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Corporatization of Waste Underway

Written By Gopal Krishna on Wednesday, January 07, 2009 | 11:34 AM

Waste companies are in the process of taking over the entire waste economy across the India covered Agra, Ahmedabad, Asansol, Bangalore. Chennai, Coimbatore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Indore, Jabalpur, Jaipur, Jamshedpur, Cochin, Kolkata, Ludhiana, Madurai, Meerut, Mumbai, Nagpur, Nasik, Patna, Pune, Rajkot, Surat and Varanasi. It revealed that a majority of the cities (23 out of 25) surveyed have already engaged private sector companies in their waste management activities.

The survey shows that Delhi has the highest per capita expenditure on solid waste management (Rs 431) followed by Mumbai (Rs 428), Jaipur (Rs 301), Chennai (Rs 295) and Ludhiana (Rs 258). Manpower deployment for SWM is highest in Delhi (3.5 per 1000 population) and Mumbai (3.4 per 1000 population). Other cities surveyed such as Coimbatore, Madurai and Nasik also have a manpower deployment figure equal or above 3.0 per 1000 population.

Despite acknowledgement in the December 2008 Comptroller Auditor General’s Audit Report on Municipal Solid Waste in India that recommends (Chapter 3, Section 3.5) that “MoEF/states should consider providing legal recognition to rag pickers so that recycling work becomes more organised and also ensure better working conditions for them” in reiteration of what the National Environment Policy provides for, so far recognition for the service is missing their economic activity lies on the fringes of legality. This step can improve the working conditions of workers, which are often hazardous and unhygienic, and result in an increase in their daily wages.

The FICCI survey states that Rajkot and Hyderabad already have pelletisation plants and at least 11 cities of Delhi, Varanasi, Nasik, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Coimbatore, Pune, Bangalore, Surat, Cochin have also preferred it as treatment options for future.

Delhi Government has corporatized waste collection and transportation in 6 zones of Delhi. This means that ownership and control of recyclable wastes (Article 5.15 of the Contract) and control and rights over the Dhalao space too has been passed on to a private corporation. The terms of the contract were made by the Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation FOR (MCD). Taking over waste collection is just the first step.

The informal economy, with its recycling-driven business model, is doing the national capital city a great service. But the formalisation of the waste economy underway have come through the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000, issued by the Union Ministry for Environment and Forests. As per the Rules, all urban waste must be segregated on the basis of waste sources (that is, industrial, biomedical, and household) and the nature of the waste (that is, biodegradable, non-biodegradable and recyclables) and disposed of accordingly. The implementation of these rules has required a marked departure from the existing practices, and many urban local bodies in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai have handed over waste collection and segregation to private waste management companies.

Municipal Corporation of Delhi estimates that privatisation has resulted in a steep reduction in the costs of garbage collection and transportation, and the MCD expected to save Rs.30-40 crores annually. A World Bank study has noted that this saving is being made because of the low wages being paid to workers.

The waste collection efficiency of the MCD stood at about 60 per cent, in spite of dedicating almost 95 per cent of its budget for waste handling, collection and transportation and leaving only 5 per cent for actual disposal. The MCD's inefficiency in waste management has meant that almost 20 per cent of Delhi's waste passes through the informal waste collection and recycling network at some stage.

Waste companies in Delhi are being paid on a "per tonne" basis, with the fee ranging from Rs.500 to Rs.700 a tonne. It acts as a disincentive for recycling and segregation and puts the newly created formal waste economy in direct conflict with the existing informal economy. Officials involved in the framing of the contract with private operators have explained that specific provisions have been incorporated in the contract to ensure an incremental 5 per cent segregation of household waste annually. A "40 items clause" (a list of 40 "restricted items" that shall not be counted as tonnage), officials say, has been specifically designed to protect rag pickers.

Non-degradable recyclables constitute about 12 per cent of the total waste. The corporate lust for profit is in the process of swallowing the source of waste pickers’ livelihood through manifest political patronage.

P.S: Waste economy provided livelihood to the most marginalized people. It is based on waste management process that involves waste collection (from municipal dumps, houses, offices and industrial estates); sorting (where recyclables are segregated); and recycling. However, these seemingly simple tasks are complex and labour-intensive and are routinely carried out by Delhi's informal network of pheriwallahs, boriwallahs, thiawallahs, binnewalahs, khattewallahs, kabariwallahs, godown owners, suppliers and recyclers.

Pheriwallahs and boriwallahs, with their large plastic sacks, are among the most visible manifestations of the category of "rag pickers". Their task is to scour the streets for usable maal. Maal could loosely be translated as "stuff". Maal is anything that is of some use or value. "It could be paper, plastic, glass or metal."

Binnewallahs are different in that they pick maal only from territorially demarcated municipal bins, while khattewallahs collect office waste. Thiawallahs and kabaris buy maal from offices or households; they usually command higher prices as their material is of much higher quality.

The first step in the recycling process is devoted to choosing between kooda (garbage) and maal. The maal is then transported either manually or on bicycles to the godowns. The godown can be a small shack tucked away in the corner of a large marketplace, an open tract of land near a drain, or a large open space hidden in the heart of the city.

Small traders buy untreated maal and pass it on to an assembly line of sorters, who specialise in classifying and segregating tonnes of undifferentiated plastic into more than 40 different categories that sell from Rs.2 a kg to Rs.200 a kg.
There are five types of waste paper - road-sweep, press cutting, newspaper, office waste and cardboard - and they fetch anywhere between Rs.1.50 and Rs.12 a kg.
There are three major categories of glass - white, red and multi-coloured; as for plastic, there are over 40 types.

P.S: When Delhi Chief minister Sheila Dikshit was asked *Bigger states than us have implemented the ban on plastic bags. Why can't we? She said, " That's not true. I was told Himachal has banned it but when I went there, it was still around. Here, it has reduced a lot thanks to the awareness initiatives at the school level. It works better this way because if we impose a ban, it would be smuggled in from Noida and Ghaziabad. We are trying to effect an attitudinal change which takes a little longer."

Clearly, non-progressive approach of the Delhi High Court panel comprising officials of Central Pollution Control Board, Chairman J M Mauskar, Delhi Pollution Control Committee, Chairman J K Dadoo and Justice R C Chopra, former Delhi High court judge which did not highlight how the developed countries like Germany and Singapore have successfully banned the product is weighing on her mind.

The clause (3) of Delhi Degradable Plastic Bag (manufacture, sale and usage) and garbage (control) Act 2000 which prohibits manufacture, sale or use of plastic bags other than degradable plastic bags leaves a loophole because no standard has been fixed regarding their degradibility and there is no research even in regard to the time taken for degradation. This clause is a major road block in ensuring total ban on plastic bags in Delhi besides lack of accountability for the enforcement of the ban order.
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