What a Waste!

Dodge the scientific waste management laxity to control Dog menace

AZAN, a 10-year old boy from Gund-e-Ibrahim village in Pattan North Kashmir was mauled to death by stray dogs recently. Local residents of Pattan and surrounding villages are protesting against the authorities as they failed to take up scientific waste management in the area which has resulted in huge increase in stray dog population. The locals allege that municipal authorities in Pattan have failed to set up a scientific waste management site with the result solid waste generated from Pattan town especially the poultry waste , food waste and other kinds butchery waste collected from the main market is dumped unscientifically in nearby  villages.

Azan was attacked  near Singhpora Jheel bridge on Sunday afternoon, when he was walking on the roadside and suddenly a group of stray dogs attacked him. Media reports say that the little boy was badly injured and died within no time. The residents of several villages living around Srinagar-Baramulla highway protested at Singhpora. Every protester blamed unscientific waste disposal as the main cause of increase in dog population which is threatening the lives of pedestrians.

Before this incident, some months back, another boy was mauled to death by stray dogs in Baramulla. In December 2020, a noted lawyer from Deewanbagh Baramulla Abdul Majeed Rather was also mauled to death by stray dogs.  The middle aged lawyer was on a routine morning walk when stray dogs attacked him. He was badly injured and after 21 days he died at SMHS hospital Srinagar due to multiple organ failure.

Waste management not a priority of Govt   

For more than 6 years, I have been writing and researching a lot on solid and liquid waste management in Jammu & Kashmir. I can say with authority that in spite of Kashmir valley or even Jammu division having been choked with plastic and other kinds of waste, the Govt officials are not taking it seriously. All civic work requires more investment and maintenance in the mountains due to harsh climatic conditions and limited land, and this is even more challenging when it comes to addressing the issue of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). In Jammu & Kashmir, this simple truth was ignored for many years.

In the 2019-20, annual budget only Rs 40 million was allocated for waste management in Jammu & Kashmir for 91 urban local bodies (municipal committees and councils). Out of the total budget allocation of Rs 4.64 billion, 80-90 % funds were kept available for civil works by the Directorate of Urban Local Bodies in Srinagar and Jammu and not even 15% of the budget is allocated for solid waste management (SWM). On the other hand, the government in its action plan on SWM issued vide Government Order No: 25-HUD of 2019 Dated 21.01.2019 said that 25% of the budget allocation to urban local bodies is spent on waste management. I have not come across a single municipal institution in J&K where scientific waste management policy is being followed as mandated under MSW Rules 2016.

On February 15, 2017, a Srinagar-based newspaper reported that there was no alternate site available for creating a new landfill in Srinagar. Former Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh, while responding to a question from local legislator of Eid Gah Srinagar Mubarak Gul, said on the floor of the J&K Assembly that a committee was constituted to look for land to create a new landfill site but the committee headed by District Development Commissioner Srinagar could not find suitable land in and around Srinagar.

If drastic measures are not taken to address the issue of unscientific waste management, the Kashmir valley will turn into a trash bowl as plastic and other waste is constantly dumped into Kashmir’s water bodies like lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands. Most of the wetlands and lakes plus deep drains have become choked and this is resulting in constant waterlogging during rain and snowfall. Civic authorities who are supposed to implement MSW Rules 2016 are themselves involved in dumping municipal waste in wetlands , water bodies and open spaces.

Meeting with Chief Secretary in 2018

On December 17th 2018, I along with senior members of Environmental Policy Group (EPG), had a detailed meeting with the then Chief Secretary B V R Subramanhyam at Civil Secretariat Jammu. The meeting was organized in the backdrop of a High Court order wherein the then Chief Justice of J&K High Court Geeta Mittal had directed the J&K Chief Secretary to listen to our suggestions on scientific waste management in J&K. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) had been filed in the High Court by EPG for scientific waste management in J&K both in urban and rural areas. The meeting was attended by the administrative secretaries of housing and urban development department (HUDD) & the department of Environment & Forests as well.

Inhouse composting of waste 

I urged upon the Chief Secretary and his administrative secretaries to enforce implementation of Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2016 in letter and spirit. When CS asked me how could the pressure on landfill sites in Srinagar and Jammu or other towns in J&K be reduced, I responded with the suggestion that all those people who have land available around their houses be directed to compost the food and other biodegradable waste within the house by making compost pits or using plastic or steel drums to process that waste. I also suggested that municipal sanitation staff be given clear direction not to lift food waste from those households having 8 marlas (2178 sq feet)  or more land around their house. The Chief Secretary after closing his eyes for a while told me whether the suggested model was being followed in any state or country ? I told him “let J&K be the role model for other states or countries by making in-house composting mandatory and let it become a public movement “

After more than 3 years of that meeting with CS, we have made no progress at all and the situation is going from bad to worse. I can't blame Mr B V R Subramiyam for having failed to address the issue. The situation from 2019 has not been conducive at all, but from last 1 year the Govt is not taking any steps for scientific waste management. Lots of money has also been provided by the Govt now for waste management but nobody knows what are the priorities of the Govt ?

