I just came back from the city of my birth – Delhi. It was hot, and humid and wonderful. I basked in the never ending heat of the sun, drenched myself in the monsoon showers, spent some quality time with all my family, and took a close look at every nook and corner of the city laced with garbage, muck and waste.
Every time I return to my homeland I go with the hope that this time around things would be different, there would have been one person who would have seen under the tonnage of garbage to find the root cause and would be working to eradicate it. But Delhi has failed miserably in managing waste disposal in a manner that would tackle the problem in an economically viable manner.
I am also an interfering person, so I trotted down to the Municipal office to find the facts and figures. What I found confounded my expectations. I have no fond misgivings about my fellow countrymen. I know their affinity for mess, but it was a shock when I heard that 8,000 metric tons of solid waste, contributed by the callousness of the citizens and the authorities alike, continue to lie untreated in the city. And the tale of woes does not end here. The situation is worsened by the fact that the municipal agencies in Delhi – the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) and New Delhi Municipal Corporation (NDMC) have the capacity to treat only 5,000 metric tons of waste. And there is the extra 3,000 metric tons to deal with on a daily basis, and it is lying around, and compounding.
One of the officers in the MCD told me that if you calculate Delhi’s land spread and the amount of waste that is being dumped on streets gradually, you are left grappling with a grim reality of untreated wastes covering up all of Delhi in 7 years. Yes, its true, if those extra 3,000 metric
tons of wastes are not treated for the next 7 years, Delhi will be completely blanketed by that rubbish.
Waste disposal is one of the countless other major problems faced by the city. Ideally, about two–third of the collected waste should be dumped in landfill sites. About 15-25 percent of this waste should be recycled. Even though recycling is a big industry in Delhi, and paper, plastic, glass, ferrous and non-ferrous metals and every other material that can be recycled is recycled. But unfortunately, recycling is not taken up in an organized manner by either the government or the private sector. Only makeshift arrangements made for quick profits have dealt a deathblow to Delhi’s recycling industry, and slum children can be seen scrambling for scraps of metal and paper in huge waste dumps. Not only is this hazardous to their health and hygiene, but is also a futile attempt at recycling. A few non-governmental organizations are doing some good work in the direction of recycling and India’s recycled paper is in huge demand all over the world.
Delhi or rather, India has failed to realize the potential of recycling, which can be effectively used to produce low-cost products for the lower-income groups of the society. The bitter truth is that inadequate capacity for collection and transportation of municipal solid waste (MSW) has resulted in the uncollected waste finding its way into the sewers, or the stomach of the grazing cattle. Or it is just left to rot in the open or burnt on the roadsides.
A large quantity of waste, in both solid and liquid forms, is also generated by the industrial sectors like breweries, sugar mills, distilleries, food-processing industries, tanneries, and paper and pulp industries. Out of the total pollution contributed by the industrial sub-sectors, nearly 50 per cent of the total pollutants can be traced to the processing of industrial chemicals and nearly 40 per cent of the total organic pollution to the food products industry alone.
It’s sad, but true, nothing really seems to be going right with the city. A recent case was of the now-famous snack company, Haldiram. Apparently, this company (whose snacks are eaten by us Indians around the world) wanted to make the profit margins winder, and instead of handling their waste to meet the required standards, dumped packets of waste right into the Yamuna river, on whose banks their manufacturing unit is situated. Industries like Haldiram should ideally be a model for other smaller industries to manage waste disposal.
Many institutions have set up waste treatment plants where the urban municipal waste, both solid and liquid, industrial waste, agro waste and biomass in different forms, can be treated effectively and potentially used for energy generation. India’s leading fast food restaurant, Nirula's has been making ample use of these plants and such companies are a ray of hope and source of encouragement for other industries to follow suit. But, these measures can generate ample success only when all the citizens of Delhi share responsibility.
The problem is not easily tackled or wished away either. One way, by which we can really help the city to get a clean and healthy look, is by empowering various NGOs and giving them effective judicial power. “Littering is illegal” and “Fine for littering Rs. 100” are signs. But they have to be followed.
Since it’s an empirical conclusion that the Municipal corporation or body in Delhi is not equipped by either man or material to handle this, maybe an NGO is really the answer?
And of course, sensitizing the population to accept living in a clean environment! Now that might be another difficult task, as Delhiites or rather Indians are far too used to living in muck.