Neel Metal Fanalca’s farcical waste management in Chennai

Recently, Neel Metal Fanalca began a process of ostensible source-segregation of waste in its areas of operation in Chennai. I have had the benefit of examining the whole thing personally, in Kodambakkam.

Apparently under pressure to show source segregation of waste, NMF issued polythene bags to residents for storage of recyclable waste. The organic waste is to be handed over to the personnel of NMF each morning and evening, during one-hour window periods. The waste collector attracts the attention of residents by blowing a whistle repeatedly. The plan is farcical in the way it is implemented, though.

1. There is no downstream system to manage the waste. The organic waste is not composted as a measure of ‘disposal’, as required by the Chennai Corporation’s contract with NMF, but is simply shifted to the dumping ground.

2. No plan exists for recyclable waste. I found, for instance, that NMF personnel simply sell the waste to local ‘raddi’ shops in the vicinity, simply displacing the waste from their own bin to the street in front of the waste shop.

3. Waste in the form of CFL and tubelights (containing small amounts of mercury), batteries, other household chemicals are being dumped along with the organic waste.

In addition, the NMF crews also want the residents to put up their own waste bins in their respective apartment blocks or houses. This is a difficult proposal to implement, even if it was sound in other respects, which it is not for the reasons stated in 1 to 3 above.

Disappointingly, Exnora International, which launched citizen-led initiatives in the 1980s to compost waste, is now a partner in the NMF scheme. This may be good in principle, but Exnora has not been given any solid role in deciding the waste management plan. What is more, EI is also relegating sustainable waste management to the back-burner by going along with the NMF model.

Time for the citizenry to ask the Chennai Corporation some searching questions, rather than treat waste as someone else’s problem.


Neel Metal Fanalca and waste recycling

I have mentioned elsewhere on this blog, that the clauses in favour of taxpayers in the agreement with Neel Metal Fanalca are not implemented by the Chennai Corporation.

Today, I found that there is an interesting trail for the garbage picked up by NMF from the streets if it has some residual commercial value. The staff of NMF drive their small pick-ups to local waste handlers and dispose of these recyclables to them.

These pictures tell the story.  The same thing is available as a YouTube video here.

Neel Metal Fanalca worker picks up waste from his small pick-up

We have nothing against such a trade happening, although the locations of such operations are often incompatible. Waste handlers are setting up shop in residential buildings and converting the footpaths into their open-air godowns, as in the pictures above.

From the perspective of NMF, it could have got into the act on its own, but obviously, there is no incentive for the waste collectors to dispose of their recyclables to their employers! This simple truth speaks volumes about the concept of Solid Waste Management being followed by the Chennai Corporation. Conversely, it also highlights the poor involvement of residents in their own waste management affairs: many residents welfare associations could make some money with such recyclables themselves, but they would rather throw the items on the street.

I was having difficulty posting YouTube videos on to my WordPress account, and gave only the link above, but after looking at the code from earlier videos that I had posted, I got it to appear here, finally. So here it is. Photos and video shot with Nokia 3500c.


Neel Metal Fanalca: Some extracts of contract with Chennai Corporation

A report in The Hindu today indicates that the operations of Neel Metal Fanalca in Chennai are set to expand. Pulianthope will now be covered by NMF, the concessionaire that won the contract to manage the municipal solid waste in the city, in selected zones.

As I have pointed out in the past, the Chennai Corporation, which bears responsibility to implement the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules 2000 has so far not taken necessary steps to ensure the implementation of the rules on the ground. It has included clauses that seem to meet the rules prescribed, but in the absence of a clear chain of disposal for all categories of waste, there is no clarity on whether it is meeting the obligation and whether the TN Pollution Control Board is ensuring that it does.

The Chennai Corporation has stated on the record that it has not been filing annual reports to the TNPCB or Central Pollution Control Board, which is an egregious violation of the law.

Evidence from the dumping ground in Perungudi indicates that the Chennai Corporation, through its concessionaire is actually violating the MSW Rules 2000. NMF has no means to complete the disposal either, at present.

