Gandhi Chhadi set for Rs.300? Is Swachh Bharat Mission kidding?

So I decided to consider getting a “Gandhi Chhadi” [Gandhi stick] which is a long stick with a pointed metal tip that is useful to pick waste objects off the road without bending. It has been highlighted by Swachh Bharat Mission Urban since last year and a couple of addresses of manufacturers have been provided in a YouTube video.

On enquiry with the first supplier listed in the above video, it turns out they want Rs.300 for a set of these litter pickers and the Mission – yes, a whole Central govt Mission – has no distribution mechanism for this. So it can only be couriered.

Clearly, this shows the emptiness of such campaigns. This low tech device should have been outsourced for production, and made available for everyone to make, like a broom. In fact, modern versions of such pickers are today sold on Amazon, and these have a lever that operates as a gripper.

Not surprisingly, the Mission has not made known a plan to distribute even the old-style Chhadis to municipal workers, who have to keep bending everyday to pick up the trash that you and I toss around carelessly.

This is the one on sale on Amazon India for about Rs.500:


Biogas from household waste – The Hindu column highlights potential

Today’s Urban Jungle column in The Hindu highlights the potential of using vegetable waste from municipal garbage to run biogas plants at the level of individual houses and beyond. Read the column here. A related story that appeared in Engadget a couple of years ago is here, but the biogas idea now seems more attractive than ever. The Union Budget has indicated that subsidies from the Centre for LPG and other fuels for the majority of consumers (editorial in The Mint here) will be withdrawn.

The piece also touches upon the lack of incentive for Ramky Enviro Engineers, which now has a contract with the Corporation of Chennai to collect and transfer municipal solid waste in three zones, to do the same. Ramky is empowered to sell recyclable waste and transfer the rest to the dumping grounds.

Most interestingly, one of the biogas models discussed in the column won an Ashden award for the Pune NGO Appropriate Rural Technology Institute five years ago. Watch that system at work in this video.


EXCLUSIVE : Ramky Enviro must set up toll-free garbage complaints line in Chennai

Setting up a grievance redressal-cum-monitoring cell to receive complaints relating to garbage is among the conditions  in the legal agreement signed by the Corporation of Chennai and Ramky Enviro Engineers for collection, segregation, transportation and disposal of municipal waste in new zones IX, X and XIII.

Although such a condition was included in the agreement with Neel Metal Fanalca earlier, it was not operationalised by the Corporation.

In the case of Ramky Enviro, the company is required to operate a toll-free telephone line for addressing citizens’ grievances.  The full copy of the agreement obtained by this blog under the Right to Information Act stipulates that the Concessionaire must meet other conditions also to arrive at the “Gross Admissible Payment”.

Other key aspects of the CoC – Ramky Enviro agreement are:

The handling of garbage will be monitored with a “visual aspect” involving photography of specific sites and some randomly chosen sites.

Ramky Enviro must follow the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000

The Concessionaire must use compactor vehicles, and tricycles for doorstep collection of waste duly segregated.

CoC will form dedicated teams of officials comprising Executive Engineers of the zones for the area covered, who will be headed by the Zonal Officer – designated as Project Officer to implement the Agreement provisions.

The scope of work requires Ramky Enviro to perform door-to-door collection of segregated MSW, including but not limited to residential houses, flats/apartments, group houses, commercial complexes, slums/slum tenements, institutions, places of worship, slaughter houses, makets, office complexes and beach service roads and any other roads specifically directed by CoC.

Collection and transportation of segregated bio-degradable and non-biodegradable wastes without mixing, to transfer stations or directly for disposal to designated dumping grounds.

Road/street sweeping with brooms, brushes and collection, removal, transportation ad disposal of road dust and transportation of silt deposited during de-silting of storm water drains as per the specific written request by the Project Officer, but shall not include collection, removal, transportation and disposal of debris, construction and demolition debris and mud earth.

Removal of dead animals and cow dung

Performance of services in the proposed zones conforming to the provisions of MSW Rules 2000 as amended from time to time.

“Segregation” is defined in the Agreement as having the meaning ascribed under the MSW Rules 2000, i.e., to separate the MSW into groups of organic, inorganic, recyclables, and hazardous wastes and includes segregation of MSW by the waste collectors engaged by the concessionaire from households while receiving MSW from the households.

Period of Concession to Ramky Enviro Engineers

The Agreement states that the concession is granted for a period of seven years commencing from the CoD (Commencement Operations Date) and ending on the Expiry Date. In the event of termination,the concession period shall mean and be limited to the period commencing from the CoD and ending with the termination date.

