Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Simplistic Assumption of Segregation at Source !

The Indian MSW Rules, 2000 under the Environment (Protection) Act, 1986 call for source segregation of MSW. However, after 13 years of living witht he Rules, we probably do not have even a single municipality across the country - large or small alike, which can take the claim of having complied with this particular aspect of the Rules.

Ideally speaking, segregation at source is a rather desirable practice, but not practicable and feasible in a rather disorderly society as in India. Look at the education deficit for the large number of people and the corresponding deficit in terms of awareness, concern and commitment (working class, middle class and the elites alike). Segregation happens to a fairly high degree in certain societies which are characterised by a high degree of discipline (e.g., Japan, Scandinavia, Europe, North America, etc.), order, supervision and of course a great deal of commitment on the part of the citizens. A highly disorderly society such as India can not be expected to leapfrog to that paradigm of waste management at individual citizen level. 

Indian society has high degree of entropy - traffic violation, red light jumping, unnecessary honking; spitting all over; littering; open defecation, indiscriminate disposal of construction debris, burning of dry leaves and other dry waste,  etc. are some of the examples in the realm of sanitation, hygiene and waste mgmt. When ULBs are unable to address these obvious issues, how does not expect them to achieve segregation in each house, institution, establishment, industry, etc...? 

All solutions which are based on the simplistic assumption of segregation happening any time in the future in a particular habitation/ town/ city are bound to face severe and debilitating challenges, as has been amply demonstrated by a plethora of dysfunctional treatment plants of all hues and colour.

Not recognizing this challenge and being tempted to adopt simplistic and idealistic solutions represents a major professional error of judgement. It is like a doctor not able to do right diagnosis (of a cardiac patient) but is bent on offering a standard prescription assuming the patient to follow all the right practices (quit smoking, drinking, reduce wt., go for exercise, lower cholestrol, etc.) ! It tantamounts to a great disservice to the society.

Let us hope that the revision process underway takes into account these societal/ anthropocentric challenges.

Asit Nema

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