All of India’s metropolises are grappling with problems of pollution, poor air quality, no sewage treatment and inadequate solid waste disposal. We ignore the issues until they suddenly erupt in the form of frequent fires at overused dumping grounds (Mumbai), lakes frothing with toxic foam that hit the streets or mass death of fish (Bengaluru), cities being flooded (Chennai) or having to resort to extreme traffic restraints (Delhi). Most of this is a result of economic prosperity and soaring land values which have led to indiscriminate infrastructure building by openly flouting rules or even no serious rule-making. Growing prosperity also means a sharp spike in waste generation by individual families.
The entire gamut of these issues is high on the agenda of prime minister Narendra Modi’s in various forms—the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the Clean Ganga project, or the drive to build toilets or plan to build smart cities with well-planned infrastructure. The task is humungous and needs change at the local level where multiple political equations and entrenched corruption comes into play. But some cities have managed to beat the problem, while the bigger ones struggle. Let’s consider just one example.
While it may not rank among India’s cleanest cities as yet, Pune, which is now a part of the PM’s Smart Cities initiative, has made big strides in improving its solid waste management problems, in recent years. The success of the ‘Pune model’ of solid waste management (SWM) is often discussed by Mumbai activists and concerned citizens. On 9th July, a dozen-odd activists, engineers, journalists and concerned citizens visited Pune (a self-paid, independent trip) to figure out why it is doing better than Mumbai. The visit included an overview of Pune Municipal Corporation’s (PMC’s) activities and a visit to Noble Exchange Environment Solutions Pvt Ltd (NEX) which converts bulk food waste into bio-fuel that will soon power Pune’s public transport buses, in a shining example of converting waste to wealth.
What we found is an effort to reduce the waste going to landfills and greenhouse gas emission that needs to be expanded and amplified in cities across the country, with some fine-tuning for local characteristics. What has triggered the push for better SWM is also important; but is not the subject of this column.
Here are four things that seem to be working in Pune where the integrated SWM effort has ensured high (50%-55%) segregation at source in a city that generates 1600-1700mtd (metric tonnes a day) of waste every day.
Right Man for the Job: Committed and dynamic individuals drive change. In Pune, joint municipal commissioner, Suresh Jagtap is the driving force and seems totally committed to the 4Rs (reduction, reuse, recycle and recover) of sustainable development. Concerned Punekars acknowledge that there is genuine ‘stakeholder engagement’ and accountability that extends from rag-pickers’ collectives, to NGOs, citizens’ groups, educational institution and elected corporators. This is through increased transparency and a third-party audit by three educational institutions who produce a well publicised colour-coded monthly scorecard on how each corporator’s constituency has fared on the SWM front.
Multiple Solutions: PMC has combined an integrated approach with a decentralised waste management strategy that encourages NGOs and private sector participation. It has 25 decentralised bio-methane plants which produce 600kw of electricity and compost; the 300tpd NEX plant that converts food waste to bio-CNG, 300TPB (total plumbum) vermi-compost and compost projects (Ajinkya Biofert and Disha), and the Rochem Separation Systems which processes mixed waste to produce 300tpd producing RDF (refuse derived fuel). It also has 13 smaller composting plants. Townships such as the unique Magarpatta City in Pune also take pride in being near-zero garbage as just a part of its focus on eco-sustainability. Key to efficient waste sorting and collection are large organisations such as SWACH (Solid Waste Handlers and Collectors’ Society), at the ground level.
Incentives & Fees: Segregation of waste has been made mandatory for all residents with the levy of user charges. At the same time, there is a 5% tax rebate for those who have onsite waste disposal facilities. PMC makes it a point to highlight and celebrate those who adopt innovative solutions and practices in SWM and sanitation, through awards and recognition.
Public-private Partnership: Part of Pune’s success in waste management is its ability to persuade, and work with, private CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives such as the Adar Poonawalla Clean City Movement (APCCM) which pledged Rs100 crore to the city’s waste management efforts. The NEX project, including the land, is fully funded by APCCM; in addition, it has contributed to awareness building, welfare measures for grassroots workers and providing litterbins and mechanised cleaning at specific public spots. The model is working well so far; the process of recycling waste to recover energy is complete.
For Pune, India’s eighth largest city, the challenge now is to prevent slippages in standards already set and to work on plans for efficient disposal of electronic waste, biomedical waste, construction waste and sanitary hygiene products more effectively. Its achievements are best seen in contrast with more resourceful Mumbai which has yet to come up with a sensible plan to reduce garbage and litter in public spaces, enforce segregation at the household level, or even act on easy-to-do bits like collection and reduction of bulk food waste, let alone biomedical and e-waste.
Pune is on track to become a smart city while Mumbai has come up with a 20-year development plan which is full of shocking holes, despite two iterations.
While Pune is involved in a scientific closure and beautification of its 30-hectare dumping site at Urali Devachi, Mumbai has yet to find a solution to repeated fires at the 132 hectares of dumping ground at Deonar where 6,550 metric tonnes of unsegregated garbage, silt and bio-medical waste are dumped every day. Pune’s DBOT (develop build operate and transfer) project, NEX, started producing 45tpd of bio-CNG and 150 tonnes of organic manure at its Talegaon plant, based on the anaerobic digestion system in exactly 11 months after it was awarded the contract. The municipal corporation’s responsibility was to ensure collection of food waste from bulk producers such as hotels and markets and to provide 15,000 sq ft of space for the first-stage sorting, segregation and making a slurry. The actual processing is done at the 5-acreTalegaon plant owned by NEX and Pune’s municipal buses will soon use the fuel generated.
In contrast, Mumbai’s second ‘scientific’ dumping ground at Kanjurmarg (67 acres) has provided land to a contractor free of charge, but has yet to convert methane into electricity and has been mired in litigation and controversy, for over a decade. Operating in the same political environment, with the municipal corporation controlled by an opposition party, Pune seems to have found a way to get past political issues through greater transparency. Mumbai, which has an ally of the ruling party controlling the municipal corporation, cannot usher in even basic transparency in handing out contracts to tackle issues such as waste management or potholed roads which can bring cities to a standstill, and destroy years of development in a natural calamity.
PMC is controlled by National Congress Party which is not exactly known for delivering great governance. On the other hand, governance, cleanliness, smart cities are among the biggest promises of PM Narendra Modi. Maybe the prime minister’s office can push other cities to learn from Pune’s success on the SWM front and implement the model in a time-bound manner.