Friday, June 24, 2016

Citizens’ Involvement Essential for Efficient Waste Management in Cities

By Mugdha Ghaisas* 
With the city population growing there is an increasing pressure on the existing infrastructure like housing, health, transportation etc. which fails to cater to the demand, demanding an increase in the infrastructural capacity of the city. Along with these infrastructural deficiencies, the growing cities face much more serious problems in terms of waste management and sanitation facilities. In India, the onus of waste management lies with the local bodies as per the 73rd and 74th Constitutional amendments. In spite of coming up with various waste management plans, the local bodies are not able to address the problem efficiently; two of the reasons being: lack of citizens' participation and a centralised waste management plan by the urban local bodies.

The 73rd and 74th amendment are meant to facilitate a decentralised governance structure empowering the local bodies to improve service delivery and programme implementation at the local level. It is necessary that the local governments understand the objective of this transfer of powers and adopt to further decentralisation and participatory approach by involving the citizens to address various concerns like waste management and making them accountable for the waste they generate, in order to meet the desired results.

Waste generators should be made to own the responsibility of managing the waste they produce, this is the only way to minimise the waste to be taken out of the city and at the same time making the citizens realise and minimise the amount of waste they produce. An effective system of decentralised processing of waste needs to be set up in the cities under the guidance of waste management experts keeping in mind the geographical and climatic condition of the city. The existing governance structure can be used optimally with the Councillor playing a major role by initiating this participatory process with the help of Resident Associations in his/her ward for monitoring and for ensuring that the guidelines issued are adhered to by the citizens.

The Municipalities and Municipal Corporations are to play a major role in incentivizing the individual property owners, housing societies and commercial complexes to process their waste at the source by incorporating bio-methanation or vermicomposting at the site, by making provisions like giving them rebate in their property tax as few other local bodies have done. Also, the urban local bodies can explore the possibilities of decentralised waste-to-energy plants within the city limits and use the energy generated from the same for street lighting. Cities like Pune and Solapur have been able to set up waste-to-energy plants which produce electricity using bio-methanation technology, with slurry being used to make organic compost and sold as a fertilizer. Countries like Sweden have less than one percent of their waste in landfills, almost fifty percent is recycled and the rest fifty percent converted to energy (Plante). Indian cities should aim for a similar situation while stressing on decentralized processing plants. Also, a push by the urban local bodies under the context of Smart City Mission, for similar ‘green’ waste management techniques would open opportunities for entrepreneurs to invest in the Research and Development and explore the area of ‘waste management’ as a ‘business opportunity’.

With the increasing urban-rural continuum and migration, it is the need of the hour that the elected representatives of the urban local bodies initiate a citizen-led participatory process to address the waste management issue, with the urban local bodies focusing on capacity building and coming out with clear guidelines with respect to penalties and its collection mechanism in case of violation and incentives for decentralised processing. Citizens should be viewed as starting point in the waste management systems as they are the waste generators. Unless until citizens adopt the philosophy of minimum generation, reuse, recycle and then process whatever possible at source before sending to landfill, a stark change in the present scenario would be difficult. Large scale impactful awareness programmes are important in order to impart this philosophy and boot active citizens’ participation. Clean Chennai an initiative by Corporation of Chennai has used videos and social media effectively in their awareness drive along with a website giving status of waste management in city like detailing the vermicomposting units, bio-methanation plants etc. in the city, enlightening the citizens about the issue and integrating them in the process.

Till citizens remain external to the waste management system, it would be difficult for them to understand the gravity of the problem. Only their involvement, active participation and making them accountable would help in dealing with the solid waste management issue; with technology and best practices around the world reengineered according to the needs of different Indian cities.

*Mugdha Ghaisas is a intern at CPPR. The views expressed by the author is personal.

Featured Image source:

Babele, P. (2015). How Solapur Converted Garbege into Electricity. New Delhi: India Today. Retrieved from
Pallavi, A. (2014, March 31). Lessons Frrom Two Cities. Retrieved from Down to Earth:
Plante, C. (n.d.). Here's how less than one percent of Sweden's waste ends up in landfills. Retrieved from The Verge:

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