Leaving The Waste Behind, Bringing In Better Civic Sense

Posted on October 23, 2010 in Environment

By Amrit George:

Delhi. All across the developing world, people recognize this city as a sign of change. It is an indication that up and coming countries now have the financial and technological muscle to survive alongside their more fortunate cousins. In the developing world, the capital of the largest democracy in the world is an example of how the past and the future can be blended in a perfect mix so as to provide the best result for the present. In its existence as India’s capital since independence, Delhi has become the perfect example of how India wants itself to be viewed by the world as rooted in its culture and heritage while still moving forward to discover the unknown. What has now formed in the mind is the picture of something extremely similar to paradise. Facts however blur the image.

Forbes Magazine rates Delhi to be 24th most dirty city on the planet (2008 report). We have Mumbai for company at number 7 and neighboring Dhaka at number 2. Based on the annual quality of life survey 2002 conducted by William M Mercer , the world’s largest human resource consultancy firm, Delhi is one of the worst cities to live in among all cities that were surveyed. All other Metropolitan cities were higher rated than Delhi. As of today, things seem to have changed. The CWG has managed to bring in some amount of cleanliness, but the civic sense has still not emerged.

This paradise is defiled by its own inhabitants at an alarming yet pathetic pace. Speaking plainly, I talk about waste. Visit any major city road and you will find rotting garbage around every major street corner, stray dogs sniffing through the piles in search of scraps of food and pedestrians and motorists seemingly oblivious to these appalling sights. Meanwhile urban residents, regardless of social class, think nothing of tossing to the ground food wrappers, leftovers and fruit rinds in any number of public places from markets to parks. Few such areas have garbage cans handy and this only encourages this careless behavior.

Some more statistics about the cities condition came out before the Commonwealth Games. Here is an extract from The Australian, “An analysis of the city’s air quality in May 2010 was done by India’s Centre for Science and Environment. The study found fine-particulate pollution exceeded acceptable standards on 92 per cent of days this year and were up to four times higher than levels recommended by the World Health Organization. Since 2006, average nitrogen oxide levels have met standards on only 30 per cent of days. India’s national cancer research institute says one in three Delhi residents has respiratory problems and more than 40 per cent suffer reduced lung function. This is likely to increase around the time that more than 8000 athletes converged on Delhi.” The health hazards presented in this article shocked me. With each passing day we put ourselves at more risk than we can possibly take.

As someone who has been in the city for 17 years, I know of what I speak. This is not to say that all the streets are full of dirt. Streets around important government offices are usually pretty well maintained though at times people manage to litter them as well. The city presented an astonishing beautiful display during the Commonwealth Games 2010. Streets were maintained and garbage bins appeared out of thin air. This obviously shows that our streets can be pretty clean if people start taking initiative. What must also be noted though, is the role of the government. The moment the government starts enforcing laws and starts increasing awareness regarding waste and garbage disposal,things can improve drastically.

In the past decade, the city has introduced new vehicle emission standards, and laws that forced buses, taxis and auto rickshaws to switch from diesel to cleaner compressed natural gas. About 1300 polluting industries have been shifted out of the city and a new metro system is now in place. A giant outdoor air filter has even been installed in busy Connaught Place, Delhi’s shopping hub where regular air quality tests will not only read real-time pollution levels but predict those levels 24 hours ahead.

Another incident that caught my eye was an event regarding nuclear waste. While the White House was engaged in hosting a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C., a major nuclear incident occurred in Delhi. Five people suffering from serious radiological burns were hospitalized in West New Delhi on April 15, 2010 from contact with nuclear material in a Delhi scrap market. The substance was identified as Cobalt-60, a highly radioactive substance. Nuclear Scientists were called to the spot to identify the source. Such a dangerous substance was left unattended in a scrap market. This could have led to thousands of people getting infected. Thankfully, such an event was avoided.

So how do we solve this problem?

For household waste, the responsibility lies in the hand of the owner. Whatever emanates from your house is your responsibility. Each apartment block or complexes already have some sort of garbage collection service. A disturbing practice that I have noticed many times is waste being burned. The noxious gases being let into the air are not only aiding Air Pollution but also enhancing the rate at our Ozone is depleted i.e. Global Warming. People must make sure that their garbage is properly segregated and make sure that it is not dumped on some open road or empty park. If we won’t keep our city clean, then we must then get used living in the dirt. Turning a blind eye to this and shrugging of responsibility can no longer be considered alternatives. Blaming the government also at all times won’t work. People must apply necessary amount of pressure on their locally elected public representatives and make sure they do their job in keeping the place clean.

Next I look at the Government. While looking at past actions of the Government when it comes to waste management, I came across and interesting article in The Hindu’s archives which details the Government’s actions to about 6 years ago. It said, “Article 243W read with the twelfth schedule of the Constitution fastens the responsibility of solid waste management (SWM) on the municipalities. SWM is a mandatory function of the municipality, yet this aspect of civic administration has not received its due attention. A public interest litigation was filed in the Supreme Court in 1998 to direct the local bodies as well as the Government of India and the State Governments to improve the SWM practices. The Supreme Court thereafter appointed a committee to look into all aspects of solid waste management and submit a report to it. The report known as the Barman Committee report, after the Chairman, was submitted in March 1999. The Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000 (the “Rules”) was issued by the Central Government pursuant to this report, in exercise of its powers under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 (the “EPA”). The Rules have substantially incorporated the recommendations of the committee and made an attempt to delineate responsibilities and cast duties on the citizens as well as the municipalities for SWM.”

The article goes on to mention that responsibility to maintain a proper waste management system lies squarely in the hands of the Local Government offices like the Panchayat and the Municipal Corporations. In Delhi then, the baton falls into the hands of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. It is their responsibility as per law to maintain cleanliness. 8 statutes that were mentioned were-

(i) Prohibit littering on the street.

(ii) Organize house to house waste collection and notify the public about the schedule and the methodology of collection.

(iii) Conduct awareness programs to disseminate information to the public and hold regular meetings with the resident welfare groups and NGOs.

(iv) Devise ways to collect waste from unsanitary and difficult areas such as slums, hotels, restaurants, office complexes and commercial areas.

(v) Build adequate storage facilities taking into account the population density so as to prevent overflowing of trash cans.

(vi) Color-code waste bins so as to promote segregation of waste at source – green for biodegradable, white for recyclable wastes and black for other wastes.

(vii) The wastes are to be transported only in closed vans to avoid spilling of wastes.

(viii) Dispose of the collected wastes by adopting any of the prescribed methods such as vermin- composting, anaerobic digestion, incineration, etc. Landfill is to be adopted for inert waste.

So you see, we have had the law by our side all along. So what can we do as citizens? We must join forces with our government. Each day, if we take minimal steps to dispose our waste properly, then together the city we love can and surely become the paradise it is meant to be.

Image courtesy: http://knowledge.allianz.com/en/globalissues/energy_co2/energy_efficiency/waste_mumbay_india_rag_pickers_movie.print.html