Friday, September 22, 2023

Waste land

No one ever mistook effective management of waste for an easy task. Across the country, it is turning out to be a monumental challenge. Periodically, we come across reports and assessments that serve as grim reminders of the enormity of the task as well as the associated hurdles in disposing of the waste generated and accumulated annually. These publications have occasionally been complemented by news about penalties imposed for environmental violations. Nagaland Government has found itself at the receiving of such orders on at least two occasions in the past 8 months alone. In November last year, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ~ the statutory body that deals with environmental cases in the county ~ levied an environmental compensation of Rs 200 crore on Nagaland for not managing the State’s solid and liquid waste “in violation of the mandate of law”. Two months later, in February this year, the Eastern Zone Bench of NGT ordered the Nagaland Government to relocate within 1 year the present garbage dumpsite site near Sunrise Colony in Burma Camp, Dimapur. This was after Sunrise Colony Council filed an application alleging that Dimapur Municipal Council was dumping solid waste and other wastes at the dumpsite near the Colony in complete violation of the Solid Waste Management Rules of 2016. These are, by all means, sobering reprimands. And by now the State Government ought to have released data on the condition of the waste disposal mechanism in Nagaland, especially those pertaining to its urban centres. At the risk of understating, the need to increase and modernise the State’s waste treatment system is an imperative. The findings contained in the latest report of ‘The State of India’s Environment 2023’ ~ jointly released by the Centre for Science and Environment CSE and Down to Earth ~ are embarrassing reflections of our Government’s failure to tackle the problem of waste in Nagaland. Under the Swachh Bharat Mission 2.0, all Urban Local Bodies are required to complete the remediation of existing dumpsites or legacy waste by 2023 (for cities with less than 1 million population) and by 2024 (for cities with more than 1 million population) in compliance with environmentally sustainable methods. There are 11 States/Union Territories in the country that are yet to even start this process, and Nagaland is among them. Legacy waste refers to old municipal solid waste in landfills or dumpsites. It is a mix of partially or completely decomposed biodegradable waste, plastic waste, textiles, metals, glass and other components. According to the report, India generated 160,039 tonnes of municipal solid waste per day in 2020-21. Out of this pile, 50,655 tonnes or 32% remained unaccounted for. This unaccounted waste usually ends up choking city drains or getting burned illegally. Again, Nagaland was among the 10 States with the highest unaccounted municipal waste in the country. Municipal solid waste is the residue or rubbish generated from households and commercial activities from municipalities. It excludes wastes generated from hospitals, industries and electrical and electronic wastes. If left untreated, it aids in the spread of vector-borne diseases and causes air, soil and water pollution. Ultimately, our rivers end up bearing the consequences of this poisoning. In 2022, the NITI Ayog reported that 72% of urban sewage in India is left untreated in freshwater bodies. But it has been suggested that disproportionate emphasis on revamping sewage facilities has overshadowed opportunities of improving the quality of the river water holistically. Thus, sewage treatment must be accompanied by other remedial measures. These may include mechanised segregation of waste, building more onsite treatment facilities, such as off-grid toilets and decentralised treatment plants, as well as increasing the number of monitoring stations. Moreover, effluents discharged into rivers are just one aspect of the challenge. Urban waste management ~ landfills are toxic wastelands that threaten public life ~ still remains in its infancy in Nagaland. Unfortunately, from the looks of it, our Government is in no mood to alter that status. Stricter penalties and regular audits of waste management policies may have a mitigative effect.