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Biomedical waste facilities a red flag in coronavirus fight

There were 154 CBMWTFs in 17 states and Union Territories, according to affidavits filed by their chief secretaries at the National Green Tribunal (NGT) between January and July last year. These states and UTs, including Delhi, account for over 7,000 coronavirus cases now.

Written by Apurva Vishwanath , Karishma Mehrotra |
April 19, 2020 2:56:12 am
coronavirus, COVID-19, coronavirus Delhi, Delhi coronavirus cases, coronavirus cases in Delhi, COVID cases in Delhi, Delhi COVID cases, Delhi news, city news, Indian Express Children in masks during a magic performance at a shelter in New Delhi on Thursday. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

IN ITS guidelines, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has marked Common Bio-Medical Waste Treatment Facilities (CBWTFs) as a key factor in the race to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

But the last available countrywide update on these facilities from 10 months ago presents a grim picture.

There were 154 CBMWTFs in 17 states and Union Territories, according to affidavits filed by their chief secretaries at the National Green Tribunal (NGT) between January and July last year. These states and UTs, including Delhi, account for over 7,000 coronavirus cases now.

To place that figure in perspective, consider what a Parliament report on urban development tabled in February 2019 said: “Currently, in India, there are around 200 Common Bio-Medical Waste Treatment Facilities (CBMWTFs) in operation which is inadequate for health facilities in 750 districts of the country. There is a great need for rapid development of more CBMWTFs to fulfill the need of treatment and disposal of all BMW generated in India.”

The affidavits also show that five states and UTs reported no CBMWTF, including Andhra Pradesh and Punjab which account for over 750 cases now; 13 states and UTs, including Maharashtra (3,205 cases), did not submit any data; and, of the 154, the facility in Goa was “dysfunctional”.

The pollution control board estimates that there are over 1.87 lakh healthcare facilities in the country with 17.01 lakh beds that generate about 519 tonnes of bio-medical waste every day.

On Friday, Health Ministry Joint Secretary Lav Agarwal said there are currently 1,919 hospitals, and more than 1,73,000 isolation and 21,000 ICU beds, earmarked for COVID-19.
On March 18, highlighting the importance of CBWTFs, the board directed such facilities to dispose of COVID-19-related waste “immediately upon receipt” and if required by operating “for extra hours”.

The CPCB also issued detailed guidelines on handling, treatment and disposal of waste generated during treatment, diagnosis and quarantine of COVID-19 patients. “Isolation wards, sample collection centers, and laboratories are all mandated to keep a separate ‘COVID-19’ waste collection bin in a temporary storage room. CBWTFs are to identify this separately-labeled waste for priority treatment and disposal,” it said.

The Parliament standing committee report had pointed out last year that a majority of biowaste is handled by “captive treatment and disposal facilities”, not common facilities.

According to 2016 bio-medical waste guidelines, healthcare facilities must install captive facilities with incinerators and shredders, etc., if common facilities are not available nearby.

There are 11,712 captive facilities treating 93 per cent of the total waste generated, the committee’s report said. Fifteen states reported a total of 6,314 such facilities to the NGT.

The Tribunal had sought status reports on solid waste management, including bio-medical waste, from states and directed top bureaucrats to appear personally and ensure compliance of statutory rules and previous Supreme Court orders.

The NGT noted that even though 20 years had passed since the Supreme Court issued directions on dealing with solid waste management, no progress was made by states and that timelines set under the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2016, had expired.

The 17 states and UTs with 154 facilities are Andaman and Nicobar, Sikkim, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chandigarh, Goa, Meghalaya, Manipur and Mizoram.

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