Civic authorities in Pune have struggled with the issue of solid waste management for years. A few years ago, the Pune Municipal Corporation had come up with the idea of satellite biomethanation plants to tackle the problem at source, and 25 such plants were set up in the city.
However, responses to RTI queries, filed by The Indian Express with the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), show that of the 25 such plants in the city, nine were found closed during inspection, while the other plants were pulled up over various issues.
Biomethanation is a process in which organic waste is converted into bio-gas. As biomethanation plants can process organic waste in a decentralised manner, these plants come in handy to control the amount of garbage that are ultimately sent to the landfill site at Urali Devachi.
On an average, Pune generates 1,300 metric tonnes of solid waste, of which 60-65 per cent is wet waste. Most of the plants can handle 5 tonnes of organic waste on a daily basis.
As part of its supervisory function, the MPCB conducts regular inspection of these facilities, during which Board officials check the overall functioning of the plants, as well as audit the plant in areas such as technology and hygiene. These plants generate biogas, so the board officials also measure the amount of biogas produced during the process.
Inspection reports filed by the MPCB show that of the 25 plants, nine were found to be non-functional during the visit of Board officials earlier this year.
The inspection reports note that there were complaints about foul odour in most of the 16 functional plants, and the total amount of biogas, produced as a by-product, was not maintained by any of them. Most of the plants had as much as five-six days of dumped waste that awaited processing, posing a health hazard for workers.
While urban planners have vouched for the process as a sustainable way to tackle the problem of organic waste, the technology has had its critics as well.
Civic activist Sheila Christian, who has been critical of biomethanation plants, pointed out that bio gas — the end product of the process — was not environment-friendly. “These plants can only work if the organic matter is segregated… a rag picker has to physically separate the organic and non-organic waste..,” she said. The activist also believes that biomethanation, as a technology, can’t be be a permanent solution for handling organic waste.
However, PMC Joint Municipal Commissioner Suresh Jagtap claimed that of the 25 plants, only six were non- functional as their tender process was going on. “All the other plants are working well,” he said. According to Jagtap, the bio-gas generated by the plants is used to to power street lights. “Bio-gas is a secondary product, we are more interested in disposal of organic waste,” he said.