Wonders of waste disposal in Kanpur

We Indians have got so used to seeing garbage spilling over from municipal dustbins at street corners and often even strewn around in open public spaces, that we accept this phenomenon as inevitable. We look the other way with what seems like futile hope that some day, someone will find a solution to our problem and rid us of this major health hazard of urban living in India.

The integrated solid waste management project in Kanpur offers hope. Located on the western bank of the Ganga, Kanpur is an important industrial city of Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India. With a population of 36 lakh (3.6 million) and a total area of 260 sq kilometres, the city is divided into 110 municipal wards. Kanpur has been home to textiles, leather, fertilisers and arms manufacturing, each with its capacity to pollute.

The state of solid waste management in Kanpur was no different from most other Indian cities until only a few years ago. Kanpur Nagar Nigam (KNN) had the responsibility for collecting, transporting and disposing of the solid waste generated in the city, estimated at about 1500 tonnes per day. There were numerous collection centres in the city, more than 400 of which were open dumps. A fleet of 132 vehicles and 3000 safai karmacharis were supposed to collect and transport the city garbage and dump it at an "authorised" site a few kilometres away from the city. This they did at an annual cost of Rs 42 crore, which has now come down to about half. Scientific disposal of the garbage was not even contemplated. The collection and transportation activity was financed out of grants from the state finance commission. A community of rag-pickers was involved in removing recyclable waste from the waste chain.

It is worth recalling that it was only in 2000 that the Government of India, exercising its powers under the Environment (Protection) Act of 1986, notified the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules. The Supreme Court played an important role in nudging the government to act in this area, which is otherwise the responsibility of the states. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) launched by the Government of India in 2005 further focused attention on the need to improve public service delivery in urban areas in general and solid waste management in particular, and provided funds to support such activity.

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