The Trash Towns of Jammu & Kashmir

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Implement MSW Rules 2016 in toto . Why collect tax from commercial vehicles when people don’t get any service? 

WHENEVER we enter any town, we often see barricades erected by the local municipality. This is known as Chungi in local language which during the days of yore was called Gurzar waan or octroi post. A certain amount of tax is collected from every commercial vehicle ranging between Rs 20 , 30 or even Rs 50 depending upon the type of vehicle (small , medium and large). The money collected on account of tax by the local municipality is supposed to be spent on welfare measures especially sanitation. In almost all the towns of Jammu & Kashmir, majority of this tax money is paid as salaries to the employees of  Municipal Councils and Committees. Not even 20 % of the amount is spent on the upkeep of town or municipal solid waste management. Leaving aside Srinagar or Jammu city , every town of Jammu & Kashmir has become a trash town as heaps of municipal solid waste can be seen on roadside , open plots or around rivulets and other water-bodies. The law enforcers who were supposed to implement and enforce the Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2016 (MSW Rules) are themselves violating these rules. The violations are so gruesome that it is simply a criminal offence but who will take action against the municipal institutions ? On the other hand, municipal institutions also have some challenges which the Government is not addressing and the ultimate sufferers are the citizens.

MSW Rules 2016   

In 2016, the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change came up with the new Solid Waste Management Rules also called Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2016 (MSW Rules). These rules are the sixth category of waste management rules and do not include plastic, e-waste, biomedical, hazardous and construction and demolition waste. As per these new rules ‘waste’ is defined as solid waste alone which is generated by all the households, hospitality industry, big and small market vendors. These rules are applicable beyond municipal areas and extend to urban agglomerations, census towns, notified industrial townships. The 2016 rules call upon waste generators to start segregating their waste into three categories – Biodegradables, Dry Waste (Plastic, Paper, metal, Wood) and Domestic Hazardous Waste (diapers, napkins, mosquito repellents, shaving kits, cleaning agents) before they hand it over to the collectors. The MSW Rules 2016 says that waste generators will have to pay some amount to the waste collectors for activities like collection, disposal, and processing of waste. The municipal bodies in India have the authority to decide the ‘User Fees.’ The rules also stipulate zero tolerance for throwing, burning or burying the solid waste generated on streets, open public spaces, water bodies, etc. “Spot Fines” are also introduced under these new rules which means if someone is found littering or disobeying the guidelines, then local bodies have the authority to fine them.

Unfortunately, in our towns and even cities, the waste is burnt and thrown into water bodies by municipal employees and sanitation workers as well. I won’t blame them because the Government has miserably failed to provide them land outside the town for creating a scientific landfill site. MSW Rules 2016 make it mandatory that no non-recyclable waste having calorific value of 1500 K/cal/kg or more shall be disposed of in the landfills. That waste can either be utilised for generating energy or can be used for preparing refuse derived fuel (RDF). J&K Government in fact took many cement plant owners from Kashmir on a field trip to Karnataka a few years back to show them how RDF works in cement kilns, but the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) didn’t carry forward this programme as RDF was to be supplied by SMC to cement factories.2016 MSW Rules say that landfill site should be 100 metres away from a river, 200 metres from a pond, 500 metres away from highways, habitations, public parks and water supply wells and 20 km away from airports/airbase. In Kulgam and Poonch towns, both the landfill sites are near the banks of rivers and during rainfall and floods the entire municipal solid waste is washed away and the same water is supplied by the Public Health Engineering (PHE) department to people after mere chlorination or sedimentation.

UNDP report on solid waste disposal

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in one of its reports published some years back said that the second most serious problem that city dwellers face (after unemployment) is insufficient solid waste disposal. Whenever there is a discussion on waste Management, the municipal authorities raise an issue about non availability of garbage dumping sites. This is a very valid reason. Our towns and cities have been choked and land availability is very less. So creating new garbage dump sites or even scientific landfills is a challenging task for Government agencies. For decades, authorities in J&K state have not devised any mechanism to treat the garbage in cities and towns. The Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is simply lifted from one place and then dumped at another site. Our Urban Local Bodies are merely re-locating the waste and not treating it and there are many municipal institutions who do not even relocate the waste as these municipalities don’t have a land to dump the municipal waste.

