India has taken up the herculean task of equipping 100 million rural households with toilets and bringing about a behavioural change in the mindset of over 1.2 billion people. A lesser talked about aspect of this mission is the management of solid and liquid waste, particularly in the urban context. How do we bring about change in the mindset of millions of citizens who push all the dirt out of their homes and into public spaces. How do we make the producers of waste responsible for what they generate?
The issue of cleanliness and sanitation goes beyond the building of toilets. First, let us talk about liquid waste – 62 billion litres of wastewater is generated in our cities on aggregate daily with only around 37% (Source: GOI) being treated, the rest flows into our rivers untreated. The state of liquid waste treatment is clearly far from ideal but the record on treating solid waste is even more dismal. There are three main components when it comes to solid waste management, door-to-door collection, segregation of the waste, and scientific processing and disposal. Majority of wards in Haryana have been able to achieve 100% door-to-door waste collection. However, it is mostly a mix of dry waste and wet organic waste creating sludge, leachate and spreading foul smell. If the need in rural areas is to sustain the use toilets, in urban areas the failure of solid and liquid waste management is thwarting the objective of Swachh Bharat.
In order to mitigate this challenge, I worked with the Government of Haryana on the Swachh Survekshan Urban Programme, that provides a roadmap for all cities to achieve the highest standards of solid and liquid waste management – followed by an annual survey and ranking of over 4,000 cities in India. The toolkit comprehensively covers the four key pillars of initiating and sustaining waste management practices while keeping in mind all stakeholders – the Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), the sanitation staff and the citizen.
The four pillars are:
- Managing the cycle of solid and liquid waste at each step defined as ‘service level progress’, which includes provisions for 100% door-to-door collection, source segregation, scientific landfills, processing of wet waste, recycling of dry waste, street sweeping, ICT-enabled system for monitoring, personal protection gear for workers, incorporating informal rag pickers into the chain and finally calling out for mass citizen participation.
- Ensuring quality checks for this system of waste management through ‘certifications’ such as Open Defecation Free + and STAR Rating.
- Incorporating aspects of ‘citizen feedback’ and grievance redressal system.
- ‘Directly observing’ the palpable change of these activities on the ground.
Tailor-made solutions and implementation plans across more than 70 parameters are being designed for ULBs across Haryana keeping in mind previous performance, financial resources, manpower optimization, contractual obligations and other such constraints. However, the key to transforming the landscape of solid and liquid management will come from a stakeholder approach to solving this issue. Irrespective of the processes being defined, it is people who will define the success of this programme.
ULBs need to focus on capacity building of staff to plan and implement sanitation programmes. They need to equip their staff with smart and low-cost technology to implement effective, equitable and efficient service delivery and monitor it at the same time. Simultaneously, they need to focus on generating avenues for financial sustainability to raise operational costs at least. Through the Swachh Survekshan toolkit the Chief Minister’s Good Governance Associates (CMGGAs) in all 22 districts of Haryana are supporting ULBs to develop their own action plan and helping drive implementation.
It is about time we address the needs of our sanitation staff– both in terms of safety and dignity. Providing personal protection equipment, medical benefits, will help in addressing the occupational hazards of their job. However, the other more important aspect is reinstating their self-esteem–where they look at themselves as kachrawalas instead of foot soldiers of safai in the city. Recognizing and integrating the socially, politically and economically marginalized informal sector in waste management can also work wonders. Apart from ensuring worker safety as a part of the Swachh Survekshan Guidelines, CMGGAs have started various initiatives for the social upliftment of sanitation staff. Information, education, and communication campaigns have been implemented in various cities, such as the Shan-e-Ambala campaign in the Ambala Municipal Corporation which recognizes best-performing workers from every ward.
Finally, the ULB administration and sanitation workers alone cannot bring about any change unless lakhs of citizens residing in our cities take responsibility for the tonnes of waste they generate every single day. Unless cleanliness becomes a jan andolan there can be no sach in our mission towards swachh. Unless cleanliness becomes a way of life for everyone, the clarion calls for a Swachh Bharat will continue to ring hollow.