007

1. Please comment on your reading of the current scenario of Municipal Solid Waste Management in the National Capital?

Large parts of Delhi are certainly much cleaner than they used to be until January 1, 2004, when the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2000, came into force. Due to the agreements that the municipal authorities have with the private companies not only is waste regularly lifted from the dhalaos – many have been aesthetically modified to prevent animal access. However, there is still much evidence of open dumping and there is total regard by the public of Municipal Council of Delhi’s plans to collect ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ waste separately by setting up twin bins in blue and green colour in strategic places. In practice these receptacles serve as additional posts on which advertisements can be plastered.

2. Do you feel that the focus on community participation needs to be further pitched up and there is too much focus currently on technical approach?

An open landfil overflowing with trashAs has been emphasised in the Rules, community participation is indispensable for sustainable solid waste management. Delhi Government’s Bhagidari workshops repeatedly established how many communities , Resident Welfare Associations, educational institutions, NGOs, market associations consider themselves stakeholders and want to be associated with this cause. Unfortunately, the nodal government and the two municipal bodies, NDMC and MCD, have not tapped this potential for creative interaction for better waste management. To make improvements in the present system media reports suggest that they are strongly inclined towards a high-tech imported option. That is understandable because it is administratively convenient and financially attractive since it is linked with subsidies offered by central government agencies.

3. Recently, MCD commissioner A. K. Nigam admitted that the three landfill sites at Ghazipur, Bhalaswa and Okhla are full to the brim and the MCD currently has no option but to continue dumping the waste generated in the city at these sites due to the lack of new landfill sites. Could you comment on this?

A frank admission that no land is available for piling up garbage should not be a cause of much surprise because in a capital city there are is a huge demand for space. Delhi government and MCD need to combine their persuasion skills to combat NIMBY (Not In My Backyard Syndrome) of the affected party and secure an appropriate site for final disposal of hazardous waste, which is emerging as an increasing large component of municipal waste.

4. A media report recently claimed that the municipal corporations in Delhi and Mumbai have signed Memorandum of Understandings for using incinerator-based waste disposal technologies. How wise is this?

Despite the failure of incineration-based projects in Hyderabad, Lucknow and Delhi, it seems to me that a proposal to set up such a project in Delhi should not be dismissed imperatively. With waste stacking up at the existing sites at levels higher than multi-storey buildings in the vicinity a solution is urgently needed for rapid waste reduction. However, reasons for the failure need to be identified and suitable steps taken to prevent their re-occurrence.

Moisture-laden, low calorific value biodegradable waste can be removed from the waste stream if there is waste segregation at the point of origin and the RWAs, educational and other institutions, which have space, assist in carrying out on-site composting of the biodegradable component. Local NGOs have the expertise. The horticulture Department of the MCD can use parks it maintains as sites for live projects on vermicomposting and pit composting. Once segregation arrangements are in place the high calorific and financial value of recyclable component is bound to be abstracted. But at this stage, the non-combustible component, the grit and the rubble which make up up most of the waste can also be removed. All those who contribute in ensuring that only high quality waste is dispatched to the incineration plant can be compensated from the money MCD collects for setting up the plant.

5. E-waste is emerging as a huge problem and ever-increasing volumes of it is ending up in the general waste stream. Besides, there is very little attention that is being paid to the issue of hazards household waste. Do we need a separate legislative focus on this?

The problem posed by e-waste is twofold. Its presence in select urban centres is increasing by leaps and bounds. After processing, the residue which needs to be safely disposed off is mainly hazardous. Secondly, it is appropriated for processing by the informal sector where it becomes a source of lethal health impacts for human beings, animals and the environment due to the release of fumes and gases and the heavy metal content . A major loophole in the existing law relating to e-waste is that it can be imported virtually free of cost. Import should be restricted to only e-waste in working order and that too for only educational and training institutions. Legislation should create SEZs (Special Economic Zones) where as the Barman Committee on Municipal Solid Waste Management in Class 1 cities suggested in 1999, generous concessions in taxes electricity rates etc. should be given to those who set up recycling industries or those industries which use primarily recycled material as feed stock. The benefits should however be linked with installation of safety equipment and health safeguards.6.Any other issue or information that you would like to share with our readers.

6. Any other issue or information that you would like to share with our readers.

A news item in the Hindu, dated 27th February, 2007 stated that the Ministry of Environment and Forests was planning to amend the MSW Rules 2000 because “they had become outdated”. This is disturbing news. These rules were the end result of an extended negotiated effort involving a variety of stake holders, the Supreme Court, municipal authorities, pollution control boards, NGOS and the citizens concerned. They represent an adequate framework for the pursuit of sustainable solid waste management. Any amendment should be preceded by public debate.