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Fees, Fines and Waste Management: A View from Ecogram

We’ve spoken a lot about what is going on in the world, in terms of climate action, environment, waste management, and so on. In this dialogue, we will zoom into our Ecogram project, and how we are making climate-friendly legislation come to life in our corner of the world.

The Ecogram project looks after waste, water, and soil management in the Bettahalasur Gram Panchayat, in North Bengaluru. A part of the waste vertical entails educating people about segregation at source, collecting waste door to door, and further segregating and processing waste at our integrated waste management facility, the Ecohub. This endeavour has helped us to understand the true cost of effectively managing solid waste. Not only is there a cost to the operations, that is transportation, labour, and upkeep of the facilities, but there is also a significant cost to cleaning up black spots and dump sites, which is also a key part of solid waste management. According to the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, the cost of managing one tonne of municipal solid waste (MSW) is between INR500/- to INR1,500/- per tonne. Though this figure does not represent rural areas, our experience has indicated this to be a number much lower than actuality.

Funding SWM

Effective waste management involves segregation at source, collection, further segregation, processing, and finally each category of waste reaching its final destination: material recovery or recycling, biological treatment, energy recovery, or landfilling. Funding for SWM comes from many government channels, some of which include the ‘Swachh Bharat Mission’, the ‘National Water Mission’, and the ‘Waste to Wealth' mission. Indeed municipal authorities are responsible for the collection and handling of waste. To fund this, they will levy user fees on waste generators. The costs associated with cleaning up litter, dump sites, and black spots in addition to operational costs of SWM can be burdensome. To alleviate these costs, it is not only important to prevent littering and dumping by spreading awareness, but also to enforce laws against these acts by introducing fines. Fines also help enforce the ‘polluter pays’ principle, which suggests that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it to prevent damage to human health or the environment. This principle is a part of the environmental jurisprudence of India.

As per SWM legislation, waste generators which include households, apartment buildings, schools, restaurants, religious buildings, and any other waste-producing entity, will pay a regular user fee to have their waste collected, and a fine for littering, dumping, burning, or non-segregation. This is necessary for enforcing rules, keeping areas clean, and providing much-needed revenue for further sustainability initiatives.

Door to Door Collection in our Gram Panchayat

The Byelaws and Ecogram

The Karnataka Panchayat Raj (Management of Solid Waste) Model Bye-laws, were gazetted in March 2020. Among other things, these bye-laws prescribe that fines and fees should be implemented in Karnataka’s panchayats, to help facilitate effective SWM. At Ecogram, we are streamlining our organisation's efforts to lobby and support the local government to make this happen. In the last quarter, fines were successfully implemented. In this quarter, we are working towards introducing SWM user fees.

The implementation of fines addresses the need to enforce rules pertaining to solid waste management in both rural and urban contexts. This is especially relevant when dealing with large amounts of non-biodegradable waste that can pose serious health risks if left untreated. In Betthalasuru, the Gram Panchayat in which we operate, there has naturally been some reluctance from villagers. There were concerns from both those within and outside of the governing body. The former speculated that an introduction of fines would impact the public perception of the Panchayat, whilst the latter insisted that the mentality of people in the village would not align with such a ‘progressive’ model, suggesting that people are ‘like that only’. However, much to our satisfaction and theirs, the rolling out of fines has been both successful, and well-received. Our learning has been that people are actually willing to pay fines. They find that fines help keep violators accountable, and take pride in the fact that ours is one of the first in the state, and perhaps even the country to be rolling out this legislature rigorously.

Clearing of a blackspot at Ecogram

Our Take

Fines are a necessary measure for ensuring compliance with SWM regulations, and also provide sustainable revenue streams to fund SWM activities. Fines help to maintain clean, healthy, and less polluted environments and promote better environmental stewardship at the local level, which will ultimately lead to an improved quality of life among all citizens. Though there may initially have been some resistance from local villagers and officials, due to a lack of familiarity with such practices, it is important that people understand why these measures are necessary for upholding standards related to public health and safety. Furthermore, it should be noted that such fines are not novel; they are implemented in other countries around the world as well and have been successful in both maintaining clean environments, and changing public attitudes towards littering.

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