It began with a directive by Kerala’s Chief Secretary VP Joy on 3 May.
The directive resulted in state government institutions declaring themselves as “ambassadors of waste management”, and lakhs of government employees becoming “role models in waste management” on World Environment Day — Monday, 5 June.
The 17-point directive addressed to all department heads stressed the need for following good waste-management practices by government institutions and employees.
“Government institutions must become an inspirational source for the layman in waste management,” read the directive.
“Government employees should follow good waste-management practices, such as segregation of waste at source, disposing of biodegradable waste through composting or bio-methanation within the premises as far as possible, desisting from illegal garbage dumping and others,” it added.
Actions speak louder than words
“For many, a spick-and-span government office is a dream. But in the state, the dream is now inching towards reality,” TN Seema, coordinator of Navakeralam Karma Padhathi, told South First.
Navakeralam Karma Padhathi — or the New Kerala Action Plan — is a government initiative to roll out long-term reforms aimed at the state’s development.
The plan envisages litter-free government institutions, including semi-government ones. They will also have biodegradable waste disposal methods such as composting and bio-methanation.
Though part of a larger project to make Kerala waste-free by 31 March 2024, the move is also intended to inspire the people to embrace sustainable waste management practices.
“The change must start from within,” Seema said. “If one doesn’t practice what s/he preaches, the very purpose will be futile. The government asks the public to adhere to sustainable practices. But if the government institutions remained littered, it will send the wrong message. Hence, it was decided to clean up the mess,” she said.
Seema said that the aim is that the next time a citizen steps into a government office, the take-home message should be sustainable waste management.
“The people would see the difference. We believe that it will inspire them to follow the same at their respective homes and surroundings,” she added.
Meanwhile, N Jagjeevan, Haritha Keralam Mission’s waste management consultant, told South First that though 15 May was the initial deadline for carrying out the activities in this regard, it was extended to 5 June.
“All government institutions including offices under various departments, schools, colleges, various mission offices, autonomous institutions, semi-government establishments, and others will become waste-free. An evaluation of the same will be done later this month,” he said.
E-waste, the villain?
According to Jyothish Chandran G, the director of solid waste management, Suchitwa Mission, it is e-waste that mostly litter government offices.
“A cluttered government institution will send the wrong message to the public. Unwanted paper documents discarded electronic devices like cables, circuit boards, keyboards, broken furniture, and others mostly consume the spaces of government institutions,” he told South First.
“However, it is assumed that e-waste will top the list,” he added.
Suchitwa Mission officials said a district-level drive for collecting e-waste was held across the state.
“Material collection facility centres to collect e-waste from government institutions were opened in all districts. The collected e-waste will be handed over to Clean Kerala Company Limited for safe disposal,” an official said.
Public green audit
The state is witnessing another significant development in waste management on Monday, 5 June — a first-of-its-kind public green audit at grama panchayats and municipalities.
On Monday, this audit, which is part of the Haritha Sabha (green assembly), will assess the activities’ progress to make the state waste-free.
The Suchitwa Mission claimed that around 150,000 people across 941 grama panchayats and 25,000 people from 93 municipalities will take part in the green assembly.
“It will be at this assembly that the green audit will be conducted. The assemblies will discuss and assess the programmes/activities carried out between 15 March and 30 May 2023. Their progress, problems, and solutions will also be discussed,” KT Balabhaskaran, executive director of Suchitwa Mission, said in a statement on 2 June.
A detailed directive for conducting the green assembly and green audit has been issued to local bodies. “Only an audit of this kind will help to give a clear picture of the activities being implemented on the ground for making the state waste-free,” he said.
“The audit will reveal the positives and negatives of such activities, challenges, and solutions,” Balabhaskaran added.
However, Local Self Government Department (LSGD) Secretary Sarada Muraleedharan remarked on 27 May that 5 June will mark the end of the first-round of activities of the three-phased campaign to make the state waste-free by March 2024.
“The green assemblies will finalise activities to be taken up as part of the second phase of the campaign,” Muraleedharan said.
The Brahmapuram aftermath
The blaze at the Brahmapuram waste plant in Kochi exposed the state’s ineffective waste management practices. Following the fire that raged for days, the High Court of Kerala initiated a suo motu case and pulled up the government for unscientific waste management practices on 6 March.
The after-effect was that the state government was forced to revise the target of making Kerala waste-free to 2024 from 2025. A three-phased campaign was also launched to meet the target.
“In the case of making government establishments waste-free, the chief secretary, in an order on 3 May, highlighted that waste management is not the responsibility of any one department. He underscored that all departments/wings of the government had equal responsibility. And thus, directed all to step in with plans worth emulating,” an LSGD official said.
The 17-point directive thus released included following green protocol, training cleaning staff in Solid Waste Management Rules 2016, using environment-friendly materials for various events, handing over biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes to agencies concerned, and others.
Kerala and solid waste
According to Economic Review, 2022, prepared by the State Planning Board, Kerala generates 10,044 tonnes of solid waste a day (TPD), out of which 3,472 TPD are generated by urban local governments and 6,572 TPD by grama panchayats.
It has been further estimated that households generate 49 percent of the waste, 36 percent in institutions, and 15 percent in public places.
Out of the total waste generated, 77 percent (7,732 TPD) is biodegradable, 18 percent is non-biodegradable, and five percent is inert waste.
The Economic Review further highlighted that the 7,732 TPD of biodegradable waste and 1,808 TPD of non-biodegradable waste are the major segments that needed to be handled on a priority basis.
However, in 2022, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in a report titled “Efficacy of Implementation of the 74th Constitution Amendment Act” stated that all municipalities were not fully equipped to handle the waste being generated in their jurisdiction.