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Agartala may ‘look clean’ but it’s the dirtiest: CSE study

Special Correspondent

For all their touristy value and capital status, some of north India’s prominent cities are among the dirtiest in the country. A couple of eastern cities, too, fare poorly in solid waste management, while certain urban centres down south and west paint a largely contrasting picture, according to a top NGO’s study. Delhi, Chandigarh and Shimla sport common sights of garbage dumped in the open, while Alappuzha (Kerala), Bobbili (Andhra Pradesh), Mysuru (Karnataka) and Panaji (Goa) down the country top in collection, disposal and treatment of garbage, points out the findings by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment.
Agartala (Tripura) and Gangtok (Sikkim) in the Northeast besides the IT hub of Bengaluru (Karnataka) in the south fared the worst along with Chandigarh, Delhi and Shimla--the Himachal pradesh capital touted as a scenic hill station.
The report, ‘Not In My Backyard: Solid Waste Management in Indian Cities’ which is based on a 2014 survey, was released by Union urban development minister M Venkaiah Naidu in New Delhi on Monday evening. If below-par solid-waste management practices plagued Delhi at “every level”, the union territory of Chandigarh, too, was categorised among the “dirtiest” by the CSE. This is in contrast to the latest Indian government rankings where the capital for two states had made it to the top five in terms of the country’s cleanest cities.
So, how has the north-south divide of sorts popped up in terms of handling garbage? People’s approach, says CSE, a not-for-profit public-interest research and not-for-profit organisation founded in 1980.
“In the course of our study, we found that waste management to a large extent is about the public mindset,” pointed out CSE director Sunita Narain. If the south generally fares well, it is because the average north Indian lack in the culture of not dumping garbage in the open, she added. In Delhi, for instance, 80 percent of the garbage is dumped in the open.
“Chandigarh may outwardly look clean, but that city suffers from an absence of garbage segregation at source,” said Swati Singh Sambyal, co-author of the report along with Narain. “Also, its facilities to transport and dispose waste are poor.”
The observation perhaps scratches the surface of a visible cleanliness associated with the ‘City Beautiful’. A nationwide survey the Union urban development ministry held in February had slotted Chandigarh among India’s top five cleanest cities. That government survey based on performance in SWM (solid waste management), sanitation strategies and behavioural change had top-rated Mysuru. Karnataka’s third-most populous city on the base of Chamundi hills, has figured in the CSE rankings as well.
The environment-development think tank conducted its survey based on five broad criteria: segregation, collection, transportation, recycling and disposal. It then categorised the cities into best, mediocre and worst performers.
“Instead of doing a ranking, we grouped the 14 cities that were shortlisted for the study through an online poll into the three categories,” Sambyal added. The “mediocre” cities were Aizawl (Mizoram), Pune (Maharashtra), Surat (Gujarat) and Suryapet (Telangana). On an average, Indian cities produce 1.70 lakh metric tonnes of waste every day. A 2014 Planning Commission report had found that 80 percent of recyclable waste is disposed off in unhygienic dumps.
A Centre Pollution Control Board report in 2011 revealed only 12 percent of the 70 percent of the recyclable waste collected is processed or treated. As for Delhi, the CSE study cited the national capital had no door-to-door collection of garbage in several of its areas.
“There is no standard for fixing the dhalaos (collection points) and dustbins…. All three landfill sites are fully packed and overflowing,” the report says.
In comparison, the “cleanest” city Alappuzha along south-central Kerala’s famed backwaters, has its households being provided with portable bio-gas units to treat waste at the source. What started off in November 2012 as a pilot scheme with 50 percent subsidy coming from government agencies, the decentralised waste management system paid off with three of its hundred wards being now declared “total sanitation wards”.
CSE’s research has come up with more such interesting finds on public spending by civic bodies in general. For instance, the budget allocated for SWM has gone up from 3 percent to 10-15 percent of municipality budgets, while 40-50 percent are spent on salary of staff and contractual workers, 20-40 percent on collection and transportation and only 5 percent on disposal.“…while the efficiency of daily collection is around 50-60 percent on an average and 90 percent in a few cities, only 10 percent of the collected waste receives treatment and virtually nothing is significantly disposed of in engineered landfills,” the report notes. CSE survey categorises 14 cities in India as best, mediocre and worst performers based on how they manage solid waste generated in their respective city. Agartala is top in the list of worst performers followed by Bengaluru and Chandigarh.

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