Politics has been often derided as dirty game but these days we have confronted with similar term ‘politics of garbage’ that has exposed the inefficiency of elected officials and tainted the image of Kathmandu as pristine and beautiful city. The ongoing waste disposal problem began to worsen with the recent local election. As the people visited polling booths to cast their vote, they endured the foul smell of garbage heaped and littered at the corners of the streets. The piles of waste dumped on the roads were telltale sign of deficient governance. The disgusting scene was one factor that alienated the voters from the mainstream parties, prompting them to vote for independent candidate Balendra Shah for the post of Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City.
The newly elected Mayor Balen pledged not to hold his victory rallies unless the chronic garbage problem is sorted out. True to his words, he made every effort to manage the waste generated in the city. On Thursday night, his office reached an 18-point agreement with the agitating locals and elected representatives to ease dumping the garbage in a systematic way at the Banchare Danda Kudule Landfill Site bordering Dhading and Nuwakot. The deal was inked one day after the locals and security forces got engaged in nasty clashes as the former refused to allow the disposal of garbage in their locality. However, on Monday too, a tripartite agreement was signed between the Ministry of Urban Development, KMC and local representatives from the affected areas. But the locals of Banchare Danda disowned the tripartite accord, forcing the KMC to have another understanding with them.
The 18-point deal has addressed many demands of the locals but questions persist regarding the ability of local bodies and line ministries to implement them given their track record. The garbage problem has reached a tipping point in Kathmandu. If its permanent solution is not explored, it continues to plague the residents of the capital city as well as mock the capacity of the administrative and political leadership. “It has become extremely difficult to properly manage the waste because of the politics of garbage,” said Minister for Urban Development Ram Kumari Jhakri, who along with KMC Mayor Shah, has taken initiative to end the recurring waste disposal issue.
In an interview with Galaxy 4K TV channel, Jhakri has disclosed how some people with a vested interest created obstacle in the operation of Banchare Danda landfill site. The government wants to dispose the waste at Banchare Danda in a scientific and systematic manner unlike that of Sisdole where the dumped garbage has become 40-metre high mound. Initially, the government planned to dispose trash at Sisdole for two years but the KMC and other municipalities have been dumping garbage for the last 17 years far beyond its capacity. Now it has become quite unmanageable. As a result, the locals have suffered from its stench and reportedly caught various ailments through contaminated water, air and soil.
The government has already taken measures for the post-closure of Sisdole landfill that will be substituted by the Banchare Danda landfill. For this, it has acquired 1,790 ropanis of land by conducting the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the area. However, a section of people have demanded that the government must allocate Rs. 9 billion at once to acquire 3,500 ropanis of land for the landfill site but it can do so only after doing EIA that takes at least one and a half years. This requires relocating the entire settlement from there. Minister Jhakri claimed that some employees of KMC, who have bought land at Banchare Danda, goaded locals to press for the acquisition of more land so that they can make a fast buck by selling it to the government.
“Some locals have also demanded that the land belonging to Guthi should be converted into raikar (private land with absolute ownership) but the country’s law and a Supreme Court’s order do not allow changing Guthi land into raikar,” said Jhakri. The government has been working to build and operate sanitary landfill at Banchare Danda since 2007, but its efforts have gone down the tube owing to various obstacles.
While the dispute on the use of landfill site drags on, there are also discrepancies in the collection of the waste from households. The KMC does not have sufficient human resources to collect the garbage from around 590,000 households in Kathmandu, which generate around 800 metric tonnes of refuse daily. Around 70 to 80 organisations/NGOs are involved in collecting the waste but most of them have not inked agreement with the KMC for the collection of waste, according to sources. Legally, they must be registered at the Office of Company Registrar to enter into any form of economic activity.
Polluter pays principle
Globally, the waste is managed based on the 'polluter pays principle’ that stipulates that the people, who create pollution, should bear the costs of its management so that it does not harm the environment and public health. As per this practice, the households have to manage waste they produce. But, as they pay to those waste collectors to dispose the waste, the responsibility of proper waste management falls on these institutions. They charge around Rs. 350 to Rs. 500 per household in the KMC, which means their total transactions exceed Rs. 3 billion a month. It is true they have provided employment to many people but they should also invest in building and operating the landfill sites.
The government has so far made ‘174 decisions’ to bring the landfill sites into operation. Similarly, the KMC had signed scores of deals with the affected people and their representatives but the provisions related to road infrastructure, health and job for locals have not been effectively implemented. The new leadership at the KMC has tried to take the agitating locals into confidence. Let’s hope that no one will politicise the garbage issue and all stakeholders come together to resolve it once and for all.
(The author is Deputy executive Editor of this daily.)