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Above: Lack of civic sense has turned our cities into open garbage dumps/Photo: Anil Shakya

State governments are hurriedly formulating policies after the Supreme Court ban on construction activity in states which had blatantly disregarded its earlier directives

~By Papia Samajdar

India’s construction industry is in a tizzy and has got everyone from real estate tycoons to bankers, cement, steel, sanitary, tiles and electrical equipment manufacturers, home buyers as well as millions of labourers worried. The reason for the anxiety in the Rs 10 lakh crore industry is a Supreme Court order banning all states and Union Territories from further construction activity until they frame a solid waste management policy.

Recently, a bench headed by Justice MB Lokur said, “In case the states have the interest of the people in mind and cleanliness and sanitation, they should frame a policy in terms of the solid waste management rules so that the states remain clean. The attitude of the states/union territories in not yet framing a policy even after two years is pathetic, to say the least.”

Reacting to the order, Geetambar Anand of Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India said: “This will have a direct implication on daily wage labourers in the industry and might negatively impact the country’s GDP.” An estimated four lakh workers are engaged in the construction industry in Mumbai alone.

Niranjan Hiranandani, president, National Real Estate Development Council, was of the opinion that the state administrations should have been penalised and the stay should have been limited to new construction projects. The order is a setback for the realty sector which has been struggling for the past few years. Projects worth Rs 4,64,300 crore are already behind schedule and would be further delayed due to the order.

“Blaming one particular sector is not the solution for a developing economy. The major focus here is on policy and its implementation whose status is lax as of now. It’s been two years and four months since the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, were notified. However, approximately two-thirds of the states still do not have a policy framework in place. This is an alarming condition,” said Swati S Sambyal, programme manager, Environmental Governance and Waste Management, at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE).

Following the ban, many states are hurriedly putting together policies in line with the Court directives and indications are that the ban will be gradually lifted in all states. According to Bharati Chaturvedi, founder and director of Delhi-based NGO Chintan which works on environmental justice, “Putting legal pressure on states and construction industry to make a plan for waste would only lead to hastily made plans.” She adds: “Construction and demolition (C&D) waste is a huge problem, and adds significantly to air, water and soil pollution. The construction industry, if it meets all the norms including Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) etc, should be held accountable for the urban challenge it creates.”

It was on August 31, 2018 that the Supreme Court stayed further construction activities in all states and Union Territories that had failed to formulate solid waste management policies in compliance with the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016. The order was issued in response to a case filed in 2016 on the inaction of the Delhi government and municipal authorities regarding adequate waste management efforts to curb mosquito breeding.

The PIL was filed by a Delhi-based doctor Anil Mittal, seeking court intervention to direct the centre and the Delhi government to provide better and timely medical facilities and proper garbage disposal.

The Court converted the PIL into a suo motu matter, taking cognisance of a case where the parents committed suicide after their child died of dengue in 2015. That was the year Delhi reported a whopping 15,867 cases of dengue. There was public uproar when seven-year-old Avinash Rout died after five hospitals turned him away due to lack of space. Avinash was finally admitted into Batra Hospital in a critical condition and succumbed to the disease. His parents committed suicide the next day.

Before the latest ban order, the apex court had on July 10, 2018, levied a fine of Rs 1 lakh each on Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Kerala, Meghalaya, Punjab, West Bengal, Lakshadweep and Puducherry, who were represented in the Court. The remaining defaulting states and Union Territories which were not represented were slapped a fine of Rs 2 lakh.

Last week, the top court slapped further fines of Rs 3 lakh on Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chandigarh, and Rs 5 lakh on Andhra Pradesh for not following the order of July 10, 2018. Not only had these states not formulated a policy on waste management, they were not even represented at the Court hearing.

The fines may not have amounted to much, but the blanket ban is a sign of the bench being irked by the callous attitude of the states in failing to formulate policies in compliance with a central law—Solid Waste Ma­nage­ment Rules (SWM Rules), 2016. By handing out the extreme punishment, the bench was clearly showing its frustration at the impunity with which states have violated its orders.

