In the summer of 2017 we conducted a summer program for 11-12th grade students from across the world at a college near Pune. They were all from urban areas in their respective countries. In a word association ice-breaker game 55 out of 60 wrote “concrete jungle, traffic congestion, air pollution, no parks” and other negative features as the word they associated with “URBAN”. Despite growing up in and receiving significant opportunities from their respective cities, there was a tendency to paint cities in a negative light.
The Swachh Bharat Mission, above and beyond its obvious impact on improved solid waste management and sanitation in Indian cities, has provided cities with an opportunity to track progress, document it and flaunt it! In general discourse it may seem that our cities are riddled with problems and inefficiencies, but today we want to take a moment to appreciate and celebrate the progress made by our city of Aurangabad in solid waste management, which is an indication of the progress made by many Indian cities.
When we started working in Solid Waste Management in Aurangabad in 2014 the municipal body was collecting mixed waste from households and dumping points and transporting it all to the dumping ground at Naregaon-Mandki (as it had been for over two decades despite repeated protests and court cases). This system had put the city “on the brink of a public health and environment emergency” (according to Service Level Benchmarking done by the Ministry of Urban Development in 2011).
Fast forward to 2021- Two zones are currently operating with more than 90% segregation rates. Aurangabad has a city-wide segregation rate of 40% that is rising steadily. From absolutely no processing, in 2017today we have 330 metric tonnes (MT) of established waste processing capacity, and through two 150 TPD composting plants and one 30 TPD biomethanation plan. There are four dry waste material recovery facilities that have enabled formal integration of 58 waste-pickers managing ~10 TPD of dry waste. Two larger MRFs are under construction and by the end of 2021 all the dry waste from the city will be managed at MRFs, further strengthening resource recovery in the city.
Looking back at these 5 years and the number of people that have come together to enable this change makes us proud of our city. It also gives us confidence that similar progress is possible in other sectors. Even as we remain aware of the long way we have to go, it is only right to acknowledge and celebrate the real transformations that have been made possible by the lakhs of residents of Aurangabad who segregate their waste and the thousands of safai karmacharis that collect this waste, process/segregate it, sweep the city and keep it clean. Along with them, all the private contractors, entrepreneurs, donors and the various bureaucratic and political leaders of Aurangabad Municipal Corporation who have enabled these changes and keep putting sustained effort into improving the situation further, slowly but surely.
It is imperative to acknowledge the role of the Swach Bharat Mission as an enabler and catalyst in accelerating these developments in our city and hundreds of others in India. Combined with the Majhi Vasundhara Abhiyan, we are sure our cities will transform into more inclusive and sustainable places.