It’s too early to say that Swachh Bharat is failing. But it’s getting late to say what it will take to make it work, and so far there is no sign of those things.
1. Get rid of the broom, and replace it with a pair of buckets—one for wet waste and the other for dry waste. Segregation at source is key to any garbage management plan. The PM’s symbolic efforts with the broom did help signal an important focus that India needs, but getting the imagery right going forward will help even more.
2. Pass the Dumping Saaku law. This would make it impossible for city councils to take their trash out of their jurisdiction without the permission of the receiving one. Thanks to the troubles in Bengaluru, we have been pushing this law in Karnataka for some time, but to no avail so far. A national law would make this the norm in one stroke for the whole country.
3. Make citizen supervision of SWM the norm in all wards of cities. This is expressly stated in the Constitution, yet nearly all SWM contracts in the country leave out this piece, and stick to a business relationship between the municipality and the contractor. This is simply a fraud. Bring the people into the picture, and they will clean up not only the trash, but also some of the governance.
4. Pass national legislation for Extended Producer Responsibilities on those who manufacture non-recyclable products, especially those used in the packaging industry. This is done in most developed countries, and has great potential to create a ‘recovery and reuse’ loop for plastics and other items that last forever and do great ecological damage.
5. Fund innovation and learning in SWM technologies. The Department of Science and Technology should be given the express mandate of developing useful, applied science to solve public problems, starting with SWM. A large deficit in our knowledge of technologies for waste management is limiting the choices available to municipalities, and we must bridge this gap.
These things are vital to any effective Clean India program. The sooner we begin to go down this path, the sooner we can expect to see a Swachh Bharat. We really need this initiative to succeed.