Changing Contours of Solid Waste Management in India
The solid waste management (SWM) sector in contemporary urban India has witnessed shifts in policy and practice in the wake of changing contours of urban governance resonating between international and domestic trends. These changes are characterized by measures to reduce public expenditure and gradual offloading of essential municipal services, increasing efficiency in service provision by privatization, decentralization, introduction of user charges and developing new delivery systems through greater involvement of non-state actors like community-based organizations and local contractors. Historically, SWM remained a neglected area until the intervention of the Supreme Court of India that resulted in the Municipal Solid Waste Management and Handling Rules, 2000, under the Environment Protection Act, 1986. As a solution to the inability of municipal authorities to handle conservancy operations, the Rules called for the involvement of actors like community-based organizations, private contractors and nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in SWM functions. With findings from detailed case studies of two community programmes in the SWM sector in Mumbai, namely the Advanced Locality Management groups and the Slum Adoption Programme (SAP), and several NGOs that are involved in this sector, this article argues that increasing community participation, particularly that of middle-class residents results in greater fragmentation of interests and contestations informed by class. This trend of involving communities runs parallel with the municipal authority gradually offloading its obligatory responsibilities and passing them on to agencies like local contractors and spurious organizations that are often unaccountable and not transparent. The findings based on case studies in Mumbai argue how these changes in policy and practice clearly leave urban poor citizens like conservancy workers, volunteers of the SAP and slum residents at a disadvantageous position.