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MOEF) had notified the updated SWM Rules on April 8, 2016. The SWM Rules deal with management of municipal solid waste generated, segregating it from other kinds of wastes. Different rules for management of plastic waste, construction and demolition waste, bio-medical waste, hazardous waste and e-waste were earlier notified under the Environment Protection Act, 1986.

The SWM Rules provide for waste segregation at source, generator fee, and fines for people who burn, litter or bury solid waste generated on streets, or public spaces outside their premises. A central monitoring committee under the chairmanship of Secretary, MoEF, has been constituted to monitor the overall implementation of the rules. The Ministry of Urban Development is tasked with working with states and Union Territories in formulation of the state policy and strategy on solid management based on the national solid waste management policy and national urban sanitation policy.

However, the rules do not have any strict implementation policies. There is no penalisation clause on failure by the states to formulate policies according to the SWM Rules.

According to a 2014 report by a Planning Commission committee headed by Dr K Kasturirangan, India produces 62 million tonnes of municipal solid waste (MSW) per year. According to another report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) in 2016, urban India produces 52 million tonnes of MSW each year. A 2012 study by Columbia University pegged the per capita MSW generation per day to be around .74 kg/per person per day and a survey conducted by CSE in 2014-15 showed an average MSW generation of 300-600 gm per capita per day.

In 2011, CSE quoted a CPCB report titled, “Not In My Backyard” to say that metro cities are the biggest waste generators—Delhi: 6,800 tonnes per day (tpd) Mumbai: 6,500 tpd, Chennai: 4,500 tpd, Hyderabad: 4,200 tpd, and Kolkata: 3,670 tpd.

The Manual on Solid Waste Management, 2000, issued by the Central Public Health & Environmental Engineering Organization, says that the percentage of total C&D waste generated is 10-12 percent of the total MSW generated. And a 2016 report by the MoEF says that while 43 million tonnes of MSW are collected per annum, 11.9 million TPA are treated and 31 million TPA dumped in landfill sites. This means that only about 75-80 percent of the municipal waste gets collected and only 22-28 percent of this waste is processed and treated.

Improper waste disposal has a huge environmental and public health impact. Open dumps release methane from decomposition of biodegradable waste leading to fires and explosions. Discarded recyclable materials such as tyres collect water which is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Leeching of untreated garbage leads to groundwater and river pollution with magnified health impact. Lack of proper waste disposal leads to increased incidences of infections, allergies, inflammations and health epidemics. Unscientifically dumped C&D waste can also clog rivers leading to floods.

In 2015, a PIL was filed in the Delhi High Court on the inaction of the East Delhi municipal corporations in effective removal of garbage leading to health implications in the area. Two years later, the High Court in its judgment recommended the formation of an expert committee to form and implement a long-term action plan regarding collection, removal and disposal of all the waste in Delhi. The Court accepted the recommendations presented by the committee headed by Sanjeev Jain, Member Secretary, Delhi State Legal Services Authority, on August 2, 2017. The draft bylaws for solid waste management for Delhi were also presented to the Court which were finally notified on January 15, 2018 by the state government under the Environmental Protection Act.

Six months down the line, little has changed in Delhi’s waste management systems. “Municipal corporations could have ensured that the details of the bylaws are widely disseminated to educate people about their responsibilities. At the same time, corporations could have created efficient systems to support end-to-end segregation, processing and appropriate disposal of solid waste. But till date, a layman in Delhi does not know about these bylaws and that households have to pay fines if they do not segregate,” said Ms Sambyal. “Work needs to be done to strengthen capacities and have systems in place—both in terms of policy and implementation of the SWM Rules,” she added.

Sustainable solutions for effective waste management can only be achieved with proper implementation, efficient systems, public awareness and industry incentives. Harsh as it may seem, the Supreme Court’s order banning construction activity is seen by many residents and activists as a necessary move.

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