Role of Deputy Commissioners 

Under Rule No 12 of Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 Deputy Commissioners / District Magistrates have an important role to play, but in view of their other priorities, most of the DCs don’t take the issue of solid waste management seriously. The Deputy Commissioners are supposed to work in close coordination with the Administrative Secretary of Housing & Urban Development Department (HUDD) vis a vis identification of land for creating scientific landfill sites, setting up solid waste processing and disposal units. This was to be done within one year from the date of notification of SWM Rules 2016. More than 6 years have passed and most of the DCs in J&K are yet to identify the suitable land for creating landfill sites for the municipal committees or councils in their respective districts. There is not even a single municipal committee or council  where the solid waste is being treated on scientific lines.

 In Municipal Council Budgam, a successful pilot work was taken up in 2016-2017. The private enterprise which was executing the work on a no-gain-no-loss basis was composting the biodegradable waste at a designated site and making compost out of it. The said site is now abode for dogs as the working has been stopped due to non-cooperation from the administrative department. In-spite of allotment of work for another one year through a proper tender process the work could not be executed as the Government said they don’t have any budget for carrying the work forward. When there was no budget for the same why did the authorities tender out the work ? Pertinently, the financial implication for this door to door collection and treatment plus segregation project was mere 15 to 17 lakhs a year which could have been generated by the local municipality by collecting sanitation fees collected from local households. When people will get proper service they won’t hesitate to pay Rs 50 or even Rs 100 per month to local municipal institutions.

Enforcers turning Violators

I have written a lot about unscientific disposal of solid waste with practical instances from different districts . Irony is that municipal bodies who are supposed to implement and enforce the SWM Rules 2016 are themselves grossly violating it. The disturbing situation is that the municipal solid waste is being dumped either inside or near the water bodies by most of the municipal bodies in Jammu & Kashmir. The  Municipal Council Udhampur , Municipal Committee Magam (Budgam) , Municipal Committee Kulgam , Municipal Committee Bandipora, Municipal Committee Ramban etc are grossly violating the MSW Rules by dumping municipal waste in lakes , wetlands and rivers. In Udhampur town, the municipal waste is dumped inside a forest area on Jammu -Srinagar highway (NH 44). In Magam town, the garbage is dumped by local municipality on the banks of Ferozpur nallah ,Kulgam Municipality dumps the solid waste on the banks of Vishaw river, Municipal Committee Bandipora dumps it near the banks of famous Wullar lake at Zalwan village and Municipal Committee Ramban dumps all the trash including dead animals near the banks of Chenab river.

While on my visit to Poonch in 2018, I found Municipal Council Poonch dumping all its solid waste including biomedical waste on the banks of Poonch river. I can’t blame only municipal officers as they don’t get cooperation from higher authorities or local Deputy Commissioners. The Deputy Commissioners are themselves unable to address this menace as the situation is very complex plus land availability is very meager in J&K. Monthly meetings on implementation of SWM Rules are hardly held and even if the meetings are held it ends with no positive outcome because the issue is very complex in nature. To address these complexities, authorities need to take various stakeholders on board and hold roundtables with technical organizations and individuals involved in waste management work. The administrative department is not showing seriousness on the issue. In past Govt invited tenders under PPP model for waste management in towns by clubbing the towns into clusters. This was a flawed model which had no takers and till date the fresh tenders have not neither been invited nor has the Govt rectified that tender document (NIT).

The municipal institutions under Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) were hardly serious about sanitation and addressing solid waste issues in the past. They had been busy only with executing the civil works and making backdoor appointments. In 2012, I sought information from Municipal Committee Chadoora under RTI Act which revealed that out of Rs 1 crore revenue generated from tax collection , 90 lakhs was spent on salaries and administrative expenses. The town has no official landfill site and with the result waste is either dumped on the banks of Doodh Ganga river or thrown around various locations.

Conclusion 

It is not the year 2016 when solid waste rules were brought in for the first time in India. More than 20 years ago, the Government of India came up with MSW Rules in 2000. The 2016 rules is sort of an amendment to Solid Waste Rules of 2000. The 21 year old rules also focused on source segregation of waste plus its processing, but the J & K Government  never implemented them on the ground  and now after two decades people are made to suffer. Had our policy makers and politicians been visionary the situation would not have been alarming. The J&K Pollution Control Board (PCB) has also been mum over this issue, with the result managing solid or liquid waste has become a challenging task for municipal institutions. Government on the other hand is acting like an ostrich and not taking unscientific waste disposal seriously thus putting the lives of citizens at risk.


Views expressed are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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