CAG audit of urban waste management in Odisha finds not a single sanitary landfill

Out of 114 Urban Local Bodies that should follow SWM Rules in the state, the CAG audit selected 21. Waste dumping was rampant in all of them.

On December 2nd, a performance audit report by the CAG of India on Solid Waste Management by Urban Local Bodies in Odisha got tabled in the state assembly. This CAG audit covered the five year period (April 2015 to March 2020) and was conducted with the objective to assess whether the planning of waste management in ULBs were effective, efficient and economic.

The period under review is of interest to all the researchers concerned with the compliance of Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, as Odisha state has been facing a legal battle with regard to compliance at National Green Tribunal, Principal Bench, New Delhi since 20th August 2018. The latest hearing in this ongoing case took place on December 22, 2022 and the case has been listed for next hearing on January 19, 2023.  

The performance review undertook a monitoring and evaluation of the waste management system, including adequacy of awareness creation, citizen engagement for effecting behavioural change, complaint, redressal mechanism for citizens, assessment of environmental impacts. It also assessed whether the internal control and monitoring mechanism was adequate and effective.

Out of 114 Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) responsible for implementation of the SWM Rules 2016 in the state, CAG auditors selected 21 ULBs consisting of 5 Corporations, 10 Municipalities and 6 Notified Area Councils, along with 2 smart cities in Odisha, namely Bhubaneswar and Rourkela. 

Read more: Govt of India follows Karnataka; mandates divide and rule for managing garbage

Absence of state policy for Integrated Solid Waste Management

The Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 (notified on April 8, 2016) stipulates that every state government should prepare a state level policy and strategy for Integrated Solid Waste Management within one year of notifying these rules. Audit scrutiny however found that Odisha’s Housing and Urban Development Department had not notified any state policy for integrated Solid Waste Management as of February 2022. 

In the absence of a state policy, no long term or short term management, nor any action plan, could be developed in the state. The waste generated was merely disposed of in landfill sites without any processing by the ULBs as of March 2020. In a very indicting comment, CAG auditors pronounced that “There was no sanitary landfill in the State and dumping of solid waste is being done in open areas”.

Replying to this criticism in the CAG audit report, the department stated (in April 2022) that the Odisha Urban Sanitation Policy and Odisha Urban Sanitation Strategy were notified in 2017, which also covered Municipal Solid Waste Management. CAG auditors took this reply on record and countered by stressing that “The fact, however, remained that no integrated/ exclusive State policy and strategy for Solid Waste Management have been framed”.

Missing: MCCs and MRFs

In July 2019, the Odisha government had issued a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for creation of Micro Composting Centres and Material Recovery Facilities for decentralised management of Solid Waste in the state. Micro composting centres (MCCs) would receive the segregated biodegradable waste from generators at a local level and convert it to compost. Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs) would sub-segregate the collected dry waste from a designated area and decide on further processing and recycling channels.

The Odisha Government once again issued an updated and revised SOP for creation of Micro Composting Centres and Material Recovery Facilities (also called Wealth Centres in local parlance) in December 2020.

The idea of Micro Composting Centres and Material Recovery Facilities holds significant potential to improve the lives of sanitation workers, organised under Self Help Groups who manage these facilities. The monthly newsletter of the Urban Sanitation division of the Housing and Urban Development Department presents some inspiring stories. However, the CAG audit has pointed out that the establishment of these MCCs and MRFs needs to pick up pace, since Odisha faced a shortfall as on March 2021.

CAG audit scrutiny found that out of the proposed 271 Micro Composting Centres and 173 Material Recovery Facilities to be constructed in 114 Urban Local Bodies, as of March 2021, 165 Micro Composting Centres and 140 Material Recovery Facilities were constructed. Citing annual reports of Odisha State Pollution Control Board (OSPCB) during the period 2015 to 2020, auditors argued that none of the ULB in Odisha have a sanitary landfill site for disposal of solid waste. 

Based on their observations during Joint Physical Verification, CAG auditors also pointed out that sampled ULBs disposed solid waste on road sides of highways, river banks and in open areas. 

However, in its reply to this audit observation (May 2022), the state government contended that all ULBs had established MCC and MRF wherein the waste were processed/ disposed of. Audit report found this reply unsatisfactory and stressed that “MCCs/ MRFs were not operational in test checked ULBs as of March 2020”.  

