Why Aurangabad's Garbage Crisis is Raising a Stink

The villages around Aurangabad, Maharashtra, have refused to take in any more waste generated by residents of the city. The stink has been building.

Aurangabad: It’s been a month. Tonnes of solid waste in many parts of Aurangabad city have been putrefying in the open. Civic agencies have been refusing to take them away simply because there’s no other place to dump them.

Since mid-February, the villagers of Mandki, at the outskirts of the city and where the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) has been dumping waste for over three decades, have not been allowing garbage trucks to enter their village. They are armed with an order from the Bombay high court (Aurangabad bench) restraining the AMC from dumping any more waste in Mandki.

The corporation has approached several villages around Aurangabad for permission to dump solid waste. In every instance, officials met with strong resistance from the villagers, some of whom even dug up the approach roads so AMC trucks couldn’t use them.

On March 7, the situation went out of control when residents of Padegaon-Mitmita village burnt two AMC trucks that had brought waste to their village to dump. After villagers began to pelt stones, the police conducted a lathi charge and used teargas to disperse the protesting mob. Eight police personnel were injured in the melee. After the matter was raised in the state assembly, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis sent the Aurangabad police commissioner Yashaswi Yadav on compulsory leave from March 15.

But, the impasse over waste is far from over. Rather, it is expected to get worse.

“I have personally visited at least ten sites requesting local people to allow us to dump the waste, but without any success. In spite of telling the villagers that we will create a sanitary landfill and set up a waste processing plant, no one is allowing us to go ahead,” D.M. Muglikar, the municipal commissioner of Aurangabad, told The Wire. (He was transferred on March 16, a day after The Wire spoke with him.)

“In Mitmita village, we had an agreement with the owner of a private land, but other villagers did not let us dump waste. The situation is so bad that villagers are not allowing us to dump waste even on identified government lands,” he added. According to him, the corporation has told slaughter houses to stop functioning for 10 days, and similar directions have been given to poultry dealers because mismanagement of animal wastes could lead to an epidemic in the city.

Civic inaction

Several residential areas in Aurangabad are burying waste that has not been collected for almost a month. Credit: Anand Asolkar

Several residential areas in Aurangabad are burying waste that has not been collected for almost a month. Credit: Anand Asolkar

While Muglikar expressed helplessness, Pradnya Talekar, an advocate representing the case of Mandki’s residents, blamed the civic agency’s inaction and non-serious attitude for the current mess in Aurangabad. “Villagers didn’t start protesting overnight. They have been requesting and pleading with the authorities; giving sufficient time to the civic agency to make alternate arrangements, but the corporation has been callous and non-serious,” Talekar told The Wire.

Aurangabad city generates 436 tonnes of solid waste every day. Till about 1980, the waste was dumped at the city naka behind Mahatma Gandhi Mission College, but as the city expanded, the dumping of waste was shifted to Naregaon village in the outskirts of Aurangabad. Between 1980-85, Naregaon was the dumping ground for the daily garbage of the city, but soon this village came within the expanding municipal limits of the AMC.

Sometime in 1985, dumping of waste was shifted to 50-acres (over 20 hectares) of gairan (grazing) land in Mandki village, about four to five kilometres from Naregaon. The villages of Gopalpur, Pakra, Mahalpimpri and Palashi are also a stone’s throw away from the dumpsite.

For the last 33 years, the civic agency has been collecting unsegregated waste from the city-dwellers and dumping the entire mixed waste on Madki’s grazing land. As per court records, “nearly 20,00,000 cubic tonne solid waste in mixed condition [is] lying at the dump site, whereas … an equal amount of mixed solid waste was dumped beneath the ground.”

“There is no treatment or processing of solid waste in Aurangabad. The entire mixed waste is dumped at Mandki, which has not only destroyed the land and contaminated the groundwater, but is also causing various health problems to the villagers,” said Talekar.

A 2010 study reported extensive groundwater contamination due to the waste dumpsite. It found that in the core zone area of dumpsite, 100% of water samples had coliform bacteria levels above the prescribed standards. It also found that “almost all the groundwater samples assessed were of bad quality” and went on to note that “the water quality is inversely proportional to the distance of water sampling station from the MSW [municipal solid waste] dumping site.Water samples collected within the core zone area were found to have lower WQI [water quality index] values (29 to 46), whereas, the core zone water samples, WQI values ranged between 42 to 51. This clearly indicated that the vicinity of the garbage dumping site is causing the deterioration of groundwater quality.”

For the last 25 years, villagers of Mandki have been fighting to get the waste dumpsite on their gairan land closed. A large scale protest was organised more than two decades ago after which the civic agency assured the villages of an immediate action. Thereafter, a composting plant was set up, but it shut down within two years and indiscriminate dumping of mixed waste continued, as per the public interest litigation (PIL) no. 33 of 2018 filed recently by the villagers in the high court. Talekar is representing them in this case.

“Even in 2003, villagers had approached the Aurangabad bench of the Bombay high court and the latter had directed the state government to shift the dumpsite within six months. But, no action was taken for 15 years,” said Talekar. This is not all. In 2013 another mass protest was held by the villagers following which the corporation assured the people that waste would be shifted to an alternate site. But, no progress was made in this regard either.

Meanwhile, in 2016, the Maharashtra pollution control board informed the high court that the corporation had not taken necessary authorisation from the board for disposal of waste. Also, the 7/12 (land record) clearly showed the dumpsite land to be gairan zameen that had not been officially transferred to the corporation. The civic agency had also not bothered to take a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the gram panchayat of Mandki for dumping waste on their grazing land.

