Dharmendra Jore: Mumbai legi meri jaan

There should be no politics over solid waste management, or the city will face a massive crisis

Mumbai’s solid waste management has become even more critical, in view of health threats that the fires at Deonar dumping ground had posed through the highest level of air pollution over the past three days. The unending fire and deadly smog had Mumbai raging against the civic and state administration and politicians. For several lakh residents living around the Deonar site, Mumbai is no longer their jaan (life), but they are forced to say: Mumbai legi meri jaan (Mumbai will take my life).

Unfortunately, the hapless people will continue to suffer as no immediate solution is in the offing. The crisis is here to stay, at least for a couple of years, say BMC officials, adding that their efforts of making solid waste management smarter will succeed only if things don’t get mired in dirty politics, corruption and administrative hassles.

Mumbai creates a mammoth 10,060 metric tonnes of waste per day, according to BMC’s Environment Status Report, 2013-14. The city’s per capita generation of waste is 450 grams per day. This includes biodegradable wet waste (food leftovers): 54 per cent; biodegradable dry waste (wood, cloth etc): 15 per cent; sand, stone and fine earth particles: 12 per cent; plastic: 9 per cent; paper, metals and other reusable waste: 10 per cent. The BMC spends around R2,500 crore on managing the waste every year.

The city has just three dumping grounds that together occupy 222 hectares of land, which will soon not suffice if BMC does not treat its waste scientifically before dumping it. Two new dumping sites in Taloja and Airoli are expected to operate in a smart way — the waste will be treated here scientifically. There are plans of making sand from the construction debris at the Mulund dumping site. The Kanjur Marg site has a fertiliser and gas generation facility in place. However, the plan to generate electricity from waste is still on paper as some consultants are working on it.

Before initiating treatment at dumping grounds, the BMC has been trying segregation of waste at the original sources like homes. People with some civic sense do segregate waste in their society, but BMC doesn’t have enough infrastructure to collect segregated waste. City’s untiring ragpickers prove a great help in segregation of waste at BMC’s specially-designated centres, but the city needs more such centres. We also need to organise ragpickers so that they do their jobs more efficiently.

And even if waste gets segregated at some places, the BMC does not have a foolproof system to check that the segregated waste is not mixed with other at dumping ground. It is because of this callousness that a huge quantity of dry waste reaches dumping grounds where segregation facility may not be available all the time. And it was this dry waste that kept the Deonar fire burning for four days, thereby risking the lives of people. CM Devendra Fadnavis has asked to probe the incident after allegations were made that civic contractors could be responsible.

Apart from the solid waste issue, the city faces a great difficulty in disposing its sewage water. Only a half of its sewage is treated before getting released into the seas. The sea water pollution may not affect you as directly as dumping ground fires, but its long term effects will be as fatal as air pollution. We don’t need a scientist to tell where you get your daily fish from, how dirty saline waters contaminate our ground water table and affect wetland ecology.

Even as the issue has become political, the last man we should look up to is Municipal Commissioner Ajoy Mehta. The agile bureaucrat has taken on the mighty ‘corrupt’ in the civic system, be it people in nullah cleaning, road construction or employment scams. It is no secret that Mehta has a mandate from his political bosses in Mantralaya to set things right in the richest civic body of the country, where the Shiv Sena has been ruling the roost for more than two decades and has failed in applying its mind to resolving solid waste management.

Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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