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Warrior Mom Harmit Rajpal Masand, mother of a 10 year old from Delhi writes about the poor execution of solid waste disposal regulations in Delhi.

The government of India notified the Solid Waste Management Rules in 2016 and Delhi notified its bylaws in 2018 under the Environment Protection Act. It is estimated that the people of Delhi generate approximately 12,000 tons of  solid waste per day and these bylaws put the onus on the waste generator and further push them to adopt a sustainable lifestyle.

All the five local bodies – NDMC, South DMC, North DMC, East DMC and Delhi Cantonment Board (DCB) are responsible for enforcing the bylaws in their jurisdiction.

Principally everything looks achievable – laws are laid, segregation is mandated, awareness campaigns have started, accountability is defined, fines can be levied  on defaulters, agencies are given a clear authority for enforcement.

In short,  these bylaws have the potential to get rid of the waste woes of the city. However, practically what is the status quo after three and half years of notifying these bylaws? Here are a few questions –

  1. Are the waste generators owning up their responsibilities as mandated by the laws? Are the citizens of the city segregating their waste?
  2. Are the authorities now collecting waste against the user fee?
  3. Are we processing the biodegradable waste in the desired manner?
  4. How is the hazardous waste being treated?
  5. Are we recycling the dry waste?

Sadly, we do not really have many affirmative responses to these questions. Delhi  continues to choke with the fumes from burning of mixed waste at the three waste-to-energy plants and authorities are still dumping waste at the  overburdened landfills.

The results considered achievable are falling short. So, to understand the possible causes of failure let me state a personal experience or present a case  study.

Belonging to a rather privileged family, and living in a well-known residential colony of south Delhi with 700+ houses in our block, we had this urge to do something at the community level and get rid of these overflowing Dhalaos and reduce the toxins reaching us from the Okhla WTE plant. We received support from neighbours, the RWA and even the  Councilor of the ward who was confident that we would easily reach our goals.

Of course, we had to go through the tedious process of educating the residents regarding segregation of waste in three bins, and we faced the expected backlash from a section of these people, and sometimes we were frustrated by absolutely laughable excuses, but we kept doing what we had to do. We also had to make a complete plan regarding treatment of the wet waste, and consequently also worked on the  costing and financing of pits. The dry waste was already taken care of by the regular waste pickers and we decided to continue with the same; and we now  aimed only to send 10-15% of the waste as rejected waste for further disposal by  the authorities.

We worked as per the guidelines in sync with the authorities; tried identifying the areas for composting; requesting for necessary approvals etc. But  one thing after another kept happening and it delayed, snagged and eventually destroyed our process, and we could never get the approval we were seeking  for our community composting pits.

Officially, the cause for our failure was that the piece of suitable land, which was both accessible and available within the block was eventually never allocated. The official reason has not been shared with us even after two years. Instead, we have been informed that a biogas plant  has opened in the vicinity, however no clarity on the collection has ever been  provided. This all has happened despite the fact that we had all the odds in our  favour – volunteers, budgets, land option, necessary support but we  FAILED even after getting a fair amount of success in the segregation process within our block.

If we join the dots now, we understand that the laws are in the best interest of people and our targets are very much attainable but it is the lack of willingness of the authorities, lack of empowerment to adopt the strict measures against defaulters, and mainly lack of implementation of the laws that we are in such a state of apathy. Additionally, we have little hope till we have a contract system for treatment of waste, as tipping fees are charged on the basis of quantities of  waste dumped at the landfill or incineration plant.

The government and its authorities have to incentivize and encourage people  towards this goal, and the RWAs have to lend a helping hand towards segregation and composting. There is a better chance of success if the plans are implemented with community participation where RWAs can play a key role.  Authorities should make them an integral part of their strategies and to my  understanding, many RWAs are ready for this role. Government needs to focus on the implementation of the laws and allocate suitable financial and human  resources. Lastly the local bodies need to be more stringent about these rules and take action against the defaulters as stated by the law, with no hesitancy on imposing stringent penalties where it is justified. All the parties concerned have  to actually take the waste management process much more seriously.

We know that we will keep facing many obstacles till we understand our  extended responsibility towards our own waste – the only other option is to let ourselves be suffocated under all this trash!

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