Every day, Indian cities generate about 1,50,000 metric tonnes of solid waste. Mumbai, the space-starved commercial capital of the country, alone generates about 9,400 metric tonnes of waste. That’s a big number.
On Sunday, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, however, dared to take the ‘zero waste challenge’ for Mumbai and the rest of the municipalities in the state. At a government function in Mumbai’s Worli, the CM announced that Maharashtra’s cities would turn into zero waste regions within the next two years.
According to information, Fadnavis has set a September 17, 2019 — Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s birthday — deadline for all 384 municipalities in the state to achieve the challenge. While the plan is seemingly ambitious, the CM indicated on Sunday that he had a plan in place. “All cities will process waste scientifically within the next two years,” he said.
This basically signals an overhaul of waste disposal methods. Traditionally, municipalities are used to locating landfills or marshy lands on their outskirts to dump municipal waste. But the rapid pace of urbanisation has meant that locating such sites was proving to be a challenge and a health hazard too.
Now, the Fadnavis government has adopted the “waste processing” plan, shifting the focus of treatment of waste. The chief minister on Sunday spoke of plans for setting up of solid waste processing plants, waste water treatment facilities, and sewage treatment plants across cities for waste treatment. But given the mammoth quantities of waste involved, senior government sources admitted that the state had its task cut out. The state government has been incentivising plans of municipalities to set up such treatment plants.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Fadnavis also declared urban Maharashtra as open defecation free (ODF). This means the government now claims that all 384 municipalities in the state have stopped witnessing any open defecation. Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, the Centre had set October 2, 2017, as the deadline for cities to turn ODF. President Ram Nath Kovind presided over the function at the National Sports Complex of India in Worli where the chief minister made the announcement. First Lady Savita Kovind also shared the dais at the government event.
Fadnavis, however, did not flaunt the status, spelling out a rider instead. “The declaration that urban Maharashtra is ODF is just the first step. It tells you that adequate toilets — whether individual, public, or community — have been built to cover the entire urban population. But we will not be truly open-defecation free till we bring out a change in the societal behaviour. Our responsibilities have grown,” he said.
Sources said the rider was incorporated since the government was wary that the sight of people continuing to defecate in the open in certain centres, especially the financial capital, could be used to question the grand announcement. The state government will now run an OD watch campaign over the next six months to ensure that cities do not slip back. “We have formed Good Morning and Good Evening squads in each municipal area who will monitor chronic open defecation spots. Stunts like blowing a whistle if someone is found defecating in the open will be used to discourage such behaviour,” added Fadnavis.
Maharashtra’s Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde, who was also present on the dais, said 88 per cent of rural households in Maharashtra had built toilets. “We are on track to also make rural Maharashtra ODF by March 2018,” she announced.
President Kovind, meanwhile, applauded how women were driving the Swachh Bharat Mission. “Meeting the mission’s target will be the real tribute to Mahatma Gandhi,” he said. Counting lack of upkeep of public toilets as a grey area, the President asked authorities to spread the word on keeping such toilets clean after use as well. “The sustainability of the initiative would be crucial,” he said.