Clean city still distant dream

Clean city still distant dream

Things have looked up in the capital since August 15 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced his plan to launch the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan on Gandhi Jayanti.

 Muncipal corporations have been  working overtime to clear up the filth. But would the recent flurry of activity continue, or end up being just a cosmetic drill?

Disposal of waste continues to be the biggest challenge faced by the municipal corporations. Officials say the civic agencies alone can’t keep the city clean; rather, a behavioural change among people towards the issue of cleanliness is needed. Also, shortage of funds, lack of manpower and modern equipment, non-availability of space for setting up waste processing units make it a daunting task for the corporations to dispose of the ever increasing garbage.

Despite the hype around the ongoing cleanliness drive triggered by Modi's Indpendence Day speech, filth is visible in the narrow lanes of almost every colony across Delhi. “Dhalaos here are seldom cleaned,” says Ashish Mehta, a resident of Sundar Nagri. “Sanitation workers don’t clean the area daily and the MCD vehicles also don’t come every day to collect garbage from the dhalaos (streetside dumps),” says Smita Rani, a housewife who lives in Vivek Vihar.

Resident welfare associations say that areas like Okhla, Badarpur, Mehrauli, Trilokpuri, Seemapuri, Shahdara, Darya Ganj, Chandni Chowk, Vasant Kunj and RK Puram need special attention.

“The municipal corporations are not equipped to pick up the entire garbage from any colony,” says member of People's Action and its affiliate resident welfare association wing United Residents Joint Action, Ashutosh Dixit.

The Congress councillors also slam the civic agencies for not carrying out the sanitation drive in its true spirit.“Whenever I go on an inspection, say for instance from Sarai Rohilla to Jhandewalan, I see filth lying all along the stretch,” says Mukesh Kumar Goel, a councillor from Dheerpur. “One can also see scores of people defecating in the open.”“The BJP-ruled corporations have done nothing but only talked about the cleanliness,” says another councillor from Peera Garhi, Prithvi Singh Rathore. Councillors say that the corporations have only focused on the cleanliness of central Delhi because of the Prime Minister’s visit.

But the civic agencies say the littering habit of people poses the biggest challenge. “In the UK dust bins are cleaned once in three days because people don’t litter there. But in India people are in the habit of throwing waste on the roadside,” says Manish Gupta, Commissioner of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation.

“Delhiites need to be sensitised towards the importance of cleanliness. Safai rakhne se safai hoti hai,”  he says. Stringent laws like issuing challans for littering can also act as a deterrent, he adds.

Impose penalties

Experts say if the civic agency starts charging citizens for collecting waste, people will start dumping less garbage at the dhalaos. “Abroad, people have to pay according to the quantum of waste they are giving to the civic agencies. Such a practice will not only generate revenue for the corporations here in India, but it will also encourage people to dispose of wet waste within their households,” says an official with Department of Environment Management Services, North Corporation.Kitchen composters are one environment-friendly way to deal with household waste. An NGO, Daily Dump, sells them for 1,000 to Rs 1,500. 

According to figures compiled by the civic agencies, the city produces around 9,500 metric tonnes of solid waste per day. By 2021, the solid waste per day will increase to 20,000 metric tonnes and Delhi will need an additional 28 sq km, more than the entire spread of Lutyens’ Zone, to dump it.

The three municipal corporations-controlled landfills at Bhalaswa, Okhla and Ghazipur reached their saturation point way back in 2006, but dumping garbage still continues there.

Though municipal corporations claim that the daily collection of garbage has increased by around 25 per cent during the ongoing sanitation drive, waste collection from unauthorised colonies still remains an uphill battle.

“The increase in the amount of the garbage may be due to the debris we have collected from the unauthorised colonies. Illegal construction goes on a massive scale in these colonies so a huge quantity of malba is generated there,” says a senior official with East Delhi Municipal Corporation. “But such colonies have narrow lanes and the MCD vehicles can’t go in to pick up the malba nor do these colonies have dhalaos and the garbage keep lying on the roadside.”

This sanitation drive has shed light on the sorry state of affairs in the unauthorised colonies. People living there say the civic agencies have been ignoring their areas for decades. “If they can do this now, why didn’t they do it in the past? It clearly shows they are not concerned about the people living in these colonies,” says Ram Lal, who lives in a jhuggi jhopri cluster in Kalibari area. “There is no shortage of funds but there is a lack of will to take up cleanliness in unauthorised colonies.”

Shortage of funds

But officials say a dearth of resources hinders the sanitation drive. “There is a huge shortage of funds so we won’t be able to sustain this cleanliness drive for long,” says a senior official with the South Corporation.

“The second most important hurdle we are facing today is non-availability of space for setting up of waste processing units. The town planner (DDA) should take the issue of disposal of waste seriously and grant us land. If it doesn’t give us space for installing waste disposal units on a priority basis then we won’t be able to maintain the standard of cleanliness we have achieved so far,” he adds.

“There is a need for a systemic solution to address the issues of solid waste management,” he says.

Also, public urinals are vulnerable to vandalism, the official adds. “Theft of pots is a common problem with the community toilet complexes. People will throw all sorts of garbage and the pipes get choked which leads to stagnation of water,” he says.The civic agencies say they don’t have the adequate number of safai karamcharis to man public toilets. “We can’t have a security guard for each public urinal. It’s a costly affair,” says the official.

So we need people to understand that it’s in their hands to maintain the level of cleanliness in the city, he adds. The municipal corporations say that they have been able to launch the sanitation drive successfully because other agencies like Delhi Metro, Public Works Department and Railways have also done their bit. Only time will tell that how far this partnership will go.

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