Gross Admissible Payment (GAP)

The Gross Admissible Payment is arrived at in three parts as described below:

Part I – Quantitative Payment: It comprises of first 50 per cent of the Gross payment to the concessionaire. It is arrived by assessing the total weight of the MSW disposed of in the landfill site after meeting alll the agreement conditions. The tipping fee will be multiplied by the TPD and 50 per cent of it is the Gross Admissible Payment, Part I.

The remaining two parts are for the 50 per cent remaining payment. It is based on the weightage obtained through Qualitative Assessment. It is arrived in 2 parts (Part II and Part III) 25 per cent each.

Part II – (25 per cent) – Visual Qualitative Assessment : The 25 per cent bill amount will be worked out based the weightage obtained by the Concessionaire in the monthly abstract format for the qualitative performance of the concessionaire for visual aspects of work.It is assessed through the photographs captured in designated locations as mentioned in the article number 8.3.1 of the concession agreement. Annexure II contains daily calculation format of Annexure IV contains monthly weightage deduction format for Part II (25 per cent) payment.

Part III  (25 per cent) – Last and remaining 25 per cent bill amount will be worked out based on the weightage obtained by the Concessionaire in the monthly abstract foormat for the quality of deployment. This part is based on the evaluation of the vehicle march out, response to public complaints and MSW transport in haulage vehicles etc as shown in the illustration in Annexure VI.

Grievance Redressal cell-cum-Monitoring Centre

The centre with a toll free telephone line will be manned from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and should be automated to record grievances at all other times.

Any grievance so received between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. shall be treated as the complaint received on that day and shall be rectified by the concessionaire wiithin 6 Project Design Specification (PDS) approved hours of the receipt of such grievances at the grievance cell. Any grievance no redressed within 6 hours on receipt of the same will be subjected to qualitative performance evaluation.

There shall be levied no penalty for non-redressal of complaints within 6 hours for the initiative calendar month of the concession period if the concerned Project Officer is of the opinion that it is necessary during the transition /takover period of concession work.

Such grievance cell shall be monitored by the Project Officer or any other officer authorized by him in this behalf vide Annexure III-A

It shall be the responsibility of the Concessionaire to prove each and every complaint is recorded and remedied. The decision of the CoC on the point that whether a complaint is redressed or not is final and binding on the Concessionaire.

In case if the Concessionaire claim that a particular complaint received in the complaint cell could not be redressed at all or till a particular period, the decision of the Project Officer is final and binding as to the nature of the complaint that it could be redressed or could not be redressed.

Performance Evaluation

The Qualitative Performance evaluation of work will be done on a daily basis and abstract of the monthly performance evaluation of Concessionaire for qualitative evaluation will be arrived at in Annexure IV and V.

The qualitative evaluation of work will be carried out in two aspects. First, is evaluation on visual aspects and the second is based on vehicle deployment, manpower deployment, materials deployment,and other aspects.


There will be penalties or fines for the default or deficiency of serviceby the Concessionaire for various types of deficiencies broadly classified as major and minor penalties. The penalties are specified on the percentage of monthly gross bill amount admitted for making payment to the Concessionaire.

Major penalty

Failure to redress a complaint for more than 48 hours-upto 10 complaints 0.5 per cent
above 10 complaints 1 per cent
In case vehicle is found carrying debris / silt-2 per cent
Complete failure to collect and transport waste/day-1 per cent
Failure to provide uniform to workers, drivers, cleaners- 0.5 per cent
Failure to provide safety gear to staff, employees-0.5 per cent
Failure to register public complaints-0.5 per cent
Not maintaining transfer stations, workshops
labour rest rooms- 0.5 per cent

The penalty levy will be fixed every day by the Project Officer of the concerned zones for minor as well as major and will be restricted to 10 per cent put together and monthly abstract will be prepared for levy of penalty for major and minor will be restricted to 10 per cent.

The Hindu Editorial on Protecting the Western Ghats

The Hindu has a leader comment today, endorsing the view of scientists that the entire Western Ghats should be declared ecologically sensitive, and mining in Goa halted. In particular, the editorial calls for scrapping of the destructive Athirapilly and Gundia hydroelectric projects in Kerala and Karnataka respectively.

