Last week’s Supreme Court’s decision of staying construction activities in a few States and Union Territories (UTs), until the framing of a Policy under the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 by them is historic one and is commendable. Some may say it as knee-jerk reaction and would bring the construction activity to a standstill and render lakhs of people jobless, that too on the eve of festive season. But the big question is whether the SC had any other option but to take this extreme step? It is not that these states were taken unaware by the SC order as the Court had, on July 10, given one final opportunity to all States and UTs to comply with the laws governing solid waste management.
It is true that any ban enhances the construction cycle leading to cost overruns and revenue losses and some home buyers may also suffer. But these are temporary effects and one should look at the long-term benefits of the measures which the apex court wants these states to take.
The entire issue had its beginning when the Court was hearing a suo motu petition concerning the death of a seven-year-old kid who suffered from dengue in 2015. Dengue affected child was allegedly denied treatment by five private hospitals which devastated child’s parents who eventually committed suicide. During the hearing of this petition, the Court was informed that vector-borne diseases were on rise due to poor management of solid waste in the country.
The Central Government had issued guidelines to all States and Union Territories (UTs) for establishment of projects for optimum utilization of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) as per the Solid Waste (Management & Municipal Handling) Rules 2016 and the Municipal Solid Waste Management Manual, according to which, composting, vermi-composting, anaerobic digestion or bio-methanation may be used for treatment of bio-digestible waste. After reprocessing and recycling of the dry waste, the balance combustible portion will have to be treated by using incineration, gasification, pyrolysis, pelletization and other thermal processes, with electricity as its output.
It should be noted that despite two years having passed since the notification of the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, more than two-third of the States and UTs have not complied with the requirements under the Rules. These Rules were notified by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change in supersession of Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. The ambit of the rules has been extended beyond Municipal area to cover outgrowths in urban agglomerations, census towns, notified industrial townships, areas under the control of Indian Railways, places of pilgrims etc.
As per the available information from the 23 states/UTs, the quantity of solid waste generated is approximately 97170.90 tons per day, while approximately 19306.5 tons of solid waste is being treated per day in these states. Similarly, Central Pollution Control Board had assessed the quantity of sewage generation and treatment capacity for Urban Population of India for the year 2015. It is estimated that the sewage generation is approximately 61948 MLD and sewage treatment capacity developed so far is 23277 MLD. So, there is huge gap between generation of the waste and its treatment. This also shows that the states are taking baby steps to this gigantic problem without knowing its repercussions. This is happening when the whole country is making noise about Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.
Though original rules were framed in the beginning of this century itself nothing much had happened till 2016 when the Environment Ministry issued fresh notification making some improvements in the earlier notification. Even after two years of new rules, ground reality has not changed much.
The government seems not to have realised the gravity of solid waste problem as some officials are trying to find fault with the recent Court decision rather than deal with the problem at hand. India presently generates 100,000 tonnes of solid waste and an individual generates anywhere between 200 gm and 850 gm of solid waste daily depending upon his location and standard of living. As the life style of the person improves, solid waste generation too increases. Further, we are facing rapid urbanisation and by 2050 people living in urban areas will far exceed those in rural areas. In other words, we, as a nation will be generating more and more solid waste but space available to dump or discard it will go on reducing. There are instances of dump yard being used for housing purposes which also signals the shortage of space for living leave alone solid waste management.
Therefore, SC’s decision should be viewed in this background and the message which the apex court wants to send to the government through this order. Instead of kicking the can down the road, the government should start doing something to deal with the basic problem. By sweeping the dirt under carpet the government will only be aggravating the situation. Try to understand the spirit of the SC direction than its letter.