It’s not just about looking clean

Bengaluru’s change-makers in waste management and civic sectors share what needs to be done to make it a more ‘Swachh’ city

September 25, 2018 04:48 pm | Updated 04:48 pm IST

Bengaluru Football Club captain Sunil Chhetri (R) and teammates paint a wall as they clean up the neighbourhood of the football stadium in Bangalore on November 10, 2014, as part of the Prime Minister's "Swachh Bharat Abhiyan" (Campaign Clean India). Bengaluru captain Sunil Chhetri was nominated for and entrusted with the cleaning task by India's women boxing champion Mary Kom. AFP PHOTO/Manjunath KIRAN

Bengaluru Football Club captain Sunil Chhetri (R) and teammates paint a wall as they clean up the neighbourhood of the football stadium in Bangalore on November 10, 2014, as part of the Prime Minister's "Swachh Bharat Abhiyan" (Campaign Clean India). Bengaluru captain Sunil Chhetri was nominated for and entrusted with the cleaning task by India's women boxing champion Mary Kom. AFP PHOTO/Manjunath KIRAN

Archana Tripathi, programme director at Saahas, believes Bengaluru’s ranking in 2018’s Swachh Survekshan survey should not have been so low. The city has drastically slipped down the survey’s ranking system from 38 in 2016 to 210 in 2017, and 216 in 2018 (among 485 cities with a population of over a lakh). The Survey is done by the Indian Government to study the implementation of the Swachhata mission while also assessing the levels of cleanliness in the country.

“We are one of the few cities where segregation is actually happening. Many Resident Welfare Associations and bulk generators are doing on-site processing,” she says.

Anirudh S Dutt, Founder-President of the non-profit Let’s Be The Change says the city lacks toilets, which the survey takes into account. “The city needs to be more proactive in setting-up signboards directing people towards the nearest toilets.”

The city has not been able to progress in the campaign against open defecation, says Nalini Shekar, Founder-Director, Hasiru Dala. “In terms of Solid Waste Management, I think we have excellent policies but the implementation is lagging.”

Hasiru Dala is a trust which helps waste pickers become entrepreneurs in running dry waste collection centres, she explains, adding they now support 33 of these centres across the city.

While Bengaluru has all the right policies, guidelines and directions, in place, adds Pinky Chandran, a member of Solid Waste Management Round Table, the main problem lies in its implementation and documentation. “We have introduced smart bins, but a look around will tell you that for them to work, we need a strong communication strategy: constant awareness for behaviour change to adopt segregation at source, with backed-up, regular door-to-door collection. A case in point is the passport office in Koramangala, two smart bins have been installed, but are still struggling.”

“The BBMP must also come out with comprehensive by-laws that caters to all aspects of waste management. Data management is another important tool. I think it is important that the BBMP has uniform standards to collect data from all decentralised facilities,” adds Pinky

Recycling challenge

“It is important for waste pickers to become waste managers,” Nalini says. “The thrust is on creating livelihoods. The Trust is working on skill building and up-gradation by giving them an opportunity to make a stable income. Today the waste recycling industry is going through a lot of change because a lot of waste is coming in from outside the country. The waste is now flowing into India to be recycled, from other countries, because China which was the destination for recycling, has closed its doors,” she says.

“What is lacking is the connection between citizens and authorities,” says Anirudh of Let’s Be The Change that connects citizens with the authorities for civic issues. “People don’t know whom to report to if they have an issue. It is not just about posting on Facebook, all you have to do is visit your BBMP ward and find the health inspector.”

“Most people are not even aware of their ward numbers and that there is a health inspector in each ward. If the officers don’t respond, we tell people to get in touch with us and help resolve the issue.” So far, they claim to have reached out to 72 wards.

“We want to cover all 198 wards in the city. We don’t want to be the one-point contact, but want to train people to become leaders and have support from BBMP for this. People should make their issues heard at the right place.”

Multiple levels

Archana believes improvement needs to happen at multiple levels.

“We need more collectors, and vehicles. There have been complaints that once they pick up the waste, the contractors mix it while transporting. Enforcement needs to be improved and they need to be held accountable.”

Both of Saahas’ entities are working towards better management of waste. “Our capacity, as part Saahas Waste Management Private Limited, which works as an empanelled vendor with BBMP for servicing bulk generators, is 35 tonnes per day. We want to scale it up to 300 tonnes in the next five years.”

Pinky adds the city must look at decentralisation, rather than dumping mixed waste in someone else’s backyard. “Our five-point objectives at SWMRT, a collective of SWM practitioners, are segregation of waste, at the source, decentralization of waste management, reducing land fill to a minimum, Incorporation of waste pickers into the city’s solid waste management programmes and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR).”

She also points out that EPR, with the integration of the entire recycling value chain is missing in the discourse of managing waste.

“The need is for the industry to stand up and pitch in, enable a system of collection that pools to build infrastructure for dry waste collection centers and aggregation centres. This would enable the informal recycling industry to function effectively as a reverse logistics supply chain, with fair prices, technology support, and occupational safety equipment,” Pinky says.

Nalini adds Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s thrust on visual cleanliness is not enough. “The campaign should go beyond a visibly clean city to a city that has good policies on implementation of waste management. However, the campaign has definitely created an environment of change.”

The key is governance. “We need to bring in more governance into payment systems and tendering. That is what we are lacking in,” Nalini says

Pinky adds, “We must stop treating waste as a problem and look at it as a resource that could close the loop and get back into the production cycles.” The emphasis must be on process driven by segregation. “While targets are good, they cannot be top-down, consultant-driven. We don’t need cities that are visually clean and hide all their mixed waste in open dumps concealed by a cover of green.” Pinky says.

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