Socio-economic policies the root cause

In Mumbai the civic body seems to be totally helpless, despite buying every year futuristic looking machinery and sophisticated appliances for disposing garbage.

Prof (Dr) P S Vivek, teaching in Department of Sociology, Mumbai University, is a well-known sociologist with most of his work focussing on sweepers, scavengers and sociological genesis of urban detritus.

At present working on a book, “World of Garbage and Waste: A Socio-generic Investigation,” Prof Vivek spoke to Prabhat Sharan of Deccan Herald on the socio-economic strands that have led to the problem of garbage in recent times in towns and mega-cities of India.

How does one define garbage, the least understood phenomenon?

Garbage in lay person terms usually connotes to anything that is left-over and not useful to individuals. This usually comprises discarded items like food, clothing, materials consumed by individual households. But then this would be an incomplete definition because it does not take into account industrial and agricultural waste and sewage sludge which forms a major chunk  in present day cities.

Can you elaborate on the kind of waste usually found in urban spaces?

Most studies have found that the waste inundating most of the cities both here and abroad usually comprises: non-durable goods, containers and packaging food waste, yard waste, inorganic waste from residential, commercial, institutional and industrial sources.

And in India?

Our studies have shown that towns and cities in our country have primarily three categories of waste viz., a) household waste that is primarily leftover food, cartons, empty packages, glass shards etc; b) industrial waste which are effluents etc; and c) hazardous e-waste, bio-medical and debris arising out of construction.

In most urban areas the civic body segregates and manages the disposal of waste. Presently, the trend is to either dump garbage in a landfill or destroy it through incineration. Though in recent times composting and vermiculture are also being popularised.

Where does the problem lie?

Most policy makers influenced by the present-day economic structures tackle the issue in isolation. You can see the result in Mumbai, one of the dirtiest cities in the country. It is like going around giving medicine to people suffering from dysentery...and at the same time releasing industrial effluents in their drinking water.. and then  asking people to put up water filters.

The landfill dumping, a traditional garbage disposal method, is alright in villages where the quantum of waste is less with minimal hazardous material; but in urban areas it has led to degradation of land resource which in turn affects the ground water and air. In a north-west Mumbai suburb, a corporate call centre complex constructed on a dumping patch is now facing severe pollution of toxic gases. So the problem is through the entire social dysfunctional chain from consumption to disposal.
Is garbage-syndrome a recent phenomenon of urban spaces?

Several factors have led to the growth of garbage syndrome. One of the key factors lies in the haphazard developmental policies that is being shoved on the people of this country resulting in massive ‘internal diaspora,’ which means an increase in population density. And then add to this  consumerist ideology that saturates in the very urban air...where concept of saving, reusing and alteration has been replaced by an ideology of use and throw of goods that are mass produced. Coupled with this is the move to allow predatory nations from the West to dump their hazardous and toxic effluent-producing industries here.

What will be the future like?

Just imagine the present urban populace is touching 300 million in 5000 odd towns and cities. The demographic projection is that by 2021 the urban population will be 551 million. Concomittant with this, the per capita waste generation will increase by 1.3 per cent with an overall increase by 5 per cent annually.

What about the garbage management schemes touted by business houses?

Most of the schemes smack of blind-folded approach. And what kind of solutions business houses have come up with; privatisation of civic services and imposition of waste management tax, conservancy tax, toll tax, penalty against littering, bulk garbage collection charge, buy back recycled product charge etc. Across the world these myopic approaches have shown no results. In fact it has resulted just in reaping profits for business houses and igniting resistance from community as these private companies use sea as a dumping ground which has resulted in more havoc because “garbage patches” have come up in seas...affecting the marine life and the livelihood of fishing community.

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