Absence of surveys on waste generation by ULBs

Short term or long term action plans were not prepared by ULBs and in absence of such planning exercise, planning and selection of infrastructural intervention on Solid Waste Management in ULBs were, to a large extent, driven by perceived availability of funds, rather than a robust need-based analysis.

Read more: Opinion: Why cities find it difficult to replicate Indore’s waste processing model

The SOP (July 2019) had stipulated in unambiguous words that “..for assessment of design capacity for Micro Composting Centres, ULBs are required to conduct quantification of waste through sample surveys for a duration of ten days by selecting a few households in each ward which are representative in nature”.

As per the SOP, a Micro Composting Centre with a capacity of handling 1.5 Tonne Per Day waste is required to be established to process waste generated from a population of 10000, that is about 2200 households. Appendix VII on page 91 of the report shows Design Capacity Requirement and Provided for at Micro Composting Centres in test-checked ULBs.

Test-checked ULBs had not conducted any survey on waste generation during the period 2015-20 but had adopted per capita estimates that had a low level of reliability. The lack of a survey for arriving at the quantum and type of waste generated by various sections of society has seriously impacted proper planning and strategy selection and implementation of SWM.

In the absence of a waste minimisation strategy from the Odisha government, the ULBs did not take up any initiatives to promote activities to minimise waste during 2015-20.

Segregation of waste

CAG audit scrutiny found that segregation at source was limited in 21 test-checked ULBs. Also, the state government’s failure to notify domestic hazardous waste had led to dumping of mixed waste in landfills. Audit found that test-checked ULBs were operating waste disposal facilities without valid authorisation from the State Pollution Control Board and the necessary environment clearances.

Absence of proper segregation of waste led to mixing of solid waste with plastic waste, bio-medical waste, e-waste and slaughterhouse waste. Auditors pointed out that this could possibly lead to toxic waste residues seeping underground and contaminating ground water in addition to air and soil pollution. Mismanagement of plastic waste was leading to deaths of cattle due to its consumption.

2019 photograph of Wet and Dry separate dustbins placed at a bus stop in Shastrinagar SAIL office bus stop, Bhubaneswar, India
Separate dustbins for wet and dry waste may be spotted in some areas in Bhubaneswar, but CAG auditors pointed out that sampled ULBs disposed of solid waste largely on road sides of highways, river banks and in open areas.. Pic: Soumendra Kumar Sahoo/CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

During joint survey and site visits to landfills by Audit and ULB officials, it was found that in 11 ULBs (Bhadrak, Baripada, Chandbali, Choudwar, Rayagada, Chhatrapur, Baragarh, Bolangir, Nuapada, Jeypore and Ranapur) habitations were within 200 metres from landfills and within 500 metres of buffer zones in the case of four ULBs (Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation, Cuttack Municipal Corporation, Rourkela Municipal Corporation and Puri).

Audit also found landfills in five ULBs (Bhubaneswar, Rourkela, Jeypore, Jharusuguda and Sundargarh) within the distance of 20 kms from airport/airbase. During Joint Site Verification exercise, it was reported by the inhabitants residing near the landfills that their health condition has deteriorated.

Absence of local area specific committees on SWM

Requisite committees were formed only at the state level in compliance with SWM Rules 2016, but audit scrutiny found that local area specific committees were not formed at District and ULB level in any of the test-checked districts, leading to poor support for effective implementation of Solid Waste Management plans. There was shortage of manpower in all cadres especially in posts of Environment Engineers (25%), Health Inspectors (20%) and sweepers (20%) who are directly accountable for management of waste.

Such a comprehensive performance audit exercise which could have paved the way for course correction suffered due to the lackadaisical attitude of implementing authorities and officers in responding to Audit queries. Most of the replies received by auditors were mere assurances that the view of the report would be considered in the future.

Will this comprehensive performance review of Solid Waste Management by Urban Local Bodies in Odisha lead to citizen groups taking up the issue and pushing the authorities for effecting course correction?

Will Urban Local Bodies and Housing and Urban Development Department pay attention to the series of recommendations that CAG auditors have issued at the end of this performance review? These are some questions that readers are left with and will require sustained follow-up and tracking.

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