How green are Kolkata’s luxury community buildings?

Kolkata's green index is in a downward spiral. But the builders, organisations and residents are waking up to the reality, and that's the hope for better future.

Green index of Kolkata is in danger more than ever before. Management of  energy to water to waste is on a southward spiral in the developing neighbourhoods.

Kolkata generates about 4000 metric tons of waste per day. Solid waste disposal is becoming a serious concern in the city since Dhapa Landfill, where most of the waste goes, is already filled to the brim.

The landfill, which was set up in 1941 and has 50-feet-tall mountains of garbage, needs serious scientific reconstruction and restructuring. Firms from abroad have been consulted to start this process but they advised stopping usage of the site to get the reconstruction done. But that has not been possible since it is the only waste disposal site in Kolkata.

Although compacting stations have been set up in places like Kalighat, Southern Avenue, Ballygunge Circular Road, Tallah, Chetla and on Samsul Huda Road and there are movable compacting trucks picking up garbage from large communities, waste disposal remains a concern in the city.

Waking up to the reality

There is also a ray of hope as the sense of responsibility is just dawning. Waste disposal in Kolkata is slowly but steadily factoring in the necessity of segregation, disposal and recycling. Kolkata Municipality Corporation (KMC) has now collaborated with the city’s builders to sensitise residents of large community housing apartments to segregate and recycle waste.

KMC has even offered tax exemption to those apartment buildings that segregate and set up composting machines within their premises. Although the exact amount of tax exemption and how it would come into force has not been laid out yet, there has been an initiative to segregate, recycle, conserve water and energy and take up green measures for healthier living.

Many luxury housing communities are showing the way forward in this direction. Vital Waste, the only company of its kind that collects waste and recycles it, has tied up with 30 housing communities in the city spanning New Town, Ballygunge and EM Bypass.

Tushar Himatsinkha, the founder and CEO of the company said, “We usually visit these housing societies once a month. As long as they put together newspapers, coke cans and plastic minus the kitchen waste we do the secondary segregation. We also pay them between Rs 9-10 per kg for newspapers and Rs 8 – 9 per kg for plastic. We prefer apartment building with around 500 flats from that usually 80 – 100 flat owners are interested in recycling.”

Some of the apartment buildings that the Vital Waste van regularly visits are South City, Urbana, South City Garden and Rosedale. “We approached the housing committees explaining how valuable resources are going down the drain and how these can be re-cycled. They came forward to join the initiative,” said Himatsinkha.

More and more people are joining the Vital Waste initiative but achieving 100 per cent community participation in any building has not been possible yet. Gaurav Dugar, Director, PS Group, says, “We provide separate collection bins in all our green projects and we are planning to extend that to all PS Group Projects. We also have garbage composter in our green projects.” M. Gupta, a member of South City Residents Association, said, “We plan to install a composting machine in our premises soon so that we can do our waste management better.”

Builders sensitise people

The builders are also sensitising the residents. Rishi Jain, Executive Director, Jain Group, said, “Segregation of waste is a bare necessity in all residential complexes these days. In fact getting colour-coded dustbins is a norm for our projects due to which segregation at the root level happens. Unfortunately we do not have the system of creating compost within the complexes. But we urge and support garbage collectors to carry separate packaging for compost and separate for plastic waste.” Debabrata Majumdar, Member, Mayor in Council (KMC’s solid waste management department) announced a tax exemption of 10 per cent recently to community buildings that take initiative to segregate and recycle waste.

“We have tied up with the developers through CREDAI to help us take this initiative. If all the big housing societies set up compost machines and segregate waste at source, much of the burden of waste disposal on KMC will be reduced,” said Majumdar, adding, “Once we see that a proper waste disposal system is in place at these societies there will be a property tax sop.”

Nandu Belani of Belani Group and Chairman of Credai’s Bengal Chapter, said, “The idea is to hand over two bins, one for kitchen waste one for recyclable material. This way it would be possible to ensure zero waste from these communities after they create compost in their own plants.” Merlin Group and Belani Group are setting up compost plants in their existing residential complexes.

Residents need to wake up

Resident apathy is a stumbling block. Despite builders making the best efforts residents of most luxury housing societies haven’t shown the enthusiasm that is necessary to bring the required change in the mindset.

A lady I spoke to residing in South City doesn’t even know about the community’s tie up with Vital Waste. She said, “I throw down kitchen waste through the chute. I sell the plastic to the kabadiwala. But there is no system of segregation of waste in our community.”

Tushar Himatsingkha of Vital waste said, “We prefer to go to large apartment communities because then among them 50-60 households are interested to segregate and recycle. If there are fewer households then sending the van and personnel does not work out financially and it’s a waste of effort and resource. But people are waking up to the possibilities of recycling now.”

A resident, who belonged to a luxury apartment owner’s association, initially said they recycle waste. When I asked how they segregate it, he said they put everything into the garbage bin and then people come and separate dry and wet waste.

M. Banerjee, a resident of Eastern High, one of the first big communities to come up in New Town said, “There is no provision for segregation in our community. But I know for a fact that newer communities like Rosedale, Elita Vista, Uniworld have such provisions.”

Kolkata should, perhaps, pay some attention to how other cities are going about it. Lady residents of Sobha Quartz, a residential complex housing around 150 apartments in Bangalore have shown the way forward by going to each home, handing over colour-coded bins and telling people about the necessity of recycling in order to create responsible waste. In Mumbai again the Zero Waste Project taken up by the Vijay Nagar Housing Society made phenomenal progress in composting and recycling thus bringing down the waste going to landfills. No such drive has been undertaken by residents in any community in Kolkata yet.

Long way to go in saving water and energy

Vinita Bajoria, who lives in a community with Pent Houses said, “I find it ridiculous that hoses are used to take water from the reservoir to water the elaborate gardens and terraces. Such a sophisticated community like ours does not have any system of recycling water.” But things are different in the new luxury projects that are coming up now. Gaurav Dugar of PS Group said, “We have Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) in all our green projects and we are also doing rainwater harvesting in our green projects.”

Rishi Jain of Jain Group said that most builders, like him, have realised the potential of rainwater harvesting and are making special provisions for the same. A big real-estate company recently shelled out Rs 30 lakhs in each project to install rainwater harvesting plants.

Eco-friendly measures

“As per Pollution Control Board requirement, all our projects with Built up area over 20,000 sqm have solar panels that generate 1% of common electricity load. This is the case with our green projects as well. Now, even KMC has made solar panels mandatory,” informed Gaurav Dugar. The WBPCB has said that it would only issue an NOC if a housing project over an area of 20,000sqm has solar panels.

All the green projects of PS Group use water-efficient fixtures, CFC free and BEE 5- star rated air-conditioners and VRV systems, light fixtures with low Lighting Power Density (LPD), LED lights, low VOC paints for occupational comfort, external paints and roof tiles with high solar reflective indices to reduce heat load, etc. “As builders we try our level best to undertake eco-friendly measures but most of the waste is generated when residents start occupying the apartments. We then try to sensitize them about the necessity of segregation, recycling and conservation of resources like electricity and water. We have been successful to a great extent,” said Rishi Jain.

Builders, KMC and even stand-alone organizations like Vital Waste are putting in the effort to ensure better waste and natural resource management. Probably a bit more initiative and awareness on the part of residents in Kolkata would bring faster change.

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