Monday, 26 December 2016

Crystallising the vision for Swatch Bharath

The lofty goals and aspirations of Swatch Bharath Abhiyaan in India are stuck in a quagmire of disoriented publicity. A profligate publicity budget alone isn’t enough to cleanse the country. While the intention and goal of the Clean India Mission are taintless, almost holy – I mean - the mission to clean the Ganges, there is an urgently felt need for policy initiatives to support the Clean India Mission.

Only one doubt nags me. The Union Minister for water resources - in-charge of Cleaning Ganges Ms. Uma Bharathi – controversial at the best of times - actually claimed in an interview to the BBC that the incumbent NDA government will be able to cleanse the Ganges before the 2019 Loksabha Elections! It smacked not just of extreme political opportunism but betrayed the blissful ignoramus that she is! Or could it be her naiive faith in an idolised and popular Prime Minister?

Alternative use for secondary waste generated from say plastics is the biggest challenge. Standardisation is needed for packaging ware for all goods and services. Protocols and standards need to be imbibed from EU standards of waste management. Use of plastics need to be reduced significantly but banning < 20 micron plastics alone is at best a feeble attempt. Execution of the ban is the proverbial proof of the pudding. We need not just alternative use for degenerate packaging ware but new standardised packaging wares, tax incentives for manufacture of alternative packaging ware, tax incentives for reuse of resources like bottles and glassware, all aimed at reducing waste generation.

Think out of the box to come up with biodegradable soluble detergents, drastically reduce toilet consumables so that incinerable wastes are reduced correspondingly… aiming @ < 5 kilos of incinerable toilet wastes per capita per annum in India alone. That’s a goal that needs universal commitment among Indians. It needs support from the bureaucracy, political class, civil society, media, citizens’ groups, industrialists, and a sustainable timeline sans political opportunism at the hustings.

Policy support is needed for reinventing uses for plastics, paper, bottles / glassware, packaging material as well as biodegradable waste… all of which need to be segregated at source. Composting plants generating mulch need buyers. Transport infrastructure, tax infrastructure, tax initiatives are all needed for effective Solid Waste Management.

Awareness in the population should not be TV apologies to politicians, rather the need of the hour are crisp Public Service Announcements that instruct people to segregate according to statutory norms. Best practices evolved in neighbourhood apartment complexes or residential colonies need to be analysed in the media through two way traffic which can be ideally supported by the Internet and social media … that enables decentralised stake holder participation in governance. It is an ideal fit for modernity. Let us put this to practise instead of just making glib New Year resolutions!

Urban planning of professional international mettle is needed … something which altruistic or parochial nationalism will undo. Urban planners must make efforts to incentivise manufacture of biodegrable detergents or soluble effluents.

Composting pits management in the neighbourhoods should be channelised and coordinated for collection as it makes life easier for the hapless pourakarmikas or street sweepers of the municipal bodies… a mandate for urban elected bodies and urban planners. Legislative support to this effect is expeditiously called for. Political will needs to be harnessed to channelise field experiences into policy initiatives that can be exemplified and scaled up.  Only then can we stop the archaic landfill approach to solid waste management.
Malini Shankar

Malini Shankar is a photojournalist, radio broadcaster, author blogger and documentary filmmaker based in Bangalore India. 

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