Better waste management for cleaner Chandigarh

The city, which ranked second cleanest in the country in the Swachh Sarvekshan-2016 survey, is struggling with segregation and recycling.
Chandigarh does not have a specific waste segregation system yet. Chandigarh does not have a specific waste segregation system yet.

Chandigarh is famous for its wide roads laid out in geometrical precision. Large, green spaces adorn the stoic but neatly arranged rectangular habitations called sectors. It is India's first planned city and for good reason. Over 95 percent of its population is covered by the sewerage network, and there are no open drains, haphazard houses, entangled mess of overhead wires, narrow approach roads or market areas within residential spaces. 

Not a surprise that Chandigarh came in second in a sanitation survey ‘Swachh Sarvekshan-2016', conducted by the Ministry of Urban Development. While that might be met with applause outside, a Chandigarhian might wonder why the city did not finish first. It might also explain why the city scored maximum possible points in the residents’ feedback section of the survey.

One might not see much garbage lying around but that doesn't imply that it's being disposed of smartly. That is the reason, top-ranked Mysore scores better in waste collection and disposal in the survey. 

Garbage collection and later

Having been born and brought up in Chandigarh, I have always found the city to be clean and charming. Small area, low population density, proactive administration and easy-to-manoeuvre roads ensured effective cleaning. Though the sanitation status goes down when one moves towards the more densely populated southern part, the system still works efficiently. But again, a comparison with Mysore puts it to shame.

Chandigarh generates 370 tonnes of solid waste everyday and employs 4,085 sweepers to clear it. This amounts to 2.65 sweepers per kilometre of road length while Mysore employs half that number at 1.37 sweepers per kilometre but handles a higher amount of solid waste (410 tonnes)

Mysore also has greater citizen participation as a result of ‘Let’s do it Mysore’, a non-government initiative, which shows the consistent involvement of people in keeping the city clean. Though Chandigarh also runs campaigns especially under Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in educational institutes and offices, they have remained one-time affairs or limited to efforts of certain religious groups. 

Waste segregation and recycling 

Of the 370 tonnes of waste generated in Chandigarh daily, 270 tonnes goes to a garbage processing plant run by a private company which makes refuse-derived fuel pellets. The remaining 100 tonne goes directly to the dumping site. As is the wont of dumping grounds across the country, here too those living around the site have to suffer the most. The private operator has also threatened to shut down the plant if Municipal Corporation Chandigarh (MCC) does not pay the tipping fee. The Corporation on the other hand, refuses any payment on the ground because it transports the waste to the plant.

One of the solutions to reduce the amount of garbage produced is to segregate at source and recycle, both which are yet to be started at Chandigarh. In fact, this is the reason the city falls behind Mysore in the survey. Mysore segregates at source and has nine waste segregation plants that focus on producing quality manure. The sale of manure and dry waste like plastic adds to the revenue of its Municipal Corporation. 

MCC Joint Commissioner Rajiv Gupta claims that efforts are already afoot in this direction in Chandigarh as well. “We are starting a pilot soon in four sectors for source-based segregation. Besides this, a 5 tonne capacity biomethanation plant will start operating next month, which will generate electricity from organic waste,” he says.

Door-to-door garbage collection, which was initially handled by residents’ welfare associations and NGOs by engaging contractual labourers, is now dominated by a few private contractors. In 2012, the garbage collectors had gone on strike when the Corporation decided to hire contractual employees with modified rates for a pilot project. Later, a compromise was reached by limiting the project to market portions of the selected area, and it remains that way to date. In such a scenario, segregating waste at source will be tough.

Last year, the MCC issued 3,543 challans to people found littering in public spaces and earned Rs 6 lakh in fine. Those not willing to pay up were prosecuted in court taking the task to its meaningful end. Considering that segregation is the weakest link in Chandigarh’s success story, MCC will do well to get its act together here as well. Like Mysore, having separate segregation plants and involving citizens will help manage its waste better.

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