Calcutta Notebook


The "Clean India" campaign launched by Prime Minister Modi is getting support from a broad spectrum of celebrities. Cine star Priyanka Chopra launched a 16-day campaign to clean up a locality in Versova area of Mumbai. Kareena Kapoor painted some walls at Karjat where she was shooting for a film. Salman Khan took the broom and swept some localities in that area, Sufi Singer Kailash Kher has joined the campaign. It looks fine that the rich and powerful are joining the campaign. But this will be reduced to merely a photo op if the Government does not do its bit. Recently this writer was travelling in a train. The waste bin in the sleeper coach was full and overflowing. As there was no alternative the waste was thrown out of the window. One could stop littering only if a waste collection system was put in place first.

The city of Bobbili in AP has shown how to make the city clean. The Municipality has persuaded homemakers to place the waste into separate compostable and recyclable bins. The compostable waste is fed to animals. Pigs eat up most of the food waste from hotels; ducks take care of leftovers from the fish market; and dogs eat leftover meat from homes. The other organic waste is converted into compost. Animal dung is used to produce biogas which provides cooking gas. The recyclable material is sorted. Paper, plastic and metals are sold to the respective users. The remaining non-recyclable material is put into a landfill. The town of Suryapet has gone farther. The kirana and merchant association was asked to give incentive of Re 1 to Rs 5 when the purchase is carried in a bag. Chicken and mutton shop owners were likewise requested to extend incentive of Rs 2 on purchase of meat. The hotel owners were requested to give incentive of Rs 2 on each plate of tiffin when carried in a box. These towns have no waste on the streets. Namakkal in Tamil Nadu has followed a similar model.

The non-recyclable material is a nuisance. There are few materials like candy wrappers that cannot be recycled because metal and plastic are fused together. They cannot be reused either as metal or as plastic. Similarly many packing materials paste a layer of plastic lamination on paper. This cannot be recycled because it is impossible to separate the two materials. Gopal Krishna of Toxics Watch says that use of these composite materials should be totally banned. It would then be possible to recycle 100 percent of the non-compostable waste. There would then be no need for landfills or incineration plants.

The Ministry of New and Renewable Energy and the Planning Commission do not like this, unfortunately. Non-recyclable waste is an asset for them. It helps them produce electricity so that they can meet the targets of renewable energy. As a result much waste material that could be recycled is being incinerated. The Ministry does not realize that any material burnt is a loss to nature. The Government is providing incentives of about Rs 10 crore per megawatt of electricity generation capacity installed for producing energy from waste. This is actually an incentive to destroy nature. Delhi is producing 18 megawatt electricity from 1700 tons of waste every day. Colonies in Okhla, where the plant is located, are turning into a "toxic gas chamber" because of the large amounts of poisonous gasses emitted from the plant. A complaint has been filed in the National Green Tribunal on the harm from the fall of toxic ash in the surrounding areas.

Problem of the Municipalities is financial. The cost of collecting two streams of compostable and recyclable waste, composting, and re-separation of the recyclable waste is very high while the recovery is less. Bobbili is recovering barely 13 percent of the cost incurred in waste collection. Suryapet incurs an expenditure of Rs 418 lacs per year but had been able to recover only about Rs 7 lacs per year from the sale of compost and recyclable materials few years ago. Technically it is possible to move to a zero waste system but that requires funds. This is the major problem of the "ppp" part of the "PPPP" proposed by Mr Modi.

Clean cities will provide many other benefits like less disease. Five lac persons are reported to die from Malaria every year. The garbage dumps are ideal breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry the malaria vectors. The benefits from zero waste system are huge but this can be implemented only by the Government. Municipalities across the country are spending 20 to 50 percent of their budgets on waste removal. The need is to formulate a scheme to provide incentives to them to move to a zero waste model.

The other resource that can be tapped for making clean cities is that of street pickers. Pune has shown the way here. The pickers usually pick only the "high" value waste that can be sold easily and leave the rest. The trick was to train them to separate various kinds of waste and buy all of it from them. This has provided a new respect to the pickers.

Modi needs to set right the PPP before pushing the PPPP. Four steps are required. One, manufacture and use of all non-recyclable material should be prohibited. Two, a scheme should be made to subsidize municipalities that implement a zero waste system. Three, a law for the protection and support to street pickers should be enacted. Lastly, and most importantly, Modi himself and Ministry of Renewable Energy should stop their penchant for more electricity from anything that meets their eyes.

Vol. 47, No. 29, Jan 25 - 31, 2015