Will NGT crackdown force Lucknow civic body to sort out its waste mess?

An NGT-appointed committee has recommended fines of Rs 5 crore and Rs 2 crore respectively on the Lucknow Municipal Corporation and its chosen private partner in solid waste management, Eco Green. Here's why.

On the face of it all, the Lucknow Municipal Corporation (LMC) could not care less, even though the city is union defence minister Rajnath Singh’s constituency. The cleanliness survey conducted earlier this year by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA) ranked Lucknow as one of the dirtiest cities in the country. The city’s ranking dropped to 121, from 115 last year. Despite having an army of 9350 sanitation workers, 6281 of them on contract, and showing an increase in monthly petrol consumption of 1.5 lakh litres for transporting solid waste, the municipal corporation has fared poorly in consecutive national sanitation rankings too.

The dismal rankings, however, caused little change in the attitude of the LMC and its employees. On May 2nd, Justice D P Singh, chairman of the National Green Tribunal’s Monitoring Committee on solid waste management, pulled up LMC officials for their lax approach. On May 13th, the civic body got another rap, this time from the Allahabad High Court which gave it a month’s time to cover the entire city under its door-to-door (DTD) garbage collection drive. According to Pankaj Bhushan, LMC’s environment engineer, as of now less than half of the total 5.8 lakh households in the city have been covered under the drive. Around 1500 tonnes of solid waste is generated in Lucknow daily.

The LMC has now sought time till June end from the court to bring the remaining households under its garbage collection ambit. To meet the target, the civic body has tasked its partner agency Eco Green, a Gurgaon-based waste-to-energy company, with bringing 1.37 lakh households under DTD by June 30th.

Eco Green had been engaged as concessionaire for Integrated Solid Waste Management Project in the city in March 2017. Besides Lucknow, Eco Green runs similar projects in Gurugram, Faridabad and Gwalior. It is said to be India’s leading private company in waste management and waste-to-energy sector. It collects and transports municipal solid waste (MSW), processes it into organic compost and refuse driven fuel (RDF), and generates electricity from RDF. Other contractors have a target of 39,000 households. The partner agencies have been warned that their licences will be cancelled if they fail to meet the target.

NGT versus LMC

Collecting the waste is one issue. The other is disposal. Where is the LMC dumping this waste?

The NGT Monitoring Committee in its May 2nd order, for instance, had given the LMC three days to remove all solid waste and bio-medical waste that it had dumped along the Gomati River, the city’s lifeline. The Monitoring Committee, which was formed to ensure compliance with the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, had found garbage dumps littered not just along the Gomati river, but in 26 other sites in the city and its outskirts.

The most disturbing find for the Committee was the mound of nearly 20 lakh metric tonnes of garbage that has piled up over the last 10 years in Ghaila village on Lucknow’s outskirts, making villagers wheeze and sneeze incessantly and complain of unbearable stink. The village has a little over 500 households.

Following the nudge from the Monitoring Committee, LMC has started removing garbage dumped by its own trucks at different places. Pankaj Bhushan said that so far 90 per cent of waste has been removed from the river’s proximity and moved near the waste-to energy-plant at Shivri, located about 150 kms from Lucknow.

In the Committee’s view, unscientific waste management was causing air and water pollution in the city. It had warned LMC authorities several times in the past about this, but its warnings were ignored. Finally, to drive home the point that it meant business, the Monitoring Committee recommended to the NGT that LMC be fined Rs 5 crore for failing to curb open dumping and its partner company Eco Green be fined Rs 2 crore for “not discharging its contractual obligations.”

The NGT being closed for summer vacation, its final decision on the penalty is awaited. According to the committee’s secretary Rajendra Singh, a retired judge, if the NGT approves the fine, “the amount will be used to clean and sanitise the city”.

Last year Pankaj Bhushan had blamed Eco Green for doing shoddy work and blamed the agency for Lucknow’s low ranking in cleanliness, primarily because all 110 wards in the city were not being properly attended to by the garbage removal staff. Although the LMC began removing the garbage, the NGT appointed panel was not satisfied with its effort. “It is not a one-day event”, said Justice D P Singh. “One day the garbage is removed, next day dumping restarts”.

Three-bin system

In its comprehensive order, the Committee recommended to the NGT that LMC be directed to implement the three-bin system for solid, plastic and liquid waste. It wanted the bins to be installed every 50 metres in market places and every 100 metres in other parts of the city. For residential complexes, residents have to take the initiative but Eco Green found the response poor.

The monitoring committee also recommended that LMC must ensure that all eateries and tea stalls adopt the three-bin system. It further recommended that a panel headed by the Principal Secretary, Urban Development should monitor garbage collection and disposal and also keep a watch on sewage discharge, biomedical waste and plastic flowing into the Gomati.

Also, unless the garbage collection systems improve, the waste to energy plant at Shivri will have to further delay its operation. It was scheduled to have started in January but got delayed as “purchase of machinery took time.” Municipal commissioner Indramani Tripathi recently told the media that work on the plant was almost complete and “we have asked our waste management partner Eco Green to monitor energy generation.”  The plant is designed to convert 45,000 tonnes of waste into 450 MW of electricity every month from July. This can light up about 100 homes, besides running the plant itself. This, according to LMC estimates, is likely to save Rs 40,000 a month in power bills to Lucknow Electricity Supply Undertaking.

But the July deadline for full operationalisation of the Shivri plant looks unlikely too, given that waste collection remains as haphazard as ever. The hope is with the NGT Monitoring Committee and the Allahabad High Court keeping a close eye on the situation, Eco Green and LMC will have to fall in line sooner rather than later.

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