That was the title of an editorial that The Hindu carried just recently, about the solid waste crisis in Kochi. Such is the state of urban governance in India today, that the courts have to take a view on whether the civic administrations are doing their job in dealing with municipal waste. Quite apparently, they are not, and that is the argument made in the editorial.
Those who are concerned about the effects of their reckless consumption patterns should know that India has imbibed the worst aspects of the consumerist culture, without the ability to pay for the negative outcomes. That includes the effect on the environment.
The image of Chennai’s middle class as conservative, low-spending and retiring is increasingly under strain for precisely that reason. The veneer of conservative spending is vanishing with the crowds flocking to the new shopping malls. If more proof is needed, that is today found on the streets of the three zones of the Chennai Corporation where garbage is piling up, just as it was in Kochi some weeks ago. Chennai’s middle class in these parts are also awash with waste.
The immediate reason for the pile-up is the fiasco created by the Chennai Corporation when shifting the garbage clearance (not management) contract to Neel Metal Fanalca, from CES Onyx. Obviously, Neel Metal is a newcomer to the field and has neither the human resources nor the materials. Whether it has the expertise mandated by the Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules 2000 will soon be revealed.
On the day of the transition from Onyx, August 25, there was nothing from Neel Metal on the ground, and Onyx had shifted its olive green bins (most of them battered by street cattle) away. The results are quite evident, provoking both visual and olfactory senses, although Mayor M.Subramanian (seen at centre in the picture above) and Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni (to his right) called it problems of settling down, and their explanation was reported quite faithfully by The Hindu.
Solid waste management is increasingly a complex, technical and challenging task, that requires dedicated managers. Only a small part of the problem is mechanical, which is transporting the waste from the street. This is the most prominent and visible part, and also the more lucrative for those who award the contracts. The rest is almost entirely chemical, and as those who have looked at the literature know, has implications for the quality of air, water and the fate of the environment in a broader sense. With some luck, I hope to put those concerns in perspective in an article, inspired in great measure by Almitra Patel, the Bangalore-based member of the Supreme Court committee on the waste issue and our own Exnora International whose initiatives have prematurely suffered as a result of political and governmental machinations…