The world is urbanising at a lightning speed and hence need for urban waste management is growing. This is mainly due to the overflowing landfills and trash laden streets it brings to us with the challenge of overpopulation. Ideally, the only people to hold responsible for this rapidly growing challenge is the Local governments and municipal corporations due to their inadequate financing and low capacity which creates this mismanagement. These can not only elevate incidences of transferable diseases but also have harmful impacts on the environment as a whole.
The problems with urban waste management are spoken about often – yet, their solutions are less discussed. To help with this, here are some tips we can gather on how three Indian cities (Bengaluru, New Delhi and Pune) are tendering urban waste management successfully.
Challenge: Turning to privatization
Solution: Caution with Contractors
India’s rank 3 city housing maximum population, Bangaluru is not any different from many other underfinanced and resource-constrained cities. Their strategy to handle this critical situation was opting to privatize a large part of its solid waste management. The tasks and management of street sweeping and the door-to-door waste collection were sought to be contracted out instead of keeping it in the hands of the government.
Additionally, in large parts due to dominating contractual requirements (for example, a sizeable fiscal turnover or significant waste management experience), the city did not receive any positive response to its call for proposals. So the city’s municipal administration chose interim contractors unofficially, which is a solution that questions accountability or efficiency. Furthermore, the limited competition resulted in increased costs for the city. The fragile incentivizing structures and lack of robust monitoring procedures gave rise to a garbage mafia. These groups when getting into power tend to exploit various societal vulnerable groups employed to manage the waste management project creating chaos and helplessness around the city. Inconsistent resources, as well as the inefficient allocation of responsibilities from the city government, led to the ad-hoc contractors failing to keep the city clean.
No sooner in the city of Bengaluru, the privatisation of waste had strong negative impacts on the city. The municipal administration claims to be working on new waste management tenders that consider the failures of the previous tenders.
The takeaway from this experience was that rigidity in the tendering process limits choice in service providers.
2. New Delhi
Challenge: Local organizations against privatization
Solution: Informality vs Formality
While Bengaluru was struggling with its short-sighted solutions to managing waste in the city, New Delhi considered channelising its energies to a much longer-term approach. The city is known for its meticulous planning and is very keen on the transition from state managed to private managed services. The learning we derive from this experience is that working with and planning for informality is vital for urban waste service delivery successfully, and may have been a missed opportunity in the case of New Delhi.
New Delhi’s long-term planning included a major comprehensive strategic plan to manage waste (known as Master Plan 2021). This strategy accounted for every last detail, including the role of over 80,000 informal waste workers and highlighted the need for localised centres to avoid the use of landfills. A positive outcome has been that by setting the ambitious goal of developing ‘model neighbourhoods’ with the door-to-door collection and strict segregation at source, municipal corporations are proactively attempting to manage the waste.
However, even with these plans in place, inadequate state capacity and financing have led to service delivery remaining unfulfilled. As plans developed for the corporations to privatise in order to meet the goals of the master plan, local enterprises expressed their concerns. A particular issue was regarding the effects of privatising on the thousands of informal workers. These workers are often the backbone of waste collection. Activists claim that the transition from informal to formal labour may affect many thousands as competition between the two sectors increases.
Challenge: Turning to privatization
Solution: SWaCH organization/cooperative (social inclusion and accountability)
The third and the last case Pune city will aid us to draw parallels between privatisation and public-private cooperation. The city corporation in 2000, collaborated with India’s first cooperative of self-employed waste managers, known as SWaCH (Solid Waste Collection and Handling). This organisation/cooperative provides formal employment and social upliftment to more than 3,500 women. Such waste management dedicated organizations can not only bring in the flexibility and accessibility but also hold themselves accountable for the needs of the city, Lesson No.3
Did you know, the SWaCH cooperative controls more than 70% of the waste generated in the city and in addition to state support, collects a user fee from citizens to meet their expenses. The brilliant organization has designed a robust and efficient system to collect waste from slums with over 1.2 million previously ignored residents. This is an award-winning sustainable model as it roosters social inclusion as well as lays down accountability rules. Pune has hence remained clean and hygienic with a clear path of communication between municipal authorities, citizens, and the cooperative to ensure their work continues to happen smoothly.
With regards to this matter, the municipal corporation now saves costs by partnering with the cooperative organization as compared to working with a private entity. Additionally, this renowned corporation also provides subsidies to citizens and communities who support in-house composting of wet waste.
Pune has hence crafted its way towards successful and efficient waste management by bypassing privatisation. They also efficiently design incentives for various citizens and stakeholders to keep them motivated towards this initiative.
Words of Wisdom:
Incentivizing Waste Management With Collaboration
For many cities, urban waste management is an issue at the local government level which in turn affects them negatively. To move away from this challenge, cities need to get waste collection and disposition right.
The first case of Bengaluru threw light on how tendering on strict metrics restricted city choice and shifted power from the city to corporations. The second example of New Delhi, over planning without the flexibility to incorporate the informal sector is likely to push citizens away from the project. Last but not the least, in Pune, they aligned incentives with social inclusion and city collaboration.
All these cases show that there is no one size fits all solution for urban waste management. However, we learn a lot from these cases. We can now conclude that for fast-growing and low resource cities, it is important to align incentives with the multitude of relevant parties/organizations and society and work in collaboration.
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