a waste dump

Waste Management deficiencies in Maharashtra: In the wake of piling Rules & Policies

This is an intern blog.

Solid Waste Management, an important aspect of Urban Development, has often garnered attention in Maharashtra. Recently, it was reported that the Municipal Corporation of Greater Bombay or the BMC proposed the formation of a panel to act against plastic-users. This proposal came in light of the 2018 state-wide plastic ban imposed by the Maharashtra Government. Despite various such laws and policies in force in the State, waste management remains a huge concern due to gaps in law and implementation.

Governing Laws and Policies

2016 heralded a new era in environment and waste management regulation. At the Central level, the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016 (“2016 Rules”), were issued under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986. The 2016 Rules aimed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (“SDGs”) set forth by the United Nations in 2015 which India committed to implement. The 2016 Rules provide for management of plastic waste, e-waste, biomedical, hazardous, construction, and demolition waste at all levels of government, down to the Urban Local Bodies (“ULBs”) or Municipal Corporations.The 2016 Rules came as successor to the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2000.

The 2016 Rules only provide a skeletal framework for waste management. It is incumbent on State Governments to draft detailed frameworks apposite to their jurisdiction. Accordingly, the Maharashtra Government, issued the Solid Waste Management Bye-laws, 2019 (“Bye-Laws”) under the Maharashtra Municipal Corporation Act, 1949 for urban areas of the state. The 1949 Act applies to all municipal corporations for all larger urban areas except the BMC. Therefore, the Bye-Laws do not apply to the areas under the BMC and the BMC still follows the Greater Mumbai Cleanliness and Sanitation Bye-laws, 2006 issued under the Mumbai Municipal Corporation Act, 1888. Although similar in many ways, the 2019 Bye-Laws are more comprehensive as it encourages Municipal Corporations to establish complaint redressal centres and prescribes heavier fines than its 2006 counterpart. 

These are not the only laws that govern waste management in Maharashtra. Rules issued by the Central Government, for instance, Bio-Medical Waste Management Rules, 2016 apply to Maharashtra. Besides these, waste is also managed as per various policies and action plans released by the State government and its authorities from time to time. The 2021 Environment Action Plan (“Action Plan”) prepared by the Environment Department of the Maharashtra Government and the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board, provides action plans for various aspects of waste management ranging from quantification of solid waste to creating awareness among the general masses, while laying down trends for the next few years. The Solid Waste Management Department of the BMC has also issued Vision 2030, a handbook which lays down action plans in order to fulfil goals of sustainability and making Mumbai citizen-friendly by the year 2030.

Then why is Mumbai failing to effectively manage waste

Besides following an older set of rules, some of the reasons that plague Mumbai’s waste management are:

  1. Lack of effective segregation

The Action Plan notes that ULBs are practising segregation of waste at source and adequate provisions are made in Solid Waste Management Detailed Project Reports for achieving 100% segregation of waste at source. The ULBs are required to collect waste segregated in three categories – wet, dry, and hazardous waste. However, households do not segregate their waste and the waste from households is collected by the informal sector, who due to ineffective communication from the ULBs, often dump all categories of waste in a single bin. These bins are emptied into the waste collection trucks by the BMC waste collectors. Such lapses render any and all steps taken to use separate bins for different waste futile and ineffective.

  1. Informal Sector

The Maharashtra Government, in its 2021 Annual Report (“Report”) on the 2016 Rules, remarks that ULBs provide safety equipment to rag pickers but, in reality, apart from the department issued uniform and a mask, there is no other safety equipment issued to them. Even the BMC waste collectors do not have uniforms or other safety equipment. Additionally, the Report itself states that training for the staff in the solid waste management department to improve efficiency and safety standards is required.

Further, formalisation of the informal sector, a pressing matter, has been echoed long before the 2016 Rules were conceived. The 1995 report of the High-Power Committee on Solid Waste Management constituted by the Planning Commission and the Expert Group constituted by the Apex Court in 1988 called for integration of the sector into a formalised system and yet as of 2020, 87% of the ULBs did not seem to have followed through on their duty to integrate waste workers

  1. Undue Delays in Implementation

There are delays in implementing most waste management projects. For instance, the Comptroller and Auditor General (“CAG”) report on BMC observed aberrant delays for setting up a waste-to-energy plant at Deonar landfill.

  1. Petty Fines 

2016 Rules, exhort ULBs to prescribe criteria for levying fines in their bye-laws. The 2019 Bye-Laws do not prescribe any such criteria. Moreover, the minimum amounts set are so abysmal to have any deterrent effect on the violators.

  1. Plastic Waste

Plastic waste is difficult to manage. Yet, the Action Plan turns a blind eye on treatment of the plastic collected following the 2018 ban.

  1. The problem of Manual Scavenging 

As per the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Act, 2013 (“the Act”), manual scavenging is outlawed and made a punishable offence. Additionally, despite the fact that ULB departments like BMC’s Solid Waste Management Department and Sewerage Operations Department are in charge of desilting and cleaning sewers and septic tanks, manual scavenging still goes on with an increasing number of casualties as a result. Reports of casualties due to lack of gear reflect negligence on behalf of the municipal corporations. The municipal corporations, further, violated the Supreme Court Order to compensate the families.

Road Ahead

To improve waste management in the State, the following steps are suggested- 

  1. Regular monitoring of waste collection areas by ULB authorities would prove valuable to effective collection of waste. 
  2. Sensitization drives zeroing in on the domestic waste handling and the effect of non- observance on the environment must be made a focus point
  3. ULBs must involve stakeholders i.e., the residents and the locals, in planning waste management efforts to understand their perspectives. 
  4. Imposition of fines for violations to serve as future deterrent. 
  5. Ensuring compliance with the Act by having the ULBs conduct pertinent surveys for the scavengers’ rehabilitation, and to create a system to prevent their employer from retrenching instead of re-assigning them to other work. 

Shaili Dhulia is a 4th year student at Government Law College, Mumbai and was an intern with Vidhi Maharashtra.

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