Waste To Wealth? Bhopal District Panchayat Spends Rs 75,000 Per Month To Earn Rs 4.5 Lakh A Year

Lack of sufficient funds for smooth operation of material recovery facility and low public awareness hinder waste management in rural areas

Sanavver Shafi

Bhopal: Bhopal district panchayat has a reputation when it comes to waste management, but there is more to it than meets the eye. In 2022, a material recovery facility (MRF) was set up on 5,000 sq ft of land in Itkhedi panchayat at a cost of Rs 48 lakh.

The facility scientifically disposes of the waste generated daily in 187 village panchayats. It caters to 1,02,325 households in 479 villages of the district and earns money from it.

As many as 19 types of materials, including multi-layer plastic, low-density polyethylene, high-density polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride, tyre and iron are processed at the facility. Every day, around 300 kg of waste material is collected.

However, the biggest challenge faced by waste collectors is that villagers never keep wet and dry waste separately. Safai mitras (sanitation workers) separate them as much as possible while loading them into the garbage vehicle. Once the garbage reaches the segregation shed, more workers are involved in separating them again.

“Wet waste is converted into NADEP compost, while dry waste goes to MRF. Despite our efforts to segregate the waste properly, many a time the waste bags are returned citing improper segregation,” Sumer Singh Rajput, secretary, Gunga panchayat, told 101Reporters.

Kumari Chamiya Bai, sarpanch of Karondiya panchayat, said that returning garbage increases their problems.

“We already face a shortage of garbage vehicle drivers. Workers are not available to separate the garbage. Those who are available work for a month or two and then leave. When the waste comes back, separating it again means increased cost and labour,” he explained.

Bhopal district panchayat Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Rituraj Singh said that they have provided 229 garbage vehicles, including 154 e-rickshaws and 75 tricycles, to 187 panchayats for transportation of waste.

“In the last two years, we have converted all garbage vehicles into electric vehicles,” he detailed.

“By dividing 187 panchayats into five routes, we have created sheds in 26 nodal village panchayats, where garbage from village panchayats falling in that respective route is processed. Using Google Forms, panchayat secretaries of the nodal separation shed maintain data of both waste received from each panchayat and delivered to MRF,” he said.

Singh added the process has been designed in such a way that the time taken to transport the collected waste to MRF is reduced and the waste is sent as per the MRF’s capacity.

The MRF is equipped with a conveyor belt and segregator, compressor, incinerator, and machines to cut and shred waste. The end product is packed in 100 kg bags and sent to the Madhya Pradesh Rural Road Development Agency (MPRRDA) and agencies that work on recycled products. MRF maintains a detailed logbook for the sale and purchase of waste, so that the amount can be shared with the village panchayats.

According to Singh, from November 2022 to January 2024, MRF received 85.5 metric tonnes of waste, which included 41% paper, 22% mixed waste, 18% plastic, 9% glass, 5% clothes, 4% hair and 1% bones. Of this, 42.2 metric tonne was disposed of and 35 metric tonne was processed, while the rest was left in the warehouse. He says 14.21 metric tonnes of waste was sold to the recycling agency, 4.01 to MPRRDA, 10.16 to Sarthak Sanstha and 6.68 metric tonnes to local vendors, thereby generating Rs 4.5 lakh.

“Garbage vehicles are equipped with GPS trackers. We have also created a smart command centre at the district panchayat. We get daily updates on the operation of vehicles, time taken for transport, quantity of waste received and the processed quantity,” MRF nodal officer Santosh Jharia told 101Reporters.

Official inspection, flying squad and deep clean drive team (they mostly clean up public places where waste piles up) are part of the offline process. “If we get a complaint, we send a flying squad team for inspection and subsequently take appropriate action. Every 15 to 20 days, the official team visits the panchayats assigned to them and takes stock of the cleanliness and door-to-door waste collection work,” he added.

Safai Mitras Face Multiple Issues

The garbage van driver of Gunga village used to drive a Tata Magic before.

“The panchayat contacted me to drive the van for Rs 8,000 to 10,000 per month. However, I got only Rs 6,000 per month so far. Even that is not paid on time,” the driver said.

A 45-year-old woman who used to clean and pack plastic waste in separate sacks at the nodal segregation shed of Mengra Kalan panchayat left the work a few months ago and has returned to work as a farmhand. “People do not respect that work. My children are teased at the government school where they study.”

Sonam Bai (name changed) of Phanda Kalan panchayat collects and segregates household waste. She wants to leave the job as she has not received the payment on time in the last six months.

“Six months ago, when I used to work as a farm labourer, I did not have any disease. But now, I always suffer from cold and cough. The doctor has told me it is due to allergy, and has advised me to avoid dealing with dirt, garbage heaps and dust, but it is my compulsion to work,” she said.

Meanwhile, farmer Suresh Singh of Arwaliya panchayat raised questions about the efficacy of the initiative. “Neither the garbage is being collected from the village on time nor the drains are cleaned.  In our village, garbage piles can be seen outside the collection centre. Plastic foils and bottles drift in winds and enter the fields, affecting soil fertility and decreasing crop yield.”

Taking his point forward, farmer Vivek Rajput of the same village said piling up of garbage has increased the menace of mosquitoes and flies, which could lead to infectious diseases. Pratap Gurjar, a labourer from Jagdishpur village in Itkhedi panchayat, alleged that the poor are fined for waste dumping in public places. However, marriage halls, farm houses and other establishments near municipal corporation limits are spared from such actions.

This is evident in Arwaliya, Semra, Imliya, Deval Khedi, Mungalia Kot, Shyampur, Parvaliya and Acharpura, where heaps of waste can be found. “They either throw garbage in open places or burn it. Even the sarpanch and panchayat secretary are aware of this, but only the poor are fined. Sewage from drains enter the main road due to blocked drains in these villages. For the last few months, waste collection and cleaning of drains have stopped completely,” Gurjar alleged.

CEO Rituraj Singh said the number of complaints about blocked drains was quite high when MRF started functioning in 2022. “With the help of GPS and smart control centre, such complaints have been addressed to a large extent, but not completely. Currently, we are receiving complaints related to waste in many panchayats, which are being investigated.”

Admitting that lack of resources and awareness were affecting the work, Singh said they have been making continuous efforts to overcome resource deficiencies as quickly as possible. “We continuously organise awareness programmes in rural areas.”

Noting that they have no extra funds for the maintenance of vehicles and for making payments to safai mitras, Singh said the operating cost of MRF has been on the rise.

“Currently, it comes to Rs 75,000 per month. To meet all expenses, we are dependent on tax collection from villages. If we get an operation and maintenance budget like in urban areas, the fund shortage issue can be solved to a great extent. Since there is a lack of specific policy for rural areas regarding bulk waste generators, pollution is increasing there,” he said.

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

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