By: Urvashi Dhamija, The Indian Express
Swachh Bharat has been accepted as a national goal, which is within grasp.
Nothing provokes more cynicism than the announcement of a cleanliness drive in anticipation of Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary. Though he is associated with imagination, innovation and cohesion, there is no variation in the sequence of events — frequent exhortations, frenzied sweeping, media coverage of clutter-free spaces and then, the resurgence of squalor.
But this year, things could unfold differently in India’s capital. Swachh Bharat has been accepted as a national goal, which is within grasp. The construction of toilets to end open defecation and the use of dry latrines is being prioritised by companies through corporate social responsibility spending. Delhi’s municipal organisations are seeking to plug the gaps in sanitation facilities, particularly in government-funded schools. It can be safely said that Delhi’s politicians are too preoccupied with other matters to obstruct this programme or the fortnight-long cleanliness drive, which began on September 6 and was meant to remove litter from public places. The campaign was supposed to cover not only the less-served areas that fall under the jurisdiction of one of the three municipalities, but also unserved areas, such as vacant plots which fall under Delhi’s autonomous bodies. Sanitation department officials have been instructed to focus their energies on two colonies per day. And senior corporation officials, including the commissioners and standing committee chairmen of the three civic bodies, have been asked to carry out surprise checks in their areas and take disciplinary action against derelict officials.
It could be argued that with the authorised personnel so well primed to be in action mode, the time is right to review their strategy: currently, collecting waste efficiently and rendering it invisible. Rather, a more nuanced objective of supporting sustainable ways to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost, while ensuring that difficult residue is safely and scientifically disposed of, is needed.
Delhi’s households, institutions, marketplaces and recreation areas generate 8,000 metric tonnes of heterogeneous, largely non-hazardous waste every day. A large part of this finds its way to one of four landfill sites. Three of these are at capacity, yet they are still being used. This is a massive source of air and groundwater pollution. Since the late 1990s, there have been many initiatives to make these landfills redundant. Partly due to the programmes of the Delhi government, many resident welfare associations, schools and colleges are engaged in composting and waste segregation so that non-biodegradable garbage can be introduced into the recycling chain. Since 2011, Delhi has had a state of the art incineration facility at Okhla, which currently reduces at least 1,300 tonnes of mixed waste to a 10th of its volume every day.