Sunday, January 24, 2016

Swachhta needs more than a cess

A flurry of cesses to fund the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been proposed by the strangely named Niti Ayog ( Niti itself being an acronym for National Institution for Transforming India so that we have an organisation which makes the declaration that it is an institution AND a Commission in its name !!). Among other things, the cesses will fund "scientific waste management" which is simply a fancy way of saying that more money will be spent on collecting and disposing of waste, without the taxpayers ever being informed what is happening or has been happening with the public money that was allocated and spent by municipal authorities on "waste management".

Is the goal to minimise generation of waste and reduce the size of landfills till we reach  a point of zero waste - to - landfills, or is to simply keep increasing the landfill capacity?  If it is the former, are we looking at reducing or eliminating the waste reaching landfills by promoting waste segregation at source and waste recycling, reuse and recovery etc ? The first step towards zero waste - to - landfill is usually  ( because this is the optimal choice)  a thorough audit of current waste streams, including the quantities of waste, its origin and composition. Have such audits been carried out ? Have the results of such audits been made public ? 

Why are roads and streets not swept regularly ? Why is garbage not removed from garbage bins ? Why is garbage burnt? Why is garbage being transported in open trucks? Where is the garbage being taken ? Is it being disposed of in an environment-friendly manner? Are the safai karamcharis on the rolls of municipal authorities faithfully discharging their duties? Are the government employees who run the municipal bodies serious about waste management ? Do they see it as a priority both from the point of view of aesthetics and that of public health? Are they familiar with the best practices vis a vis waste management ? Are they rewarded if they do a good job and penalized if they are negligent? Do they involve citizens in the waste management exercise? 

The Municipal Solid Waste Act and the related rules also speak about the requirement of proper infrastructure for disposal of electronic/electrical waste, hazardous waste etc . Municipal bodies have been largely silent on these issues and the scattered initiatives of citizens in this regard do not receive the active support of these authorities. 

In towns and cities where construction activity is significant, proper arrangements need to be made for disposal of construction waste or malba. In the absence of such arrangements, malba litters public spaces and common greens, chokes water bodies and creates a public health hazard. 

Going forward, do we have a commitment that the additional expenditure planned to be incurred has these requirements factored in ?  

We should not spend more on "scientific waste management" till we have satisfactory answers to these very fundamental questions.  Unless the answers are forthcoming , no amount of additional expenditure will yield a 'swachh bharat" because huge amounts of money chasing undefined or poorly defined goals and ineffective monitoring of expenditure produces zero results -----we have seen that happen innumerable times in the past, the Ganga Action Plan being a good example. Why do we imagine that the same mistakes will produce different results where Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is concerned ?

The government may carry on with a business-as-usual approach when it comes to spending public money and not bother about reviews and audits and accountability, but if we are to live in a Swachh Bharat and help create that legacy for the generations that follow us, we must become more pro active as citizens, and begin to demand answers from the government.

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