While a clear picture emerges on Chennai’s compliance with the MSW rules, I am presenting a set of original pages from the Agreement signed by Neel Metal Fanalca and the Chennai Corporation on consumer related aspects. These pages form part of the full document, which is available with this blog, obtained under the Right to Information Act, 2005. They come to a very large file size, hence only individual pages are presented here for the moment. The full document will be uploaded soon after they have been stitched into a booklet. At the moment, I have no option but to post the consumer-related information as individual page PDFs.

  • A key point that emerges from the document is that NMF’s payment is determined after taking into account grievances recorded by the public with a telephonic facility that the private company is to provide in each zone. The payment is determined on a daily basis, according to the documents, and allocated weightage points for each aspect of the garbage collection and removal. A list of definitions is also available.
  • MSW Definitions
  • Operational obligations of Neel Metal Fanalca
  • How payment to Neel Metal Fanalca is to be calculated
  • Penalties and fines
  • Performance evaluation and complaints mechanism
  • Format for performance evaluation – I
  • Format for performance evaluation – II
  • Format for performance evaluation – III
  • Obligation for Neel Metal to use Community-Based Organisations
  • Clauses on weighment and calculation of waste
  • Force Majeure and consequences
  • For Majeure and consequences – II
  • North Usman Road flyover: why is it the first?

    If you are looking for news about the flyover opened at Panagal Park point on August 14, that post is here. The post below pertains to the older one opened at Mahalingapuram. 

    A number of flyover projects are under implementation in Chennai, and one has been hanging fire now for seven years.

    So why is the North Usman Road flyover connecting Theagaraya Nagar (T.Nagar) and Mahalingapuram going to be the first of the new crop of flyovers to be opened to traffic on March 30?

    The simple explanation could be that it is an “easy” one, not very ambitious in its scope. But that seems too simple. Many complicated projects are completed by governments in record time: we remember the Nehru Stadium that was built in no time during the AIADMK period; the Hyderabad airport at Shamshabad that was opened by UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi yesterday is another.


    As someone who uses Arcot Road regularly, I tend to think that the Mahalingapuram flyover was completed well ahead of others because Chief Minister M.Karunanidhi has been using the road a lot, ever since the Kalaignar TV plan took shape. Maybe that was not the driving factor for early completion, but it is true that the flyover will help everyone until the traffic levels rise to neutralise the advantage. (It would be useful to think of the times when the Kodambakkam bridge replaced the level crossing very near the new flyover. It must have felt like heaven. Look at how choked it is today).

    The new bridges and flyovers will be only partial relief to the owners of all those Audis, BMWs and Mercedeses in the city. The only people travelling fast are those in the trains towards Beach and Tambaram that run along these bridges! 

    I can only offer my sympathies to those living on the Mahalingapuram side. They now have no footpath, as the existing one has been eaten up by the flyover. Those who live along the roads under the new structure are going to find it painful to remove their cars in the morning. There is no question of their visitors parking anywhere nearby either. If they are getting any supplies or are moving house, they must do it at dead of night, because no vehicle can wait in the narrow road.

    We in India have this peculiar culture of making Murphy’s Law work effortlessly! This situation is no exception and we don’t expect any solutions from our rulers and babus.

    Update: After the opening of the North Usman Road – Mahalingapuram flyover on March 30, a new traffic arrangement has been introduced. The details are here.

    Chennai Transport Regulatory Authority: Will it help commuters?

    The reported setting up of the transport regulatory authority for Chennai is indeed a positive measure, but it appears to fall short of recommendations made by the Planning Commission and also the objectives of the NUTP and JNNURM. (Report on the development in The Hindu is here.)
    All the official documents are available in full on the Internet. (See links below)
    The key questions to my mind are:
    1. The Planning Commission in its approach to the 11th Plan suggests a legislative foundation for such a transport regulatory authority. What has been done in TN?
    2. A major function of the new body as envisaged by the Commission, and also by international practice, is creation of a level playing field. Since there is only a monopoly operator, there is a conflict in expanding the system for commuter benefit.
    3. The Commission, I think, expressly states that the existing operator cannot run the Regulator. Since the Transport Minister heads the existing operator, MTC, it goes against the grain of the policy.
    4. We would have to look at what kind of civil society representation is found on the regulator to represent users, other than the official players, which is the bus operator, planning authority, police and so on.
    5. What kind of remit does the regulator have to include allied activities like pedestrian movement, which are key to greater use of public transport? This requires policy synchronisation. On the contrary, the huge Chennai Corporation tenders published over the past two days in The Hindu indicate that it is business as usual – widening of roads (in other words, removing footpaths) and making investments for motorised road users at the cost of walkers.
    The following documents are important to analyse the changes in transport policy.
    • Planning Commission approach paper to Eleventh Plan, on Transport including MRTS is here.
    • The UPA Government’s National Urban Transport Policy is here.
    • Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission website is here.
    • Rutgers University paper on urban transport crisis in India is here.

