Garbage crisis may render Pune’s ‘Smart City’ ambitions a dream

Two villages outside Pune are the centre of an urban battle: man versus rubbish

January 24, 2016 12:00 am | Updated September 23, 2016 02:49 am IST - PUNE

Every day, 500 tonnes of waste lies untreated in Phursungi and Uruli Devachi—File Photo

Every day, 500 tonnes of waste lies untreated in Phursungi and Uruli Devachi—File Photo

: Two decades ago, the fields were verdant, the dawns were quiet, and for residents of the twin villages of Uruli Devachi and Phursungi, barely 20 km outside Pune, a fight for clean air seemed absurd.

Today, a glance at the pyramid-like mounds of unprocessed, overflowing garbage near the two villages has become visual shorthand for the city’s chimerical dream to transform itself into a ‘Smart City’ by the end of 2016.

Since 1991, these villages have faced the brunt of Pune’s surging consumerism and expansion, with the problem of solid waste disposal reaching monstrous proportions.

In 1981, the Maharashtra government allotted 43 acres of land in Uruli and provisioned another 120 acres in Phursungi in 2003 to meet a growing Pune’s waste-disposal demands.

In 2016, the crisis has brought into sharp relief an already deepening urban-rural divide in Pune district. While methane emissions from the landfills permeate the air, the villagers have been subjected to a litany of maladies owing to pollution of their water sources.

“The dream of a ‘Smart Pune’ seems hopelessly unreal,” says Dilip Mehta, a Phursungi resident and an activist. “Every day 500 tonnes of waste lies untreated in the dumps of Phursungi and Uruli Devachi.”

According to Mr Mehta, there have been 1,900 instances of fires breaking out in the garbage dumps in the last decade. Since the mid-1990s, there has scarcely been a day when the villagers have not agitated against the relentless dumping. Every form of protest has been deployed – from issuing show-cause notices to Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to blocking garbage trucks from entering the area.

PMC figures show that, in 1991, Pune generated an average of 300 tonnes of garbage every day. Latest records show this figure is nearly 1700 tonnes. Of this, 950 tonnes of garbage is reportedly segregated. “Plastic is the single most lethal constituent in untreated waste,” Mr Mehta says. “Despite increased awareness about our plight and a rash of public-private partnership projects to develop new systems for waste management, not much has been done to provide relief to villagers.”

To compound the problem, corruption has bedeviled the PMC-run waste disposal plants set up by Hanjer Biotech at Uruli Devachi, which was shut down in December last year. Despite a waste-treating capacity of 1,000 tonnes, the decrepit plants are barely able to process 200 tonnes of waste.

Last year, city-based NGOs had written to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, demanding an Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) probe into irregularities plaguing the city’s garbage processing units. The Nagrik Chetana Manch, in conjunction with the Sajag Nagrik Manch, had brought to notice the crumbling waste disposal plants saying tax-payers’ money has not been utilised properly.

A biogas plant analysis by Nagrik Chetna Manch in November 2014 showed shortfalls in power generation to the extent of 85 per cent and flaring of over 74,000 cubic meters per month.

Despite this grim backdrop, the PMC, as part of its ‘Smart City Plan’, has confidently touted that Pune will achieve 100 per cent municipal solid waste segregation and processing and that all parts of the city will be zero-garbage wards.

“None of the plants are or were compliant with the Water and Air Acts and there is no regular monitoring of ground water, ambient air and foul odour pollution. Given a track record of dubious promises, it is highly doubtful just how the PMC will go about getting a clean-city tag,” said Major Gen (retd) SN Jatar of the Nagrik Chetana Manch.

The civic body’s claims of having established zero garbage disposal wards have been questioned as the city barely manages to achieve 40 per cent waste segregation at source.

“Nobody really is interested in resolving the issue. There are plenty of other spaces to be explored round the city. The use of quarries to dispose of garbage should start immediately. There is a scientific method to decompose the refuse and it should be implemented here,” opines RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar.

People from these villages have been agitating against the dumping since the 1990s

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