BY KARISHMA HASNAT
“Espar Rao?” I ask for yet another time and he replies rather angrily, “Yes, Yesapar Rao!” And I decide to say nothing, but accept him as Mr Rao, the duty-bound whistler who brightens up our neighbourhood every morning with his cleaning spree. As he parks his tricycle in a conspicuous corner of the locality, he whistles out loud for everyone to get ready with their packets of household rubbish. I could see familiar faces walking down from two ends of the street, not hiding from each other this time and proudly disposing off their smelly polythene bags that would have otherwise being dumped right outside our gates. The six plastic containers in Mr Rao’s tricycle get filled in no time. The whistler even goes to a few buildings to personally collect trash and get tipped for his cup of tea for the day. Shaukat Khan, a resident of Machkhowa, a crowded locality in Guwahati city says, “It’s a wonderful initiative of the GMC to collect door-to-door waste. The whistlers are doing a good job and we no longer need to worry about stealthily doing away with the garbage.”
This change in scenario in my otherwise chaotic neighbourhood looks impressive, particularly to know that people no longer empty their waste buckets in the cover of darkness. “This place used to be a hunting ground for stray dogs, but we are happy with the municipality’s waste disposal plan now,” says a butcher of the locality who always has a tough time chasing away the mongrels that steal from his shop and litter the streets. I wouldn’t blame the dogs for they do not understand. ‘No Littering’ signs and we never had one in the area even for humans.
Not just my locality, but with the revival of the Guwahati Municipal Corporation’s primary collection system of household waste, the city now heaves a sigh of relief. It had been gasping for breath for quite a long time, buried under heaps of garbage at places across its length and breath. Residents of many localities earlier had to adjust with any open space they could find to dump rubbish or throw it into drains and water bodies. It was becoming increasingly difficult for the Guwahati Municipal Corporation to dispose of the garbage generated on a daily basis owing to a slack in the system. And to tackle this situation, the GMC has recently given a three year contract to 31 NGOs for primary collection of household waste from each municipality ward in the city.
It has now become easier to collect and dispose of waste from households and commercial establishments with the NGOs engaging regular and efficient people to pick up waste from even the interior areas of the city. Though the whistler of our locality, Mr Rao says he has not received his first month salary, he is hopeful of being paid as promised. The primary collectors whom I prefer to call whistlers work in two shifts – an early morning shift that starts at 7 and the evening shift that ends at 10 in the night. GMC Commissioner, S Viswanathan, says, “We are very satisfied with the positive response so far. In the coming months, we plan to launch awareness drives to help people join hands in our efforts to keep the city clean.”
It is interesting to know that the GMC has prohibited children to be engaged in any form of waste collection, but encourages rag pickers for the segregation job. I had noticed a few rag-pickers in my locality eagerly helping the whistler to segregate the organic waste from inorganic products. The kids pulled a big sheet of bubble wrap and started bursting it with their feet – it seemed like a fun activity for them.
Guwahati generates over 600 metric ton of waste on a daily basis and a density of approximately 500 metric ton in the dry season. There are about 200 dustbin points in the city from where the waste is collected and transferred to the dumping ground at West Boragaon- a site that has been found to pose serious threats of environmental pollution because of its close proximity to human settlements and the world heritage site of Deepor Beel. At present, a 50 ton per day composting unit to produce manure is operational at the West Boragaon dumping site that is supposed to be scaled to 200tpd capacity next year.
Previous efforts by the state government to find an effective system for solid waste management have come a cropper. In 2008, the Guwahati municipal corporation outsourced the collection and disposal of municipal solid waste to Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd., a part of the Hyderabad based Ramky group – a global enterprise in environment and waste management. With a view to promote public-private partnership, the Rs 102.16 crore project was the first of its kind in the region that involved door-to-door collection of solid waste, its transportation, scientific treatment and disposal for compost and power generation for a period of 20 years. However, the project slowed down in a year’s time. In 2010, the Assam Government constituted a three-member inquiry committee to look into the alleged mismanagement by Ramky Enviro Engineers in implementing the project.
“After an in-depth analysis, the observations made by the inquiry committee were far from satisfactory and the contract with Ramky’s was finally terminated on June 30, 2014,” says GMC Commissioner S Viswanathan. He is hopeful that the government will be successful this time, but says that people should be willing to contribute to the cause of waste reduction.
The realization to save a fragile planet and protect the environment is not the work of a few. Together with public awareness, the GMC should initiate orientation programmes for the NGOs on a regular basis to help educate the workers involved on the need to keep the city clean. While talking to our neighbourhood whistler, I wondered if he knew the importance of his job or is simply earning a daily living with his work. I found that his responsibility ends with collection of waste for the day, which he throws into two designated bins in the area – Mr Rao is ignorant of the processes that follow for complete disposal of the garbage. The government should understand that it is not only important to have adequate manpower, but skilled resources in collection, transportation, processing and final disposal. A child or a layman who knows that a compactor is a vehicle that swallows garbage should also know what happens next. If people learn that composting is the easiest way to reduce the volume of household garbage, backyard composting activities could be encouraged in every household. It is not only important for the government to educate people on ecologically sustainable development, but also establish and uphold laws binding on everyone to ensure a cleaner and greener environment. A lot needs to be done and there is always possibility for more.
My neighbours have learned to love each other and the butcher has stopped blaming the dogs for littering. Someday, I wish they also find an alternative to polythene bags and continue to make a difference. Thank you, Mr Rao, for the happy whistles!