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

Devyani Nighoskar | Mar 30, 2019 | 7 min read




By Devyani Nighoskar


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 3000-member association from 78 buildings and 23 bungalows, has a waste-to-energy plant that uses anaerobic digestion technology to treat around 900 kg of waste generated daily. Located in a 100 sq metre area 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.

“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 Mumbai municipal corporation 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
True, Pali Hill’s residents are more 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 plant achieves two targets, compost and energy,” said Baroacha. “Other areas are still struggling with the former. Sanitary and other waste are still ending up at landfills. At Bandra, we went door-to-door to create awareness. But 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 Arvind.

Need for local solutions

Mumbai’s size, diversity, and burgeoning populations presents its own challenges in implementing e 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 7200-7500 metric tonnes. Around 5369 vehicles have been deployed to take waste to the dumping grounds. In the Deonar and Mulund landfill, 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. Exploited by an aggressive garbage mafia, 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. (of what particular help is this - nothing in particular, just thought it will add more weight to the law.)

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. Though it needs to be acknowledged that with support of the Swacch 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 them off in the trucks. “Most houses do it, but some, especially the bachelors don’t,” said Nirmal Jagtap, one of the ragpickers. “But what's the point as 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 is one “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 was doing its best. “The government has been supportive and we are working on an integrated plan to increase awareness through posters as well as have the right infrastructure in place,” added Hrdaynath Meher.

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 utilize space better,” suggested Saurabh Gupta, founder, Earth 5R, a citizen-led sustainability movement, "Bombay’s decentralised model was hailed by many leaders at a recent convention I attended in Paris”. He added that while the Swach Bharat campaign has been helpful, “it is also science-driven leaders like Adit Thackeray, who are responsible for SWM’s successful implementation in Mumbai”.

Rishi Aggarwal, an urban planner and founder of Mumbai Sustainability Centre too has been championing the cause of decentralised waste management. “The BMC needs to deploy more manpower and funds for better coordination,” said Rishi Aggarwal. “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 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 4000 tonnes in the last four years. We want to cut it down further”.

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 Swacch Bharat Abhiyan has been pivotal in providing solid waste management the much-needed push. “Several governments tried to implement it but I think this government really gave it an impetus,” said Sushma Kothari. “Earlier we weren't even aware of this. It is a good step by the government,” added Lata, from Byculla's Sri Laxmi Residency. Nisha, a 23-year-old media student from the same colony also felt that the regular advertisements of Swach Bharat Abhiyan coupled with BMC’s efforts have influenced the people.

True, other factors will influence voters decision, but civic issues like solid waste management can no longer be ignored totally. But Ashish Shelar, MLA from Mumbai North Central, who was a big help in installing the Pali Hill Bio Gas plant, refused to comment on the issue. While Waris Pathan, MLA from Byculla, said, “we are conducting regular meetings with 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 per cent of our people are in slum pockets,” said Latoya Ferns Advani, media chairperson, Mumbai Regional Congress. “All our dump yards are overflowing. Congress would like to highlight that we could turn crisis into opportunity by converting waste into energy and generate employment opportunities to the urban poor through this”.


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