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Indore Smart City CEO interview: Past, present and future

Divyank Singh IAS, CEO, Indore Smart City Development Limited

Divyank Singh IAS, CEO, Indore Smart City Development Limited, shares with Mrigank Warrier, the challenges being faced in managing a growing city, in digitalising the city cleaning, optimising waste collection and working backwards to identify the usable end products. Indore Municipal Corporation will be the first municipal body in India to go for a public issue of green bonds

Tell us about one challenge Indore faces, and one solution it is actively seeking.

Indore is a growing city. About 29 new villages were recently included in the master plan, and they may soon be included under the purview of the municipal corporation. We need to build capacity to cater to these areas, which will become our areas of focus.

We have an automatic tracking system for waste collection vehicles, and are trying to expand our network to include more automated vehicles, which we can monitor centrally from our integrated command and control centre. We are also looking at how we can utilise AI and IoT, so that we can have pre-planned or automatic signalling of waste collection vehicles to where they are most needed. The digitalisation of city cleaning will be our new aim.

One of the biggest challenges in waste management is how expensive it is to transport waste from where it is generated to where it is processed. How does Indore keep this cost to a minimum?

We have different drop-off points for waste within the city, and we try to optimise the distance that it has to travel. When we collect waste, we transport it to the nearest garbage station.

Another significant cost is the cost of segregation. We have a material recovery facility where waste is segregated but we want everything to be segregated at source. This will make pre-processing or processing of waste much easier. This is behavioural change that we want from residents.

Earlier, all waste from the whole city had to be transported to a trenching ground outside Indore, which cost us a tremendous amount. Now, we have a decentralised system where material recovery facilities are at various locations across the city; they work at high efficiency and the distance that the waste has to travel is also reduced.

Is the dry waste being segregated manually? Or is there any automation in play?

It is tricky to segregate waste with the help of machines since there is no homogenisation of dry waste. For non-sludge dry waste, we have a recovery facility that we are trying to automate; it is not fully automated yet.

Dry waste can be segregated according to particle size with a machine, but once reduced to particular size, manual segregation still has to be done. We are hoping to automate this in the coming
few months.

What is the gamma irradiation technique that is being used for dry sludge hygienisation? Why was this particular technology chosen?

It was selected because it has multiple use-cases. During the dry season, we can have sludge removed and dried easily, followed by the sludge hygienisation process. But during the wet season, it becomes very difficult to make dry slurry because drying of slurry is usually achieved by sun drying. If the environment is not favourable, it cannot be done.

In that case, the sludge generation plant will become defunct. In our case, we are using gamma irradiation technology which can be utilised during the wet season for other products which are not sludge. So, we can have hygienisation of herbs, spices, even pet food. Instead of using the plant for just 7-8 months, we are able to put it to use throughout the year.

Tell us about the bio CNG plant which processes waste from the fruit and vegetable market. How have you managed to make this project cost-effective?

We always try to find out how to use the end product of waste management. Generally, what happens – and it happened with Indore too earlier – is that we start with good technology, but we don’t know how to use its end product, which makes it less sustainable. Now, we are planning backwards; we actually decide the guaranteed use case of the final product and then plan the whole project.

In the case of our bio CNG plant, our own buses are running on CNG. We decided the ultimate utilisation of the CNG first and then worked backwards. Now that we have definite use for the end product, we have a motive to continue the project in a self-sustaining manner.

Apart from municipal and agricultural use of recycled water, is there any mandate for commercial establishments or industrial parks to also recycle wastewater at source?

When certain large industries reach a particular threshold of water utilisation, it is mandatory for them to reuse water or at least have a water treatment plant on-site.

How would you judge the effectiveness of road sweeping machines?

There are some limitations to mechanised road sweeping, but by and large, mechanised road sweeping machinery has been successful in many areas of Indore. This is especially true for broader and wider roads. Slightly smaller models of these machines have also come up, which can enter narrow lanes as well.

We are utilising these machines to their full potential; we cannot go back to the old system of manually sweeping roads.

How are you making sure that public toilets are maintained in a manner that people are motivated to use them?

In Indore, we have introduced a different concept; we have an O&M contract with an agency and we provide them with advertising space above our community toilets. This is their revenue model. The funds that come in from ads pay for the cleaning of the community toilet.

We have incubated a startup which came up with the idea of having an economic ecosystem centred around toilets. Apart from the toilet, there is an attached area where commercial ventures like a snack shop can be housed. The revenue from these supplements the cost of cleaning toilets.

The attendance of the person who is taking care of the toilet is digitally monitored. We have a digital checklist of tasks that need to be done to keep a toilet clean. This is updated and uploaded digitally, and we can monitor it at any time.

How has the city fared when it comes to carbon credits?

We are earning carbon credits for reducing our carbon footprint. The Indore Municipal Corporation has come up with the carbon aggregator model in which we are not only trying to evaluate our own carbon credits but are also helping other smaller urban local bodies as well as rural local bodies to evaluate their efforts in reducing their carbon footprint.

We have two to three lakhs of carbon credits accumulated with us for the work that we have done, which we will be selling on the global market. We have already encashed carbon credits to the tune of ₹9-10 Cr.

Indore Municipal Corporation will be the first municipal body in India to go for a public issue of green bonds. It will be listed on the BSE, and people can buy shares. We will raise ₹250 to 300 Cr through an initial public offering.

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