Gurugram’s garbage woes pile up

Sumedha Sharma

Gurugram or millennium city, as it is often called, urgently needs to address the challenges that rapid urbanisation has thrown up. 

Amongst various issues specific to cosmopolitan cities, the garbage problem or poor waste management in Gurugram city has left both residents and the civic authorities worried. 

The Gurugram civic authorities are struggling on all fronts whether it is door-to-door collection of garbage, its segregation, treatment or disposal. Over 20 lakh city residents blame the serious situation on the alleged indifference of the Municipal Corporation Gurugram (MCG).

Gurugram produces around 1,500 metric tonnes of waste every day — 900 metric tonnes of municipal or domestic waste and around 600 metric tonnes of construction or demolition waste.  Though the waste has doubled in the last 10 years, the Gurugram civic authorities could not work out a perfect  strategy for waste disposal or treatment that has become one of its biggest problems today. Gurugram city has so far followed a centralised approach to waste management. About over 90 per cent of the waste in the mixed form goes to the landfill at Bandhwari. Since the treatment plant at Bandhwari has been dysfunctional, the waste pile has become a health hazard and management problem.

In August 2017, Ecogreen Energy, a Chinese solid waste management agency, was hired, but within months waste management in Gurugram city went for a toss with residents, municipal councillors and even local MP Rao Inderjeet Singh opposing it. The firm has been given the contract till 2039 through a global tender. In order to generate energy from waste, a plant will be set up under the project, which will generate at least 100 MW every day.

The MCG claims that things have started looking up in the last two months, but it still has miles to go in following the parameters of waste management.

Door-to-door waste collection

The mechanism of waste collection has been irregular and faulty and even absent during most of the year in majority of the areas in Gurugram. 

According to sources, over 55 per cent of the complaints received by the MCG till October 2018 pertained to garbage collection. Garbage was either not being lifted or was collected after a day or two in many areas of Gurugram city. Residents complained that newly introduced trucks skipped lanes, and houses and even refused to lift garbage. There was also rampant irregularity in the timings of these collection vehicles as while on some days they would make rounds in the afternoon in many areas, on other days they arrived around 5 am. With no option left, people chose to either overload already brimming community dustbins or dump garbage in the open. Many green belts too have transformed into garbage mounds.

Defunct treatment plant

Owing to ongoing centralised waste management, garbage segregation is still an alien concept in Gurugram. Leave aside ‘at source segregation’ of garbage being undertaken in metropolitan cities such as Bengaluru and Pune, in Gurugram garbage is lifted and dumped at the Bandhwari plant, which has been lying defunct since 2013 after a fire incident.

Ills of rampant urbanisation

The only solid waste treatment plant of Gurugram was set up in 2007 and it started operations in 2008. It was to address the problem of mounting solid waste due to rapid urbanisation of Gurugram and Faridabad. However, the unit shut down after a fire incident in 2013. Though the plant has remained defunct, the landfill till date receives on an average 1,200 metric tonnes of garbage every day from both Gurugram and Faridabad. It is now becoming the biggest garbage mount of the National Capital Region (NCR). Even though the Haryana Government has promised to revive the defunct Bandhwari waste treatment plant by June 2019 and Ecogreen Energy has an ambitious plan to produce power from waste, residents of nearby villages have lost all hopes and the mounting garbage is affecting their health adversely. Residents of Bandhwari, Pali, Mangar and Gwal Pahari villages held protests demanding shifting of the plant, citing health concerns and contamination of water resources, as proved by many state and central surveys, but nothing happened. Today, nobody wants to marry his daughter into Bhandwari, which is known as the village of bachelors. Similarly, other villagers call themselves residents of cancer villages, as the disease is most common there.

Construction, demolition waste

The is probably the latest but most difficult aspect of waste management in Gurugram city. In the absence of a proper mechanism, construction and demolition waste is being dumped on roads, in green belts and the Aravalli hills, causing a permanent ecological damage. According to various official surveys, at any given point of time, constructions are going on at over 3,000 sites across Gurugram city. Though there are set norms to impose penalties for careless disposal of construction and demolition waste, these are not being enforced and debris lying in the open is the most common sight in Gurugram today.

