Revathi Palat RaoThe absence of an efficient and sustainable mechanism to manage garbage is a major problem afflicting most Indian cities today. Apart from being attractive destinations for cattle, heaps of garbage dumped on the sides of roads are a major health hazard. While most cites lack adequate space for collecting garbage, even where such spaces are provided it is not unusual to see garbage remaining uncleared for days together.
Hill cities face additional challenges unique to their location. Narrow congested winding roads make movement of garbage from source to site of disposal a herculean task. There is hardly any space for dustbins on the slopes. Garbage dumped at one end tends to roll down and get scattered to other places; its final destination being the nearest water body.
A floating population caused by a rush of tourists during peak seasons leads to an enormous creation of waste in hill cities that are popular with tourists. Organisations involved in the disposal of garbage in these regions are faced with inadequate work force during this period. People who otherwise work to collect and dispose garbage are allured by wages that hotels short of labour offer during these months.
A hill city that has taken some initiative for efficient and practical solid waste management is Nainital. Located at a height of two thousand eighty four metres above sea level, with a population of about sixty thousand, Nainital is an attractive tourist destination that faces many of the problems listed above. On any normal day the garbage creation in the city is about 11 tonnes. During the tourist season, the population jumps to about five lakhs and the waste generated increases by more than a hundred percent to about twenty five tonnes per day.
Despite these difficulties Nainital has managed to develop a sustainable solid waste management system that takes the name of ‘Mission Butterfly’. Funded by the National Lake Development Authority (NLDA) and executed by an organisation with the name Lok Chetna Manch, it was launched in 2008. The project manages waste from its origin (households, hotels and restaurants, schools and colleges) to its destination. It does this by dividing the city into clusters. Nainital has forty such clusters. Each cluster has a ‘Swachatha Committee’ elected by the families living within the area. On an average, there are about 150 families per cluster. The ‘Swachatha Committee’ looks after the disposal of waste and appoints the Swachakars for the area. The system requires segregation of waste at source.
Door to door collection of segregated waste is done by the Swatchakar of the region. A Swatchakar working within the cluster is required to pick up garbage from each household/hotel falling within the area and leave the garbage in the cluster bins provided for the area.
Waste is defined as dry if it is non biodegradable and wet if it is biodegradable. Dry waste is left in the blue cluster bin while the wet is put into the green. The clusters are usually located along hill slopes. Small pick up vehicles carry these bins down to the Nainital mall road (starting with the green bins). On the mall road a large compressor truck then takes the garbage to the desired location.
The wet waste is taken seven kilometres from Nainital to a place called Narainagar where it goes through the process of vermi-composting. The money from selling the compost goes to the account of the Lake Development Authority. The dry waste is collected in various storage shades in Nainital such as Sukhatal and after a large enough bulk is created, it is transported to a recycling plant in Haldwani where the material is used to make PVC pipes and buckets.The unsegregated waste is taken and left in a dumping yard in Hanumangarh.
Each household in a cluster is required to pay a fee of Rs. 25 per month for the service provided. Of this money Rs. 24 goes to the Swatchakar and Rs.1 goes to the ‘Swatchatha Committee’. In the case of hotels, the amount varies depending on the bulk of garbage created in a month. After accounting for the payment of the Swatchakar and the ‘Swatchatha Committee’, the remaining money collected is assigned to the Lake Development Authority.
An estimated 6,000 families of a total of 8,000 families in Nainital dispose their garbage through the project. Since the dustbins are kept locked at all times (except when being cleared) one does not feel the need to complain about a stench. Neither do cattle or dogs get an opportunity to feed on the waste. The people who are the happiest with this arrangement are the hotel owners. Unlike in the past, they need not go to the municipal dustbins to dispose their daily waste. All the garbage is now collected at the door step.
Regardless of these impressive changes in the management of waste, several flaws remain in this system. It was noticed that while most hotels and restaurants segregate their waste, households are reluctant to do so. According to Lok Chetna Manch, only 40% of the households in Nainital segregate their waste. While the number may be amongst the highest in the country, the lack of segregation of waste at the point of collection undermines the entire collection system.
A major limitation of the entire system is that putting in place a waste disposal system is only the first step towards dealing with a much larger problem. The basic question nevertheless remains on how we can reduce the generation of waste? Is there any way by which the need for excessive packaging, use of non degradable materials be reduced or if possible eliminated altogether?
Unless these basic issues are addressed, a disposal system can at best help us cope with the problem of waste, or simply shift the pollution to another location at the worst.
Regardless of the above limitations, there is something that could be learnt and emulated by other cities from ‘Mission Butterfly’ be learnt and emulated by other cities from ‘Mission Butterfly’