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Review: ‘Municipal Solid Waste’ generated in India set to increase 7 times in the next 30 years

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The parliamentary standing committee on Urban Development recently submitted a report that provided details of the action taken by the government on its recommendations made in another report in 2019. While observing that waste management is becoming a major issue, the committee asked the government to provide fresh responses for many of the recommendations as it felt the responses were incomplete.

With the ever-increasing population and urbanization in India, waste management has become a major challenge, especially in the urban setup. Over the years, there has been a stark increase in the quantity of waste generated, and it is only expected to increase further in the coming years. The characteristics of waste being disposed have also undergone a transformation, especially with the increased use of electronic gadgets and equipment. 

65 million tonnes of waste is generated every year in India as per current estimates

Currently, as per government estimates, about 65 million tonnes of waste is generated annually in India, and over 62 million tonnes of it are Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) that includes organic waste, recyclables like paper, plastic, wood, glass, etc. Only about 75-80% of the municipal waste gets collected and out of this only 22- 28% is processed and treated. The remaining MSW is deposited at dump yards. By 2031, MSW generated is projected to increase to 165 million tonnes, and further up to 436 million tonnes by 2025. Though the quantity of waste generated is increasing, waste collection efficiency in India is still catching up. It ranges from 70 to 90% in major metro cities and is below 50% in many smaller cities.

Rules for Waste Management were formulated in 2016

The major solid waste contributors in India are Municipal Solid Waste, sewage, Industrial Waste, Bio-Medical Waste, e-Waste, Nuclear Waste, and Agriculture Waste. There are multiple rules notified by the Environment Ministry, to be complied with, while disposing solid waste. These are-

Action taken report tabled in March 2021

The parliamentary ‘Standing committee on Urban Development’ submitted a report on ‘Solid Waste Management Including Hazardous Waste, Medical Waste And E-Waste’ in 2019 listing down a slew of recommendations to improve the SWM in India. An action taken report on the same was tabled in the parliament in March 2021. A total of 37 recommendations were made by the committee out of which 14 actions by the government were accepted, action taken for 21 of them were not accepted by the committee, and response for 2 was awaited by the committee. In this story, we look at those recommendations which have not been properly addressed by the government.  

Issue of SWM in India needs to be reviewed in holistic manner

Recommendations: Looking at the poor figures with respect to solid waste collection, segregation, and treatment, the committee asked the government to review the issue of SWM in the country in a comprehensive manner involving all stakeholders. It also spoke about laying out a roadmap and arrangement of funds and manpower without delay considering the hazard to human health and the environment. To address the disposal of different kinds of solid waste, the committee called on the central and state governments, and Urban Local Bodies to come together and come up with a concerted initiative. 

Unlike in European countries and America, India does not have the infrastructure required for SWM. The committee thus suggested that the ministries involved, and ULBs/state governments should work together and work on creating the infrastructure required to deal with solid waste. Also, it was recommended that Government should work out an integrated mechanism of SWM with industry and informal sector.

Since the composition of waste has evolved over the years, the committee called for designing the waste processing technology upon understanding the composition of waste generated. To understand the same, the committee opined that proper data on the number of different types of waste generated be collected, the lack of which has been cited as the ‘biggest handicap’ by the Central Pollution Control Board. 

Action taken by the Government: In the action taken report, the government stated that SWM Rules, 2016 have laid down the roadmap for the scientific management of solid waste. Through Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM)- Urban, central assistance is provided to states and there has been significant improvement in the processing of MSW and door-to-door collection. The government’s response added that there is coordination among ministries and at various levels. As sanitation is a state subject, states and ULBs are carrying out their statutory responsibility in scientific SWM through their own Sanitation Staff, through Self-Help Groups (SHGs), NGOs, integration of rag pickers, and informal sector, etc. The committee expressed its dissatisfaction with the unavailability of data on waste composition. 

Phase wise timetable to achieve scientific SWM through waste segregation needs to be maintained 

Recommendations: The committee recommended coming up with a phase-wise timetable that would help in achieving scientific SWM through segregation of waste at source by October 2019. Desegregated waste is not collected in places in Goa and Kerala and similar practices promoting waste segregation should be extended to other parts of India as well. 

Action taken: Though the government has listed awareness drives and cities rating for cleanliness, the committee pointed out that a timetable, as suggested by it, was absent.