Decentralisation   

Though not a rocket science, it surely took the Gurugram civic authorities decades to realise that the current centralised waste management system suffers from several drawbacks. Firstly, it does not distinguish between different needs of various neighbourhoods in Gurugram city and is capital and land intensive. Centralised arrangements have a minimal scope for community-based participation, social entrepreneurship, livelihood generation, and fostering innovation.

The MCG has thus started adopting decentralisation of waste treatment, taking a cue from Pune and Bengaluru.

Contractor fined 

On December 27 last year, the MCG imposed a penalty of about Rs 6.38 crore on Ecogreen Energy, the Chinese firm it has hired to look after waste management in the city, for non-performance. The corporation, while imposing the penalty, claimed that it had served 43 notices on the firm between November 2017 and August 2018. The firm has been imposed a fine of Rs 6.33 crore for not carrying out door-to-door garbage collection. A separate fine of Rs 4.82 lakh has also been imposed for not emptying dustbins regularly, not transporting garbage in uncovered vehicles, not displaying the MCG’s logo in an appropriate size, transfer stations lying inoperative, poor response of the call centre, and not issuing appropriate advertisements. The penalty was imposed after the MCG carried out a survey in all four zones in September last year. The survey report revealed that door-to-door garbage collection was being carried out in only 35.78 per cent of households, covering 35 MCG wards. Of the total 379,595 household units in the MCG area, waste was not collected from the doorsteps of 243,776 houses though the contract with Ecogreen stipulated that it would cover 100 per cent households.

In September 2018, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had imposed a heavy penalty on the firm for not managing waste properly at the Bandhwari plant. It was fined Rs 2.5 lakh for not following its directions for proper waste segregation and treatment at Bandhwari.

“While garbage is collected from urban areas after at least two days, in villages like ours nobody comes to lift garbage for weeks, leading to littering in public places. In fact. people from urban areas have started dumping garbage in villages. There is no provision of dealing with construction and demolition waste and mounds of debris can be seen in streets of all villages. We have to pay a huge amount to get it cleared,” says Vijay Sharma, a   villager.

Green waste

While things are a bit better in terms of door-to-door garbage collection in our area, we are facing major issues with regard to construction and demolition waste and green waste. There is no mechanism to dispose of debris, which lies around roads and in green belts. Initially, a tractor would come regularly to collect garbage, but now despite many calls nobody comes and in the absence of a designated dumping place, garbage is scattered all around. Similar is the case with green waste generated after the pruning of gardens or trees by the civic agencies. —Sushma Gehlot, President of Residents Welfare Association of Sector 17

Encouraging community participation

Garbage was the biggest headache for residents and municipal councillors for almost a year. We had to contact officials and the contractor to ensure that garbage was collected, and littered public places were cleared. Now, we are working to get the best waste treatment solutions. Though garbage collection has improved a bit, the larger question of what to do with waste created by unchecked urbanisation still remains unanswered. We are encouraging community participation and all councillors are working towards it. —Madhu Azad, Mayor

Streamlining waste management

Yes, there have been some major issues with waste treatment but things have started looking up since November last year. The issue is our top priority and we are moving towards decentralisation, which is surely an answer to a majority of our problems. Ecogreen Energy was in the line of fire but now after a major reshuffle and a change in the working style, things have started to look up. We see March 2019 as the deadline by which waste management will be streamlined and we will be able to resolve most of the issues. —Yashpal Yadav, MCG Commissioner 

A ray of hope

  • Facing a catastrophe-like situation, the MCG has taken following measures, which, if all goes well, may solve many issues this year. 
  • Mandating segregation of garbage at source by bulk waste producers such as housing societies or hospitals and composting of 50 per cent of waste. 
  • Collaboration with around 500 local rag-pickers for collection, segregation and recycling of garbage. This shall on the one hand generate employment, and on the other help in dealing with staff shortage and ensure community involvement in waste management.
  • Composting units have been set up on a trial basis in around 25 condominiums and Gurugram city is getting a cheap and easy composting technique to allow locals to deal with their garbage. The MCG plans to purchase compost to maintain public greens. As plastic bags are the biggest challenge, the Gurugram authorities are buying it from local residents and vendors and have started using it in building roads. One such road has been constructed on a trial basis. 
  • Making arrangements for lifting of construction and demolition waste on call and its transportation to the treatment site. 
  • A plan to set up a recycling unit and deploy mobile crushers for construction and demolition waste.