Mumbai Local

The cleaning of Mumbai

The BMC is focusing on improved door-to-door collection— Photo: Bloomberg  

n 2015 Mumbai was placed No. 147 on the list of cities ranked by the Urban Development ministry under the Swachh Bharat Mission. Two years earlier, in 2012, the travel website had given it the dubious tag of being the world’s dirtiest city. From those low points, this year’s rankings present a significant improvement, with Mumbai now being ranked at the number 10 among the 15 cleanest cities in India. The rankings and the criteria used however, also give us occasion to ask how far the city has come, and what are the steps that can be taken to bridge the gap with top cities such as Mysuru and Chandigarh, respectively ranked the cleanest and the second-cleanest in India.

Soon after the rankings were released last year, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) took serious steps to address the issue, starting with the visit of an assessment team from the Urban Development ministry. It was decided that the key areas to be improved were in solid waste collection, treatment and disposal and the use of toilets by the urban poor and the floating population.

The rankings for 2016 are broken up into a status ranking of the different services that go into making a clean city and in addition, feedback was sought from about 10,000 ordinary citizens. The categories that each city was ranked on strategy for integrated solid waste management, information and education about cleanliness for citizens, collection and transportation of waste, processing and disposal of waste, the availability of public and community toilets and individual latrines.

The rankings illustrate that while Mumbai scores high currently on door to door waste collection and transportation, some key weaknesses remain. Mumbai has only an “average” score for the processing and disposal of waste, while its scores are low for the availability of individual latrines as well as in the category of Information, Education and Behaviour Change Communication.

In the citizens’ feedback segment, Mumbai scores low on two key aspects – one is to do with general perception; with only 14 per cent of respondents stating that that they felt the city was always clean. Linked to this, an allied problem – only 29 per cent of citizens answered in the affirmative when asked if they were always able to find a dustbin.

A significant problem in cleaning up Mumbai has been the high density and large proportion of slum population. As far back as 2004, a study by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) found that in several areas there was only about one dustbin for every 2,500 population, and people were left with no option but to dump waste in their backyards. The study also found that public participation and cooperation in solid waste collection was marginal.

The BMC’s approach to solid waste management in these areas has been hampered by the fact that it doesn’t want to place too many dustbins in the various wards. Dustbins are seen as eyesores, and which overflow because of people not segregating waste properly. Mumbai’s city area has about 5,000 garbage bins and the corporation had placed an additional 1,900 bins during the monsoon season of 2015. In 2013, the corporation announced plans to acquire 20,000 bins that would promote segregation of waste but there has since been a shift in policy. After a pilot project was attempted in Mulund in 2015, the BMC now wants to follow a ‘Public Dustbin Free Mumbai’ project across al 24 city wards.

The focus therefore is on improved door-to-door collection and transport. In 2012-13 the corporation spent around Rs 1,413 crore on solid waste management and transport. This has risen to an estimated Rs 2,852 crore for 2016-17 with plans to deploy even more resources if necessary.

“Feedback has been sought from each of the 24 wards where currently two vehicles operate for the disposal of dry waste. If any of them say they need a requirement for more vehicles we are ready to provide it,” explains Vijay Balamvar, Deputy Commissioner, Solid Waste Management, BMC.

The BMC’s chief engineer for Solid Waste Management SA Ansari says the corporation has already distributed two types of 10-litre bins to 50,000 families that will help with the segregation of dry and wet waste at collection points. But civil society experts ask if this is a sustainable approach for the 9,600 metric tonnes of waste that the city produces per day.

“Transporting all the waste is the simplest solution but will be detrimental in the long run,” says Ashok Datar, chairman, Mumbai Environmental Social Network, an NGO. “The landfills we have are already overflowing and we are looking for further dumping sites, which means transporting the waste over longer distances,” he adds.

The maximum waste from Mumbai is generated from areas like Chembur, Kurla and Govandi, but Mr Datar explains there is no strategy whereby each of these localities themselves can deal with the waste. “On a small scale, for example, there can be parks or gardens, where a small section can be made into compost pits. On a larger scale, say for restaurants, recycling and processing units can be built,” he explains.

The key difference here between Mumbai and the cities ranked higher in fact, is that almost all of them follow a decentralised model which emphasises citizen participation. It’s no coincidence that all of the cities ranked in the top 5 document the involvement of NGOs and civil society groups who help in the processing and disposal of waste. All of them also score very high on Information, Education and Behaviour Change Communication (IEBC) amongst its citizens.

Mumbai has an Advanced Locality Management system that operates in some of the more affluent neighbourhoods and ensures waste is segregated and composted locally, but this has never been scaled up. Such a system could help ensure that tonnes of waste stay out of landfills every month. In the area of sanitation, a study conducted by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 2014 in slum clusters in M-East ward found that the design of toilets made them inaccessible to many while many of them lacked water connections and outlets.

A senior official says the BMC has allocated about Rs 60 crore to repair 500 community toilets while it will also build about 300 new toilets. But, like most schemes, there is no visibility on the execution and completion. As a result, garbage and solid waste pile up, but the city just doesn’t know what to do with it.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2021 7:01:04 PM |

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