Lack of political will , fund crunch ensure scheme never crosses the threshold

Even as the Mangalore City Corporation (MCC) barely limps out the starting line in garbage segregation, it must be remembered that the current pilot project in two wards of the city comes after nearly a decade of flippancy and failures.

In 2003, after the State government came out with guidelines for solid waste management, the city council passed a resolution to charge Rs. 20 per household for door-to-door collection, and engage self-help groups as per the guidelines.

Officials said none of the 240 groups contacted were interested in garbage collection. Pilot projects in 2005-06 were given up as the door-to-door collection was weak and as there were no plants – either composting or energy – to deal with the segregated wastes.

The council had decided to pursue 100 per cent door-to-door collection (something that has not even been achieved even now) before taking up segregation. However, here lies a conundrum that the MCC has not figured out yet. But nothing of significance happened till 2011.

For garbage collection, a capital investment for vehicles and labour is needed. For this, a solid waste management (SWM) cess was introduced in 2011. “Many councillors questioned why the cess was being imposed even though the garbage was not being properly collected. The cess was withdrawn within three months,” said Madhu S.M., MCC environment engineer.

With finances and political will being at odds, the progress of door-to-door collection stalled while segregation did not even feature in the council debates.

Cut to 2013, garbage contractors were changed and the city was promised that this time the door-to-door collection will be foolproof with the MCC outsourcing much of it. Then, it has hit a road block again. It is not fully extended to all wards and wherever it is being tried, people complain that collection is not regular.

“Rs. 30 (monthly charge) that is being collected from consumers was tabulated in 2005. The contractors say they are under loss if they have to cover all houses, and they routinely skip houses,” said a civic official explains it away. In September, contractors were penalised Rs. 6,680 for missing out on 17 people who had taken up the issue with the corporation.

And with fund crunch, the city has just 50 auto-tippers instead of the required 120 for garbage collection.

The pilot project in 2013 was taken up after the State government gave grants in 2012-13; however, some teething issues have propped up in the pilot projects in Mannagudda and Court wards. “We have found that people do not segregate waste while giving us, or workers taking the garbage mix it in the vehicle. There needs to be more training for the workers,” an official said.

The 15 kV biogas plant at Urwa Stores has a capacity of around 2 tonnes. However, just around 350 kg from Court and Mannagudda wards reach there.

Environment engineers believe that the solid waste management (SWM) cess is the solution. “It would give us funds to buy more machinery and undertake the collections better,” said Mr. Madhu. Sources estimate that roughly Rs. 7.2 crore is needed for efficient collection, and only a cess can provide this capital.

However, with the Congress-led council having announced in their manifesto that taxes won’t be raised, there is doubt if political will can push forward the proposal.

“A cess is not a tax, and so, if we think it is necessary, we can push for it,” said Mangalore South MLA J.R. Lobo. Admitting that SWM was a big problem, he said that when the council convenes, a solution will be found.

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