Are we really keen on making Himachal ‘garbage-free’?

Rajesh Kumar

The objective of making India free from the scourge of solid garbage by 2019 — as was envisaged by the ruling dispensation at the Centre when it came to power in 2014 — to coincide with the birth anniversary of the Father of Nation, seems distant today given the tardy progress made in the direction.

Reasons are not far to seek. Perhaps because in the euphoria that other politically ambitious projects such as the creation of ‘smart cities’ or making India ODF or for that matter ‘cleaning the Ganges’ generated, the ‘idea of  general cleanliness’ got lost somewhere in the melee. Perhaps because our policy formulators failed to envision that with garbage strewn around recklessly in its by-lanes or dumped in household backyards, will it be discernible to call our future ‘smart cities’ righteously ‘smart’? 

Despicable situation in rural areas

Technically speaking, before embarking on such big projects, a national-level holistic policy for ‘solid-waste management’ should have been put in place before hand. Had a miniscule proportion of big budgetary allocations earmarked for them been spared specifically for setting up ‘waste to energy’ plants on pan-India basis, the ground situation on garbage management front would not have been as despicable as it exists today particularly in rural areas. Himachal is no exception. Urban areas in the state where MCs are actively lifting garbage generated daily in their respective jurisdictions, are relatively better off in contrast to rural areas, which are devoid of any such mechanism in the wake of lack of initiatives on the part of panchayats barring a few. In a nutshell, we – the denizens of the state and the administration – both are found equally wanting in the task. Graciousness demands that in all humility we must own up our shortcomings most benignly.

‘Cleanliness must begin from our homes’

Owing to our inane concerns towards mother nature, we have stooped so low in our conduct today that just to keep our homes immaculately clean, we are blatantly defiling her lap by turning our backyards into literal garbage dumping grounds – an idea antagonistic to Mahatma Gandhi’s prophecy that emphasises ‘cleanliness must begin from our homes’. If he could clean his toilet all by himself, will it lower our prestige if we carried our household waste all by ourselves right up to the garbage bin?  

Administration to blame

Equally at fault is the administration, which instead of putting in place a complete ‘waste management programme’ on pan-Himachal basis, is relying solely on its traditional modus operandi of garbage disposal – dumping it on hill slopes or near river banks outside the towns. What individual households are doing on a smaller sale is being done by administrative machinery, albeit, on a larger scale with no marked difference in the nature of activity except for the quantum. Garbage dumped outside the towns is no different from one being dumped in our backyards – both left blatantly at the mercy of nature, which must come to her own rescue and clean her defiled lap all by herself during the monsoon, whose bounty in the form of natural rivers and streams provides the most dependable drainage systems in place to flush out all our sins – a natural phenomenon more reliable than any visible government effort in the direction.

Lackadaisical approach

Government’s latest move whereby it has installed ‘green’ and ‘blue’ garbage bins along the roadsides, is the most cursory treatment that could ever be expected of it in the regard and bears a live testimony of its lackadaisical attitude towards the cause of maintaining ‘swachhata’ in rural areas. Garbage spilling over from overfilled bins is only inviting stray animals for an open feast. Sadly, such cursory exercises are not going to take us anywhere. The overall situation on the front is still at status quo. Nor will it ever change unless exemplary political will is exhibited by state leadership, which is, however, waning. The initial ado and enthusiasm towards the task which our super-charged broom wielding political bigwigs and their minions exhibited in full camera glare till some time back seem to be vanishing into thin air.  

Bias between Shimla and rest of Himachal

What is more regrettable in the regard is an unflinching political bias between Shimla and rest of Himachal exercised by successive governments. Being the state capital, Shimla has seemingly been privileged with a ‘waste to energy’ plant exclusively for managing only its own garbage generated daily, however, other big towns in the state have not been as fortunate. Proposed ‘waste to energy’ plants in the state, which are in the pipeline, may make some headway in the direction once operational, but till they don’t, rural areas falling under panchayats will continue to be the victims of step-motherly treatment vis-à-vis the ‘state capital’, undoubtedly. 

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