While waste generation in the city has more than doubled in two decades, collection and disposal have not kept pace with it

In two decades, the generation of waste in Chennai has more than doubled -- from 2,000 tons to 5,000 tons per day. But the infrastructure to collect the waste and dispose them properly has not developed commensurately. If there were two major dump yards in 1991, the city has the same number in 2013. As a result, existing fill and treatment sites are buckling under piling waste and the unscientific ways of processing them continues.

Following public criticism, the Chennai Corporation has tried to upgrade the infrastructure and invited private companies with cutting-edge technology. The aim was to improve conservancy operations, remediation and scientific closure of existing dump yards. About 31 multinational companies bid for the contract and the Corporation commenced processing the applications in February, 2012. No work order has been issued so far. Officials are yet to inform the Corporation Council about the reason for the delay.

Over 19,390 conservancy workers work hard to clean 31,000 roads in this 426 sq km city. But a number of streets continue to remain dirty. The reasons are three-fold. One is the low-efficiency of manpower, two is shortage in local level collection mechanism and the third reason is the reluctance to deploy mechanical sweepers and other devices.

Of the total workers, 6,904 manually sweep the 31,000 roads with low-priced brooms. Every sweeper has to sweep 500 metres of road a day. Elderly women who are often employed for sweeping complain of exhaustion.

Seven of the Corporation zones — Tiruvottiyur, Thiru-Vi.Ka Nagar, Valasaravakkam, Alandur, Perungudi and Sholinganallur — are far behind the acceptable manpower efficiency of 250 kg/per person for garbage collection. According to recent data compiled by the Chennai Corporation, manpower efficiency in Perungudi zone is 129.2 kg/person. The adjoining Adyar zone, however, has a manpower efficiency of 556.9 kg/person – a reflection of better cleaning infrastructure and management.

The city has 12 mechanical sweepers but they are not suitable for local conditions, say Chennai Corporation officials. The devices are capable of cleaning the road in wet and dry conditions at the speed of 4 km an hour, but they need properly designed roads with footpaths for optimum functioning.

As many as 5,022 workers with tricycles collect waste door-to-door in the 15 zones of the city. Each of the tricycle is expected to collect waste from 250 households every day. Even though the number of tricycles is enough to cover all the 11.7 lakh approved properties in the city, residents of many areas complain that door-to-door collection is inadequate.

The waste collection mechanism is not working as it should and this is evident from the choking dump yards.

My Chennai My Right, an inititative by The Hindu

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