Subsidized door-to-door waste collection is recommended 

Recommendations: Registration of rag-pickers, as agreed by the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs (MoHUA) helps in reducing waste handling costs and in diverting large quantities of waste away from landfills. Though the subsidized door-to-door waste collection is recommended, the committee stated that as per rules, the waste generators should pay for collection. However, in slum areas, the ULBs may consider providing subsidies.  

Action taken:  MoHUA responded that advisories have been issued for integrating ragpickers into waste management and that a fee for door-to-door collection should be collected. The response was vague and thus, the committee asked the government to relook at the recommendations. 

Irresponsible disposal of sanitary waste makes recycling workers vulnerable to diseases

Recommendations: The committee noted that an estimated 2000 tonnes of sanitary waste is generated in India every day. This is disposed of carelessly making the informal recycling workers vulnerable to deadly diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis B and C, and Ebola virus. The committee opined that the manufacturers of diapers and sanitary napkins should explore the use of recyclable materials in the product. Also, the health ministry was asked to allocate adequate funds for dealing with sanitary waste. The committee also noted the gap in fund allocation, release, and utilization. As against the Mission allocation of Rs.7,365.82 crores, the releases were as low as Rs. 3,284.79 crore. Moreover, as against Rs.1490.65 crore of ‘Utilization Certificates (UCs)’ due, the total UCs received was as low as Rs. 1,116.83 crore. The trend was similar across major states like UP, Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.

Action taken: MoHUA stated that health was state subject and the issue of medical & sanitary waste disposal came under the state’s responsibility. Though the amount spent under SWM has been mentioned by the Ministry, the committee reiterated its recommendations for getting comprehensive final action taken response from the government.  

Recommendations: The Committee noted that there are only a few functional Waste to Compost (WTC) Plants in the country and these were running much below their annual installed capacity. The government was asked to work out to establish such plants across the country with a PAN India license. Similarly, Waste to Energy (WTE) plants and technology should also be examined. 

Action taken: The Ministry went on to state the SWM Rules, 2016 were the roadmap being implemented by States and ULBs. Nothing pertaining to WTC plants was addressed and hence, the committee reiterated their recommendations. 

Strict enforcement of existing laws is necessary

Recommendations: The committee in its original report called for the existing legal provisions to be implemented strictly. The committee observed that E-Waste (Management) Rules (EWM) contained many good things like the convergence of stakeholders including manufacturers, dealers, e-retailers, etc., simplification in registration/authorization for dismantling under one system, withdrawing or recall of the product from the market in case of non-compliance, and other provisions. However, the implementation of rules framed under the EWM, 2016 was far from satisfactory. There were very few authorized recyclers and dismantlers in India. Similarly, facilities for hazardous waste treatment were also very few in India. 

Action taken: On the aspect of strict enforcement of SWM laws, the MoHUA, as usual, has cited it to be a ‘State Subject’ whereas on the issue of ‘E-Waste management’, the government mentioned that it is to be handled by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, Environment and Forests & Climate Change. The Committee has asked MoHUA to furnish a comprehensive action taken report.

Use of plastic in road construction was suggested

Recommendations: The Committee recommended that landfills be disincentivized and converted into parks instead. The committee observed that continued use of landfills would mean that the land required each year would be an additional 1240 hectares. Further, to reduce plastic waste from getting dumped, the committee has called for extensively using plastic for road construction. The funding pattern for ULBs was suggested to be reviewed to ensure that ULBs can carry out SWM projects on their own. 

Action taken: Just like in the case of most recommendations, the government provided vague & incomplete responses such as the issue of advisories and did not address the committee’s suggestion. In the case of reviewing the funding pattern, the government disagreed stating that Ministry is only providing central assistance generic to all States/UTs as decided by the Cabinet and SWM is a state subject. 

Co-ordination between various agencies looks like the primary issue

From most of the responses provided by the government, it looks like the primary issue in dealing with the issue of waste management is coordination between the various agencies involved in addressing the issue. The Central Government is limited to making rules and providing certain funds while the onus of implementation is with the states the local bodies. Without serious co-ordination between these agencies, effective waste management will not take place. While many rules are in place, they need to be strictly adhered to through a combination of local innovation & using local expertise. 

Featured Image:  Municipal Solid Waste Management in India

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