The urban and industrial sectors in India generate large quantities of wastewater and solid waste, which are rising exponentially. The country has come a long way and is taking various initiatives for the reduction of waste generation and treatment. However, the Covid-19-induced lockdown in March 2020 led to a halt in construction activities for almost all water and waste projects. Activities regained normalcy with the opening up of the economy by the third quarter of financial year 2020-21. The country is now making speedy progress and moving towards achieving the targets.
The major drivers of waste management have been government programmes, regulations and some landmark decisions. In the past year, considerable progress has been made under key government programmes such as the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT) and the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). In 2016, various rules such as solid waste management rules, biomedical waste management rules, and e-waste management rules were introduced. In 2021, the draft regulations for extended producer responsibility were prepared and the SBM 2.0 and AMRUT 2.0 were launched.
Many states and union territories (UTs) have undertaken steps for the segregation and treatment of waste. Chhattisgarh and Kerala are the two states where all households in all wards have successfully adopted the practice of waste segregation. Amongst UTs, Daman & Diu & Dadra and Nagar Haveli have achieved 100 per cent source segregation.
Update on key government programmes
AMRUT was launched with the aim to develop basic urban infrastructure in the water supply, sewerage and septage management, and stormwater drainage sectors. Against the target to achieve 14.5 million sewer connections to enhance substantial sewerage network coverage in AMRUT cities, as of March 31, 2022, 9.5 million new sewer connections have been provided under the mission and in convergence with other schemes. As of March 31, 2022, states and UTs have undertaken the construction of sewage treatment plants (STPs) of capacity 6,291 million litres per day (mld), of which around 2,021 mld of STPs have already been set up and 4,270 mld of STPs are being developed. In addition, 55 faecal sludge treatment plants have been taken up with a total treatment capacity of around 2,630 mld.
SBM-Grameen Phase II is being implemented during the period 2020-21 to 2024-25, with a focus on sustaining open defecation free villages and covering all villages with solid and liquid waste management. As per the programme update, as of May 23, 2022, 76,611 villages have an arrangement for solid waste management, 53,361 villages for liquid waste management and 40,343 for both SWM and LWM. Further, there are 422,550 villages with minimal litter, 69,791 villages with waste collection and segregation sheds and 46 villages with plastic waste management units.
The Gujarat International Finance Tec-City (GIFT City) is a first-of-its-kind model in the country that has deployed various advanced techniques in the waste management segment. The city has deployed automated waste collection (AWC) systems via chutes for the segregation and treatment of waste. Further, a pilot-scale plasma pyrolysis system has been deployed for solid waste treatment. In addition to avoiding human intervention in the best possible way, the AWC systems have been developed to minimise space requirements and reduce health and environmental issues. The deployment of AWC systems is in line with GIFT City’s vision of becoming a zero-discharge city. Further, the sewerage management system in the city is also connected to an IoT-controlled system. The sewage is being collected by a gravity system at most locations so that pumping is minimised wherever possible. The collected sewage is passed through primary, secondary and tertiary treatment plants, and the treated sewage is used for various purposes.
In a notable development, work on the ambitious project of rejuvenation of the Buddha Nullah has reached the halfway mark. The goal of this project is to close all the outlets from the where the wastewater enters into the Buddha Nullah, collecting and transferring the flow of these outlets to the nearby STPs, which will treat the wastewater to ensure that no untreated water flows into the Nullah. The scope of work included the construction of two new STPs of 225 mld and 60 mld capacity at Jamalpur and Balloke, respectively, six new intermediate pumping stations on the banks of the Buddha Nullah to divert the wastewater, and two effluent treatment plants of 2.25 mld and 3.75 mld each for handling wastewater flow from dairy complexes at Tajpur Road and Haibowal, among others. As of May 23, 2022, work on 225 mld STPs, six intermediate pumping stations, rehabilitation of an existing 111 mld STP, repair and overhauling of a 50 mld STP, and a new 105 mld STP are in advanced stages of completion.
Further, the Tamil Nadu government is planning to set up a separate solid waste management corporation like the one in Goa. This agency will formulate the policies for the state and penalise local bodies and private entities for violating the solid waste rules. The state is also working towards preparing action plans for tackling water pollution in Chennai city. It has taken several steps in this regard such as setting up STPs to ensure zero liquid discharge in industries, and setting up flying squads to ensure that no solid waste is being dumped in waterbodies in five districts – Chennai, Vellore, Salem, Namakkal and Tiruppur.
Technology can also help with waste management. Initiatives such as route planning for garbage collection, resource optimisation, efficient asset management, and efficient maintenance can be made possible with the help of technology. Key technologies to achieve the objectives of waste management are online platform and GPS and sensors on waste trucks, automated waste collection systems. Many civic administrations such as Indore and Aurangabad have deployed GPS-enabled garbage collection trucks that have yielded good results. These trucks enable comfortable door-to-door waste collection. Another technology that is helping with waste management is sensor-based waste collection. This too has been adopted by many municipalities. It helps them identify the status of waste bins – whether they are empty or filled – so as to customise the waste collection schedule accordingly and save time and cost.
The water and waste sectors have begun to unlock their potential in the country. Going forward, the key focus areas in the waste management sector should be net zero commitments and environmental, social and governance investments as well as the shift to a circular economy. Additionally, appropriate policy measures need to be taken to spread awareness regarding waste management activities among citizens.