Operational Issues Push Up Plastic Pollution In Rural Areas Of Madhya Pradesh

Lack of human resources, improper monitoring, poor financial condition of panchayats and lack of awareness contribute to the burgeoning waste problem

Satish Malviya

Vidisha (Madhya Pradesh): In Karimabad village of Madhya Pradesh’s Vidisha district, Nitesh Yadav is preparing his field to cultivate wheat in the rabi season. But he is worried by the increasing amount of plastic in the soil, thanks to unscientific dumping of garbage from Sironj town and surrounding villages near his farm.

“It is very difficult to get rid of these small pieces of polythene from the soil. The generation of plastic and polythene waste, including multilayer and single-use, has been increasing with time due to the rise in consumption of fast-moving consumer goods,” he remarked.

Lack of proper plastic waste management also reduces soil fertility. However, panchayats often end up burning huge mounds of waste, thus increasing air pollution. “Chemicals enter our fields when water from the waste heaps flows into our fields and the nearby river Kethan,” Nitish said.

According to the 2020-21 Annual Report on Implementation of Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, from Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), total waste generation in Madhya Pradesh is approximately 8,022.5 TPD (tonnes per day), of which 7,235.5 TPD waste is collected, 6472 TPD is treated and 763.5 TPD is landfilled.

As per the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM) dashboard, there are 16,515 waste collection and segregation centres in Madhya Pradesh. A total of 34,989 villages have solid waste management and 46,545 villages have liquid waste management facilities.

Segregation centres that separate solid, wet and dry waste are present in every village panchayat, but they don’t work properly. On the other hand, material recovery facilities (MRFs) are present at the district panchayat level only. Here, along with segregation, the waste is recycled. The MRFs receive all types of waste, including domestic waste.

Karan Yadav of Karimabad told 101Reporters that an MRF was set up near Karimabad under the Swachh Bharat Mission-Grameen (SMB-G) around three years ago, but it is not yet functional. Established by Sironj Municipality, the MRF is located 4 km from Sironj town. When contacted, Sironj Municipality president Manmohan Sahu refused to accept that the MRF was not functional.

However, 101Reporters has learnt during a site visit that the MRF has remained shut.

“We have been asking the administration to remove the waste, but we were not heard,” said Karimabad sarpanch’s representative Ejaz Khan.

An MRF is set up on the recommendation of the municipality or district panchayat near urban or industrial areas, where waste is available in sufficient quantities for the unit to process. The population of the area is also a criterion for setting up the unit.

Flour mill operator Dhanraj Sahu said a similar facility was built under SBM-G in his native Vardha three years ago, but it has not been put to use to date. “All the waste is collected and dumped in the fields or on the village outskirts,” he added.

The problem of management of plastic and polythene waste is evident in the historical pond of Barigarh in Chhatarpur, located around 1 km away.

“This pond was constructed hundreds of years ago to conserve water. Barigarh Municipal Council is not managing the issue of plastic accumulation in it,” said Uttam Ahirwar, a resident and local journalist.

Asked about the roadblocks, SBM Deputy Commissioner for Madhya Pradesh Ajit Tiwari told 101Reporters that the mission has provided for infrastructural needs of panchayats, yet there were many operational problems at the panchayat level, including lack of human resources, improper monitoring, poor financial condition of panchayats and lack of awareness.

“In the 15th Finance Commission, a provision has been made to spend 30% of the budget of the three-tier panchayat system only on cleanliness. Plastic waste management at rural level is in its initial phase under SBM 2.0. It will take time,” he said.

Tourist Village Affected

Madla forest village in Panna Tiger Reserve of Panna district has made it to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s list of best tourist villages in the world. Despite its status of an important tourist destination, no special system for waste management is present here.

Akash Shivhare, who runs a footwear shop in Madla, said that plastic heaps have become an eyesore in the area frequented by hundreds of local and foreign tourists.

“From village roads to the pond, plastic can be seen everywhere. An NGO collects garbage from houses twice a week, but it is simply not enough,” he said.

A year ago, NGO Sahas launched the responsibility of making 30 villages in Panna Tiger Reserve plastic-free by utilising a grant from the Coca-Cola Foundation and help from Madhya Pradesh Tourism Department. Madla is the largest among these 30 villages.

Shailendra Rao, the local coordinator of Sahas, informed that their swachhata mitras collect plastic and dry waste from every house in the village on Monday and Tuesday.

“Every time, we collect 40 to 50 kg of plastic waste — both single use plastic and multilayer — bottles and tetra packs. Currently, we do not have an MRF in place; hence we sort and keep all the waste in our storeroom itself. After collecting sufficient quantities, we send it off to a cement factory at Amanganj. Neither panchayat nor people support us, due to which we have not been able to completely free this village from plastic waste,” Rao reasoned.

Asked why an MRF was not functional in Madla despite it being a tourist spot, Ajit Tiwari said an MRF has been proposed 17 km away from Madla.

“At present, there is no facility for solid and plastic waste management at the village level. However, by the end of 2024, it will start functioning at the village level also,” he informed.

This proposed MRF will deal with the waste from 30 villages and Panna city.

According to a report on solid waste management in rural areas, 0.3 to 0.4 million metric tonnes of solid waste is generated every day in rural areas of India. Citing data from the CPCB annual report 2019-20, a scoping paper titled Reducing Plastics in Rural Areas from the Centre for Science and Environment says only 1.18% of the total 22, 814 village panchayats in Madhya Pradesh have plastic waste management system and collection and segregation sheds in place.

Formed five years ago under Supreme Court guidelines, the 11-member Madhya Pradesh Plastic Waste Management Committee is headed by Imtiaz Ali, whose organisation Sarthak has created a plastic management model in the 222 village panchayats under Bhopal district panchayat. The village panchayats have been divided into 22 clusters, where dry and wet waste are collected by safai mitras regularly.

“Segregation and disposal take place at the MRF, and self-help groups make products from plastic and rubber. The remaining plastic items are sent to cement factories or used in road construction. Around 107 TPD collection happens in Bhopal rural on average,” said Sarthak director Ali, who has been instrumental in creating the model. In 2020-2021, 405MT plastic waste was used for 938 km of road construction under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana and MP Road Connectivity Project.

Hanumant S Malviya, senior scientist, Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB), said that MPPCB’s role is only to ban the manufacturing of single-use plastic.

“To date, we have sealed 29 single-use plastic manufacturing units. Ban, treatment and fines are the responsibilities of local administration,” he said.

According to the PCB, plastic waste does not come under the definition of pollution because it can be recycled. But if someone burns it and pollutes the air, or it enters water bodies and pollutes water and soil, the board can take action.

(Satish Malviya is a Madhya Pradesh-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters)

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