    K.K.Nagar child loses leg, but do we care?

    Today’s column by Paul Krugman dwells on the long-term effects of malnutrition. Children without adequate nutrition tend to lose out on full intellectual capacity development and hence are condemned to poverty in many cases. Krugman’s anguish is based on scientific evidence from the AAAS, and has strong resonance among Indians, whose great nation holds arguably the largest number of malnourished children on the planet.

    I would like to add to that continuing tragedy, the shocking lack of safety for children attending school. The Hindu reported last Friday (Feb. 15) that a six year old child lost its leg in an accident involving a car very close to Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan Senior Secondary School in K.K.Nagar.

    Most likely, there will be little outrage at such an unspeakable tragedy, of a child called S.Swaminathan being condemned to disability for life due to rampant motorisation in India. A mad rush for vehicles with no standards, training or safeguards whatsoever. The majority of middle-class Indians are too busy enjoying their new luxuries, including powerful cars, and have little time to devote to such horrors or to the crumbling state of infrastructure in which their nation is cooking up 8.5 plus per cent growth.

    Many children make such dangerous trips everyday in Chennai.

    I took the accompanying picture on way back from K.K.Nagar three days after the accident was reported. It shows a motorcyclist squeezing through some rubble that has been generated by construction of a median, near Jawahar Vidyalaya, Ashok Nagar. There was no need to replace this median, but apparently, someone in the Chennai Corporation or another agency decided to replace the existing one with hard granite. Of course, these planners can never get down to setting footpaths right. That small step would help many school children walk to school safely, but apparently, dressing up with costly granite is more important to today’s civic managers than investing in simple, effective solutions.

    We can only express our deep anguish that many generations of Indians will have to lose life and limb, before our polity acquires the maturity to view these safety issues as fundamental. Until then, our semi-literate politicians and their brand of dangerously creaky politics will rule, aided greatly by middle class indifference.

    Of course, for the police, lives are mere statistics. This statement from the Chennai City Traffic Police only confirms that depressing reality.

    Chennai Corporation, Fanalca and mercury in CFL lamps

    I have posted earlier on the irresponsible response of the Chennai Corporation on behalf of Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni, and presumably Mayor M. Subramaniam, to my petition under the Right to Information Act, 2005, relating to disposal of Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) by the Corporation and Neel Metal Fanalca.

    The Union of Concerned Scientists in the United States, which has been drawing public attention to the evidence of climate change, has recently urged everyone to switch to energy efficient CFLs, which US law also requires to be inducted progressively now.

    The UCS talks about the danger of mercury in this statement (this was the theme of my RTI Act application to the Chennai Corporation) :

    CFLs and Mercury
    CFLs do contain a small amount of mercury, so they cannot be thrown out in the trash . However, the mercury in CFLs represents a much less significant environmental hazard than incandescent bulbs because CFLs require much less electricity, and more than half of our nation’s electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants—the largest U.S. source of mercury emissions. In other words, the average coal-fired power plant emits only 3.2 milligrams of mercury for each CFL running six hours per day for five years, but emits nearly 15 milligrams of mercury for an incandescent bulb running the same amount of time, according to UCS research.
    The difference far exceeds the approximately five milligrams present inside a CFL. Properly disposing of CFLs ensures the mercury in them remains contained. (emphasis added)

    For disposal expertise, the UCS refers visitors to this website:

    Time for our IAS wizards and their political bosses to wake up to the reality of mercury pollution without waiting for the odd journalist to come up with horror stories.