Waste to Energy plant in Srinagar 

On October 23rd 2017, Jammu & Kashmir cabinet gave a nod for setting up of a waste to energy plant in Srinagar. The plant which was to be constructed under the public private partnership (PPP) at Achan Saidapora landfill site is supposed to generate 5 megawatt of electricity on a daily basis from 5 metric tons of solid waste. The company which was allotted the project had to invest Rs 120 crores and would thus get the ownership rights of this plant for a period of 25 years. The whole project was based on the build-own-operate and transfer model (BOOT).

Around 5 years back, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) passed an order directing the Chief Secretary of Jammu & Kashmir to ensure compliance to the cabinet order dated October 23rd 2017, on setting up of the waste to energy plant. The NGT which had been hearing the petition on Achan landfill site from 2013 onwards in the matter of Dr Irfan Ahmad and others v/s Nawang Rigzin Jora the then J&K Housing and Urban Development Minister in its order had said,

“We make it clear that we will not grant any further time on any ground whatsoever as it merely an administrative compliance now”

It is now almost 5 years, yet the order of the NGT and J&K cabinet has not been implemented. It is the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUDD) which is solely responsible for not adhering to the cabinet order of 23rd October 2017. The department is also responsible for not respecting  NGT’s order followed by a Govt order.

The NGT came to the conclusion of directing the J & K Government to set up waste to energy plants after several rounds of deliberations and discussions. NGT had constituted some expert committees for providing a solution to Srinagar’s solid waste problem. If the government, like several waste management experts, had disagreements with the waste to energy projects, why did the J&K cabinet give a nod to the NGT’s direction?

Srinagar city is sitting on a literal volcano of waste. The existing landfill site at Achan is like a man made volcano which can explode any time as methane gas is getting accumulated under huge garbage cells. This landfill has been choked completely and SMC continues to dump 400 to 450 metric tons of municipal solid waste at the site on a regular basis. This is not only unscientific but also very dangerous.

The main challenge for managing solid waste in Srinagar or even Kashmir valley is the dearth of landfill sites. Srinagar city is surrounded by water-bodies and wetlands. There are not even 100 kanals of wasteland available where a new landfill site could be set up. We are not like Bhopal or Indore city where there is huge land availability .The municipal corporations in these cities indeed manage the waste scientifically by following MSW Rules 2016 but these cities have a great benefit of having huge landfill sites as well.

Rural Waste Management 

Managing solid and liquid waste is no more a privilege for the people living in urban areas. Now the rural population also has been given this facility under the national flagship programme Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G). Pertinent to mention that Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin guidelines of 2014 and revised guidelines of 2017 had a provision of solid and liquid waste management programme in rural areas but as States and Union Territories (UT’s) had more challenging issues like countering open defecation, the same got delayed. Finally in 2019 SBM-II was launched at national level also known as Open Defecation Free Plus (ODF Plus) programme. The ODF Plus again got a setback due to the outbreak of COVID 19 in March 2020. Finally by the end of 2020 the work on ODF-Plus was taken up and some projects on solid and liquid waste management were taken up in some states and  UTs. The programme is being implemented in a phased manner across rural India. To ensure waste is not a useless entity , a new name was coined for it. Now the waste is called resource and that is the reason that under SBM-Gramin updated guidelines this programme is now called Solid Liquid Resource Management (SLRM).

The Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation which is the nodal Ministry for rural waste management under SBM-Gramin has already provided around Rs 100 Crores to Jammu & Kashmir for taking up waste management projects in J&K. It is now almost a year since the funding has been provided but unfortunately not even a single project on rural waste management in any part of Jammu & Kashmir has been taken up. Due to non availability of scientific waste management programmes in rural areas , the plastic and other solid waste has choked not irrigation canals, lakes , streams , rivers and even forests. Due to continuous population growth and sudden surge in use of packed food material and diapers in rural areas of Kashmir from the last 10 to 15 years , the plastic waste generation has increased manifold in rural areas of Kashmir. Even in remote villages one can see huge quantities of plastic waste most of which is not at all recyclable like packaging material , diapers, sanitary napkins , thermocol packaging material etc. This huge waste accumulation is giving rise to the stray dog population in rural areas.

Conclusion 

Last year's observance on World Environment Day (June 5)  was based on the theme of ‘ecosystem restoration’ and focuses on resetting our relation with nature. This marked the formal launch of the UN decade on ecosystem restoration. Big and small nations have different plans for the next 10 years on ecological restoration. An ecologically sensitive place like Jammu & Kashmir needs a special push for eco-restoration in the next 10 years. The situation is more demanding in Kashmir valley. Our rivers, lakes, glaciers, and forests are under severe threat. The stray dog population is on rise and now our people are getting killed by dog attacks. In such a situation Govt officials can’t remain the mute spectators. They must come forward and take up projects on waste management in rural and urban areas of Jammu & Kashmir. Scientific waste management will not only give us respite from solid and liquid waste but this will decrease the attacks by stray dogs on the human population as well.


Views expressed in the article 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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