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The successful sustainability models of municipal corporations

On International Zero Waste Day in August 2023, the Ministry of Housing & Urban Affairs (MoHUA) set a target to make 1,000 cities, 3-Star Garbage Free by October 2024. The vision of achieving 100% Garbage Free Status for all cities through 100% source segregation, door to door waste collection and scientific management of all fractions of waste – including safe disposal in scientific landfills – is a part of the Swachh Bharat Mission – Urban (SBM-U) 2.0 launched on October 1, 2021, for a period of five years.

The progress made in the management of garbage and sanitation by the States/UTs under SBM-U is regularly assessed; Standard Operating Protocols (SOPs) have been developed for certification of ULBs as Open Defecation Free (ODF), ODF+, ODF++ and Star ratings of Garbage Free Cities (GFC) and through ‘Swachh Survekshan’. Monitoring of the progress of SBM-U in States/ UTs is done through periodical review and assessment by meetings, webinars, workshops and through the dedicated SBM-U portal.

Setting a competitive edge, the ULBs are bringing in transformative changes in strategising, conceptualising, implementing, overseeing and maintaining sanitation projects. Each of the ULBs have taken giant strides, leading to successes in specific areas of waste management and sanitation.

While their accomplishments are commendable, a deeper exploration is crucial to grasp the full spectrum of their successes and the challenges they face. Shaik Ismail, Special Correspondent, Clean India Journal offers a unique lens to view these endeavours, highlighting the progress made while also shedding light on the areas that need improvement.

with a ₹52,619 crore budget allocation, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) is set to prioritise sanitation, hygiene and waste management. To bolster these efforts, MCGM has procured advanced sweeping machines, transitioned to robotic sewer cleaning, and adopted the use of green chemicals. The introduction of technological solutions, such as the WhatsApp chatbot for garbage complaints, showcases a blend of modernity with traditional civic responsibilities. Furthermore, Mumbai’s initiative to develop a network of seven key sewage treatment plants signifies a substantial step towards water conservation and cleanliness.

Navi Mumbai echoes a similar sentiment. The Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation’s (NMMC) Clean Air Action Plan – backed by a significant budget of ₹4,925 crore – aims for a 40% reduction in pollution levels over the next three years. The ‘Majhi Vasundhara’ campaign and the establishment of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (RRR) centres are testaments to their commitment to sustainable urbanisation.

Innovative waste management

Pune’s waste-to-hydrogen plant, a first in India, is a beacon of technological advancement. This facility is designed to process 500 tonnes of waste every day, converting it into clean energy. Additionally, GPS tracking of sanitation workers has resulted in a 40% increase in operational efficiency.

Hyderabad’s ‘Na Throw, Na Throw’ centres highlight the significance of source-level waste reduction. Incorporating technology into its civic operations, its municipal corporation has introduced vacuum sweepers that ensure thorough cleaning of streets, reducing dust and pollution. This is complemented by the deployment of over 10,000 QR codes across the city, accessible to every citizen, which serve as a direct channel for residents to report civic issues.

Other initiatives such as the introduction of wheelbarrows and tricycles for garbage collection and the establishment of waste-to-energy plants are transforming the city’s waste management landscape. The city is also set to add 25 sewage treatment plants, emphasising the importance of clean water.

Championing green initiatives

Indore, with its consistent ranking as India’s cleanest city, has set the gold standard for waste management. Its green bonds initiative for solar power plants showcases a forward-thinking approach to sustainable energy. Indore’s innovative approach to managing plastic waste and its success in generating significant revenue from waste are exemplary.

Surat, on the other hand, has turned to its waterways. By selling treated water to industries, the city has created a revenue model that’s both eco-friendly and profitable. SMC’s commitment to cleanliness, as evidenced by its consistent top rankings in Swachh Bharat Survekshan, is commendable.

Emerging leaders in urban sustainability

Beyond the major cities, emerging leaders like Kalyan-Dombivali, Vasai-Virar, and Mira-Bhayandar in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) are making their mark. Their innovative approaches, from introducing robots for sewer cleaning to launching cleanliness drives in slums, highlight a commitment to urban cleanliness and sustainability.

Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC) has been proactive in its approach to urban cleanliness and sustainability. With a recent budget allocation of ₹4,370 crore, a significant portion is dedicated to waste management and sustainability initiatives. Central to these efforts are the ‘Triple R’ centres, strategically located across Thane, processing over 300 tonnes of waste daily.

The neighbouring Kalyan-Dombivali Municipal Corporation (KDMC) has showcased its commitment to urban development with a significant budget allocation. The corporation claims to treat 100% of wet waste in the city and has achieved a remarkable 95% waste segregation rate.

Vasai-Virar City Municipal Corporation (VVCMC) has taken a significant step towards eradicating manual scavenging by introducing the Bandicoot robot. This initiative not only ensures cleaner sewers but also upholds the dignity of sanitation workers.

Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation (MBMC) has launched ‘Operation Rudra’ for cleanliness in slums and introduced truck-mounted mist cannons for dust control. The corporation’s ambition to secure a place among the Top 3 cleanest cities of India is backed by its robust waste management strategies.

Varanasi Nagar Nigam (VNN), the urban local body of one of the world’s oldest inhabited cities, is embracing modern waste management solutions. The city’s initiative to produce green coal from municipal waste is set to revolutionise waste-to-energy solutions. Backed by a ₹500 crore investment, this project aims to process over 400 tonnes of waste daily, transforming the ancient city’s waste management landscape.

Existing problems

While municipal corporations have made significant achievements, there are inherent challenges that need to be understood and addressed:

Differential approach: In keeping with the size of the corporations, the approach has been more at the micro level and isolated. The initiatives are localised rather than adopting a holistic approach in the given circumstances. The need possibly is for macro level planning with comprehensive initiatives to achieve overall results. This certainly is a colossal task.

Challenges of technology integration: Technological solutions like GPS tracking and QR codes are innovative, but their effectiveness could face delays, cost overruns and issues in timely implementation. There is definitely a large scope for trial runs but would require planned implementation for effective results.

Economic feasibility: Certain groundbreaking initiatives would have to consider their long-term economic viability. Evaluating the return on investment and the long-term sustainability of such projects is essential.

Possible hurdles: Given the early stages of many initiatives, there’s a risk of not fully anticipating certain outcomes. For instance, while waste-to-energy solutions are seen as a beacon of promise, it’s crucial to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the economic and environmental implications of the by-products.

Potential way forward

Adopting a comprehensive strategy: Aligning with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can offer a globally recognised and structured framework. This ensures that the initiatives are not just impactful but also sustainable, considering the broader impact.

Pre-assessment of technology solutions: Before implementing any technological solution, it’s important to conduct a thorough assessment. This should take into account the local context, potential challenges and the long-term advantages, ensuring that the technology is appropriate for the specific need.

Engaging with domain experts: Partnerships with domain experts can bring forth invaluable insights. This ensures that the initiatives, while being innovative, are also rooted in practicality and are adaptable to real-world challenges.

Regular monitoring: Consistent evaluation of the results of any initiative is indispensable. Such monitoring not only aids in early identification of potential challenges but also ascertains that the initiative is aligned with its primary objectives.

India’s municipal corporations have indeed made noteworthy progress towards fostering cleaner and more sustainable urban environments. While we celebrate these milestones, it’s imperative to concurrently address the inherent challenges, ensuring that every step taken is not only impactful but also sustainable for the foreseeable future.

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