The new mantra for solid waste management (SWM) in urban India is waste-to-energy plants. The Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) has identified 60 cities for targeted infrastructure interventions, under the domains of urban infrastructure and governance. The JNNURM website provides extensive information about the scope of the SWM initiative. There are 45 SWM projects in the design, planning and execution pipeline. Ten of these have been completed and commissioned. The total budget for the entire sector of SWM is R2,008 crore. From a regional perspective, the Asian Development Bank has funded waste-to-energy projects in each of the eight north-eastern states. These are in different stages of completion.
There is more interesting information available from other sources. A newsletter (www.eai.in) on renewable energy revealed a total of 13 plants across ten cities have been set up and run by private companies, albeit commissioned by the municipalities of those cities. Infrastructure finance company IL&FS indicates that, under the waste-to-energy projects initiative, it has been mandated to develop integrated municipal waste processing complexes in various parts of the country by eight municipalities.
All these projects are facilitated by the local city municipalities under PPPs. Municipal land, usually next to a garbage dump site, is given free of cost to the project. Project costs typically run to about R100 crore for a medium-sized city. The plants process a thousand plus tonnes per day (TPD) of municipal solid waste (MSW) to generate about half that volume of TPD of refuse derived fuel (RDF). These SWM facilities involve collection, transfer and treatment of MSW to create RDF in the form of small pellets that are burnt to generate electricity. The treatment involves sorting, crushing, washing, sieving and drying of MSW. The bulk of the operations at the plant are mechanised. Consequently, and importantly, relatively few unskilled jobs can be created.
I have had the opportunity to visit some of these projects. I think that there are some larger issues of concern, which the planners and implementers of the initiative need to take into account. Typically, the immediate neighbourhood community of any landfill site, which is where these SWM plants are located, comprise informal and technically illegal slums. Most residents have some domestic animals like chickens, goats, cows and buffaloes. With the passage of time, the number of animals increases.
Over time, most cities have relocated their wholesale markets. Markets for meat (including slaughter houses), fish, vegetables, fruits