If you believe the Western Ghats deserve protection, write to The Hindu with your view @

Life in the Himalaya, and how to save it

Book Review : Protection of Himalayan Biodiversity – International Environmental Law and a Regional Legal Framework. By Ananda Mohan Bhattarai, Sage Publications, B1/I-1, Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area, Mathura Road, New Delhi 110 044, India, 382 pp, Price not stated

All geographical regions of the world have a role to play in the sustenance of humanity, but even here, there are some that are vitally important. The Himalaya, an extensive mountain range with unrivalled peaks, deep river gorges and fertile alluvial valleys, is one such.

The book under review devotes itself to the question of what legal framework would best serve the goal of protecting the resources of the Himalayan region, in particular its reservoir of biodiversity and traditional knowledge. The author was prompted to take up this enterprise by the fact that there is not enough discussion on all aspects of the issue. What is needed, he thinks, is an interdisciplinary effort to look at the ecological, economic, social and legal aspects of biodiversity conservation in the Himalaya. What he hopes to create with his work is a debate, which would persuade policymakers to launch suitable protection measures through law and regional co-operation.

Several countries have rich biodiversity resources that they must protect and use sustainably. At the global level, the foundation for such a conservation framework is laid by the Convention on Biological Diversity. It is an agreement  that opened for member-party signatures in 1992-93, and aims to conserve biodiversity, and facilitate sustainable use through access and benefit-sharing.

The book provides detailed commentary on the legal basis for the CBD, its instruments, protocols and approaches, and their linkages in international law. It is this framework that nations use to secure the future of biological resources. Viewed against the backdrop of the Himalaya, a region that sustains vast numbers of people, the need for closer regional cooperation among the South Asian States stands out.

At the top of the list of issues in the Himalaya are problems affecting mountains. Bhattarai is disappointed that mountains, which cover some 26 per cent of the world’s land surface, get poor attention in international law-making. This should worry countries sharing the Himalaya and encourage them to collaborate on sound national and regional policies. Only such cooperation can, he argues, protect biodiversity and enable access and benefit sharing. Moreover, this can be achieved without compromising national sovereignty.

Beyond the basic need for legal frameworks to protect biodiversity and the interests of communities, the author examines a range of issues that are technical from the perspective of law. They also have serious economic and environmental consequences. He analyses the issues involved primarily from the prism of the CBD, but does include various other covenants, treaties and national experiences, including case law. The key topics he covers relate to access to genetic resources and benefit sharing, traditional knowledge, and biological resources vis-a-vis international trade laws. What emerges is revealing.

Take the case of protection of traditional knowledge. The CBD refers to this as “knowledge, skills, innovation, and practices of indigenous and local communities and people which is relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity”. We learn through examples that traditional knowledge has substantially aided biotechnology research. Such community-based wisdom has flagged key properties of biological components, notably in plants.

The challenge is to ensure that all this work done by communities in safeguarding and testing the properties of biodiversity is recognised through legal instruments. Misappropriation of traditional knowledge by unauthorised third parties has, Bhattarai notes, caused indigenous people severe losses. He has illustrative, though not representative examples of such uncompensated appropriation – one of them is the Serendipity berry and Katempfe plants in Africa, which have low-calorie chemicals many times sweeter than sugar and which US entities helped themselves to, to generate big profits. They did not, however, feel obliged to pay anything to African farmers.

This brings us to the contentious issue of patenting of living organisms. Bhattarai provides a useful discussion of historical trends, including the difficulties faced by farmers in the United States under a corporation-focused, regressive patenting regime. The contrast becomes clear when their situation is compared with the more limited, pro-public approach to patenting in Europe. Here again, the case law tells the story, beginning with patenting of not just processes but living organisms in Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 1980  (in the US). The key issue, as the author narrates, is to reconcile the egalitarian, environment-friendly objectives of the CBD and intellectual property agreements, mainly Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to serve the interests of people and nature. This effort must accord priority to biodiversity, if the Himalaya is to be saved.

This book is clearly a welcome addition to the literature on biodiversity, international law, patenting of agriculture and living organisms, and sustainable development. Governments sharing the heritage of the Himalaya would certainly be interested in the gamut of issues that are likely to affect this sensitive region.

New life for discarded CDs, plastic containers

I am always looking for ways in which discarded CDs headed for the waste bin can be reused. Recently, an old CD and another item of plastic waste,  a medicine container, came together nicely to become a pen stand.

It will stay steady even if it gets heavy.

Here’s what the result looks like.

The only material used was rubber adhesive compound available in most stationery stores.

This may not be a terrific invention, but I am keeping two items out of the bin. In the process, I also discovered that CDs can be used as a stabilising base for anything that tends to topple over.

If you have any ideas about CD reuse, I would love to hear them.