Three schemes of Prime Minister Narendra Modi are truly pathbreaking – at least where India is concerned. One is Swachh Bharat, The other is Ujjwala Bharat. And the third is Ayushman Bharat. None of them will succeed unless waste management is taken up as a national priority.
Why? Look at the numbers. Without cleaning up waste, you can have no Swachh Bharat which stands for a clean, unpolluted and environmentally-friendly Bharat. And India’s record of waste management is pathetic – both for municipalities (see chart) and for industry.
Take instance #1. For years some of the worst industry effluent polluters kept on telling the government that adopting a zero-discharge policy was just not possible.
That was till recently when companies like Alfa Laval showed that this was possible (http://www.asiaconverge.com/2019/07/the-govt-fails-in-water-harvesting-and-waste-management/). Yet a casual enquiry shows that Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) officials and their counterparts in each state, just turn a blind eye to such violations.
The story is that these officials send a pollution violation notice only when industries refuse to pay up a price. Alternatively, they’ve been lethargic and hence incompetent. Either way, there is a case for dismissal, if not imprisonment.
The latter because all waste eventually contaminates even ground water and lakes. It is akin to poisoning a community well. The acts are anti-national, and deserve punishment that is meant for such crimes.
Take instance #2. Consider another CPCB state affiliate -- the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It has been charged with ensuring that medical waste – far more toxic than ordinary waste – is not allowed to pollute the environment.
So FDA, Maharashtra (http://fda.maharashtra.gov.in/) introduces a rule for doctors, clinics and hospitals (the waste generators) that they must dispose of the medical waste separately, without mixing it with the general garbage.
The catch: FDA does not specify a place where the medical waste should be dumped. Instead it authorises an agency (SMS Envoclean Pvt Ltd in Mumbai - reportedly run by friends of FDA officials) to collect the waste from every waste generator.
Waste generators pay up every month. But the waste is often not collected for a week, sometimes for the entire month. If you don’t appoint the collection agency, you get raided for not disposing off medical waste.
If you do, the waste lies with the waste generator for long periods in violation of the rules. Complain and the waste generator could get targeted for one reason or the other.
So, keep quiet, and pay up instead. That is how all waste management has become a mafia-like operation – only interested in the money. Not in waste management.
There is no third-party inspection of how the waste is actually disposed off. It is time the government brought in a good third-party inspection agency like the SGS (https://www.sgs.com/).
The failure to implement Swachh Bharat hurts Ayushman Bharat, which is to become the world’s largest medical insurance programme.
As the World Health Organisation (WHO) has shown (http://geografie-uoradea.ro/Reviste/Anale/Art/2015-1/8.AUOG_678_Hemant.pdf), water (and food) borne diseases account for an estimated 4.1% of the total daily global burden of disease, and cause about 1.8 million human deaths annually. Almost 88% of that burden is attributable to unsafe water supply, sanitation and hygiene.
McKenzie and Ray (2004) state that poor water quality, sanitation, and hygiene result in the loss of 30.5 million disabilities adjusted life years in India.
“According to one estimate (Parikh, 2004), India lost about Rs 366 billion (over US$50 billion), which account for about 3.95 per cent of the GDP, due to ill effects of water pollution and poor sanitation facilities in 1995.
If India had made efforts for mitigating these affects in terms of providing better sanitation facilities and doing abatement of water pollution the required resources had ranged between 1.73 to 2.2 per cent of GDP”.
If India wants to reduce its medical bills, it needs to take waste management seriously. Not doing so would cripple both Swachh Bharat and Ayushman Bharat. It would also slow down India’s march towards becoming a $5 trillion economy.
Finally waste management would also encourage the setting up of large waste to energy plants with zero-discharge. The biological waste (which includes human and animal waste, agro waste and forest waste) can generate enough methane to completely wipe out India’s balance of payments or BoP (http://www.asiaconverge.com /2018/04/shit-can-mean-big-money/).
Sweden’s Tekniska Verken is a good example how waste management can be profitable enough to even begin importing waste as a business (http://www.asiaconverge.com/2019/07/misplaced-zeal-for-environment-and-water/).
And the methane that is generated can be used for Ujjwala Bharat, to provide cooking gas to all Indian households, without resorting to imports. Yes, India can become financially vibrant. It can reach the $5 trillion mark. But waste management could hold the key.
RN Bhaskar is consulting editor with FPJ