Solid waste management initiatives in small towns - Lessons and implications - A WSP report

SWM These efforts were developed and launched through urban local bodies and which transformed service levels and helped improve compliance with the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, in a context where the state of MSW services in most of the Indian towns has been far from satisfactory. 

Since 1842, with the passing of the first Municipal Act, the responsibility for municipal solid waste (MSW) management in India has been with urban local bodies (ULBs). This was further reiterated under the 74th Constitutional Amendment of 1992. In 1995, a plague in Surat brought the criticality of this function back into focus and led to a series of reform measures in the sector since then.

Subsequently, a legislative framework was provided by the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules 2000 notification. However, despite the clear identification of responsibility and pressures arising from growing public awareness, the status of MSW services in most Indian towns remained far from satisfactory.

In  this context, a study was planned that aimed at analysing these cases and exploring the reasons that led to the development of these initiatives, the factors that supported their implementation and the lacunae that remained in these programs.

Three towns from three different states were selected for this study namely Kanchrapara (West Bengal), Panaji (Goa), and Suryapet (Andhra Pradesh).The towns were similar in size, with populations of approximately 100,000, but with differing economic profiles and political orientations. The focus of the programs in the three towns was on primary collection and transportation, that is, increased frequency of collection, elimination of fixed community bins, and streamlining of transportation systems.

In all the three cases, there was an attempt at instituting segregation, composting, and recycling, which indicated a fundamental shift in approach from basic cleaning services to integrated sustainable waste management. Despite this, the disposal end remained unaddressed, with open dumping being the norm.

The study found that these programmes led to:

  • Significant improvement in civic environment, though final health outcomes were not achieved due to absence of systems for safe and sanitary disposal.
  • Reduced incidence of health hazards associated with ragpicking (especially in Suryapet and Panaji).
  • Increased compliance with Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Rules 2000 (except disposal norms, which were not met).
  • Improved system productivity as indicated by the negligible increase in staff or vehicles despite improved service levels.
  • Income-generating opportunities for population living below the poverty line and ragpickers.
  • Improved citizen confidence in city administration, in some cases resulting in improved tax collections.

Some important lessons that could be drawn from the case studies included:

  • A need was identified for developing a reform program that was firmly grounded in the Solid Waste Management Initiatives in small towns.
  • There was a potential in harnessing local resources and innovating through a bottom-up approach.
  • There was a need for a supportive role to be played by state governments, which needed to guard against adopting a top-down prescriptive approach.
  • There was a need for more active intervention in waste treatment and disposal that had tended to get neglected due to constraints existing at the local level.

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