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Vol. XXXI No.7, July 16-31, 2021

Citizens ensure garbage segregation remains a non-starter

by The Editor

A recent article in The Hindu had it that attempts to implement waste segregation at source in the city have come to nought. Well, not nought, for it seems around 42 per cent compliance has been achieved when it comes to separation of dry and wet organic waste, inorganic waste, and construction debris. That by itself may not seem a bad number, but what follows in the article is clearly a greater source of worry.

Apparently while segregation remains at 42 per cent, collection of garbage is now at 95 per cent and the city is generating around 5,000 tonnes of waste every day. Which effectively means the civic body, and its sub-contractors are doing a good job of removing waste and transferring it to whatever disposal systems we have (last heard of these were not anything to write home about, being chiefly landfills). The citizenry on the other hand, while content with handing over whatever rubbish it generates, cannot bring it upon itself to segregate the same. At least 58 per cent of it cannot. In this category fall households, commercial establishments and above all, bulk waste generators, who as per definition create more than 100 kgs of waste each day.

What prevents the Corporation of Greater Chennai from imposing fines on these violators? Political will apparently. If the same report is to be believed, local officials, including conservancy operators are ‘unable’ to punish offenders and can at most issue ‘hollow warnings’. As to what prevents them from taking punitive action has not been spelt out, but it can easily be imagined – on the one hand there is corruption – it is easier for a violator to dole out small amounts in bribes and not take on the larger task of segregation, the seriousness of which in the macro scale of things they do not realise or even if they do, do not want to rectify. There is also the attitude of being above the law – it is seen as a sign of power.

There is more to follow. Apparently, our civic body, second oldest in the world and all that, did crack the whip last year for a few months though that was on single-use plastics and not garbage segregation. It imposed fines and that did ensure some good results. But along came the Assembly elections and the whole exercise was called off. Why? And this bears some questioning. Was the Corporation advised by the State Government to go easy on single-use plastics in view of the elections? Or was it the overzealous officialdom that now runs the GCC that felt it needed to soft pedal the issue? Either way, it was a ridiculous reason to give out. Does this mean that a ban on single use plastics was an unpopular decision which could overturn Governments? It just goes to show how effete our civic agencies have become when it comes to implementing the law. There is after all an outright ban on plastics and yet here we have the Corporation openly stating that it decided to be lenient on the matter in view of the elections.

Which brings us back to segregation at source. With 58 per cent non-compliance, it clearly indicates that the majority in the city are not in favour of segregation. Does that mean each time there is an election everyone will be allowed to just dump their garbage on to the waste collectors just because that is what is the popular choice? It does not show our leaders and administrators in a good light. And as for the citizenry, if this is how they can behave in a metropolis that claims to be modern, inclusive, and enlightened in outlook, then it is a very sad state of affairs. Posterity will judge us very harshly indeed. But we guess this does not concern the violators all that much.

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