Fed up with the civic agency’s callous attitude, last October, villagers held another protest and did not let garbage trucks dump waste on their gairan land for three days. Another settlement was reached with the AMC which asked for three months’ time to settle the issue. But, when the civic agency failed to divert the waste away from Mandki, villagers formed a human chain and refused to let garbage trucks enter their village. Since mid-February, the corporation has not been able to dump any waste at Mandki.

Last month, the villagers filed another PIL in Aurangabad bench of Bombay high court, which, on March 9, issued an order in favour of the villagers and permanently restrained the AMC from dumping any more waste at Mandki. This has brought the residents of Aurangabad face-to-face with their daily garbage, which is now strewn all around the city, and is fast becoming a health scare.

“Waste is lying along the roads and even on the dividers of the roads… There is nothing wrong with the court order because for the last many years, our waste has destroyed the environment of Mandki and surrounding villages, and entire generations have been affected. No wonder that no other village wants to accept our waste,” said Anand Asolkar, a resident of CIDCO area in Aurangabad.

The AMC has meanwhile challenged the high court’s March 9 order and approached the Supreme Court of India for relief. “We have approached the Supreme Court to put facts before it so that we can be granted some time to resolve the issue,” said Muglikar, who claimed the entire process of setting up a proper solid waste management system in the city would take at least six months.

After receiving strong directions from the high court, the state government and the civic agency have gone into a swift action mode to look for solutions. The state government has prepared a time-bound action plan to manage the city’s waste, which includes immediate segregation and composting of wet waste, technical sanction of the detailed project report (DPR) on solid waste management by March 15, release of funds by the state government by March 21 and central funds by April 30, etc.

Under the Swachh Bharat Mission, every urban local body (ULB) has to prepare and implement a DPR on solid waste management, which has to be in line with the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016 and the guidelines of the Swachh Bharat Mission. In spite of four years into the Swachh Bharat Mission, the AMC had not bothered to prepare the DPR.

“We prepared a DPR and sent it to the state government in January this year. The state told us to make certain changes and we have resubmitted the updated DPR. We can move ahead only after the DPR is sanctioned and budgetary allocation is made by the government,” said Muglikar when The Wire spoke with him on March 15. As per the state’s time-bound plan described above, the DPR had to be cleared by March 15.

Apart from mechanical composting, the corporation is planning to set up a waste-to-energy (WtE) plant with the help of a Chinese company, which will initially process 30 tonnes of waste per day, going up to 300 tonnes per day at a later stage, informed Muglikar.

But, waste management experts have reservations towards WtE projects. “Aurangabad has invested in training and waste segregation along with Bajaj Auto and local business and civil society. It must build on this to compost and strengthen recycling,” said Bharati Chaturvedi, founder director of New Delhi-based Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group.

Looking inwards

Waste dumped in the open in Aurangabad. Credit: Anand Asolkar

Waste dumped in the open in Aurangabad. Credit: Anand Asolkar

Incidentally, composting and decentralised waste management isn’t new to the city of Aurangabad. Two years ago, on January 26, the municipal corporation signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a local non-profit, Civic Response Team, to train its civic staff and karamcharis in waste management and decentralised composting. The project went on for a year and officially ended in January last year, though Civic Response Team continued (unofficially) its work for one more year, till January this year, using CSR funds.

“We began with conducting baseline surveys to understand the problems areas in solid waste management. Thereafter, we trained the municipal staff and karamcharis and did route mapping for door-to-door collection of segregated waste. Along with it, we also conducted awareness programmes with local residents on waste segregation,” informed Gauri Mirashi, founder of Civic Response Team.

Within a year, 18 decentralised composting areas came up in various zones of the city where wet waste from the households was composted. Apart from these composting areas, one dry waste sorting centre was also started, where waste-pickers handled 10 tonnes of dry recyclable waste a day.

No wonder, Prakash Athvale, a sanitary inspector with the AMC, who is responsible for municipal area under six corporators in Zone E, isn’t affected much by the waste impasse in Aurangabad. “I got trained by the Civic Response Team and decided to follow their teachings in my area. I held trainings with the local residents and told them how waste had to be segregated into various categories, such as wet waste, dry waste, sanitary waste like diapers and soiled pads, medical waste, broken glass pieces, etc. A norm was made that only segregated waste would be collected,” Athvale told The Wire.

Apart from segregation at source, Athvale identified areas for composting within the zone and also set up a dry waste centre where six waste-pickers daily sorted waste and make a living. “Even though Mandki has refused to accept Aurangabad’s waste, my area is clean because segregated waste is still being collected, composted and recycled. I don’t need to send waste to Mandki,” he said.

Athvale is happy and so are the local residents and the farmers. “So far, we have made 350 tonnes of compost, which has been given free of cost to the farmers at the outskirts of the city. Farmers are demanding more compost,” said a proud Athvale. His only concern is the reject waste and mixed waste from street-sweeping, which cannot be composted or recycled.

Muglikar isn’t unaware of the benefits of segregation at source and composting. “Areas that have composting sites haven’t been affected much by the protests at Mandki. But, congested areas like the old city do not have sufficient land for composting. Waste has become such a crisis that one zone of municipality does not want to accept waste of another zone,” he said. There are a total of nine municipal zones in Aurangabad.

While the DPR is sanctioned and funds released for making Aurangabad a Swachh City (it has already been chosen to be a Smart City), it is imperative to note that gone are the days when city residents could choke villagers with their burgeoning waste and destroy the latter’s water sources with toxic leachate. Each city’s development plan must demarcate spaces for decentralised waste management, and waste must be processed and converted to a resource than letting it pollute the environment. Also, no waste management system will function well till segregation at source is practised.

“There is now a global understanding that we need to reduce waste, including single-use materials, instead of struggling to handle such waste later. Aurangabad needs to reduce its waste generation and decentralise waste management,” emphasised Chaturvedi.

Nidhi Jamwal is an independent journalist based in Mumbai.