Solid Waste Management Training Initiative


Empowerment Of Pourakarmikas to Solid Waste Managers by Training and Development of a Sustainable Community Level Solid Waste Management Module


In Bangalore the bulk of the waste generated is mostly domestic and as a system of door to door collection nor on site storage exists, most of the waste finds its way to the community bins that are found at the street corners. These community bins are nothing more than bottomless cement bins of 0.9 mtr. diameter and 0.6 cu. mtr storage capacity which are placed roughly at distances of 150-200 metres. The community bins are also the recipients of hospital generated waste, along with wastes from hotels, restaurants, markets.

Strict administrative orders from the Corporation ordering hotels and restaurants to make their own arrangements for collection, transportation and disposal of waste exist, but the monitoring and regulation of the same is very lax. Very few hospitals have incinerators for waste disposal and these are rendered useless most of the year due to maintenance problems. Hence these disposal points are not only an eyesore but also pose as a major community health risk.

Street Sweeping is the main system of primary collection of waste and the Pourakarmikas (Corporation Sweepers) and the private contractors who work on a daily wage basis do this. The tools that are provided are minimal and inadequate. The basic tools provided are a broom (which is assembled by the Pourakarmikas themselves, from the raw material provided), one metal plate every 6 months to scoop the waste, dust etc and a woven basket every quarter. One handcart for the transportation to the community bin is provided, which is to be shared between 10 workers. No health and injury protective gear is provided.

The removal of waste is mainly undertaken by collecting waste from community bins and other waste storage points. This is mostly done by manual removal by a group of 3-5 persons that accompany each truck. This operation is undertaken with some level of privatisation. 82 Corporation trucks are deployed for this operation, but the main burden of the removal and transportation is undertaken through private contractors. This is done by engaging about 130 vehicles for collection from neighbourhoods and markets, and over 70 lorries (mostly uncovered) for transportation of waste. In addition, the Corporation deploys 13 Dumper Placers for transporting metallic containers of 2.5 – 3 tonne capacity placed in high-density commercial areas and 6 mini-compactors for transportation of waste.

The final disposal of the waste is through landfills that are basically maintained on the most unscientific and unhealthy grounds. Until recently, the Corporation had no site identified for SW disposal. Waste was being dumped on roadsides and low-lying areas including water-harvesting tanks, mainly to raise the ground level or reclaim wetlands. In some cases abandoned fields and quarries have been used for this. The consequences of such disposal have not been monitored by any of the health and environmental regulatory agencies. Due to such lackadaisical approach, the problems caused by such careless disposal is presumed to be of an enormous scale, though the evidence of the impacts is perceptible only in the occasional reporting in media of contamination of ground water and soil in some high risk areas.

Some of the biodegradable waste is processed in three major facilities that are oriented towards converting SW into bioorganic fertilizer through composting. In addition in some of the residential areas, the community and NGO initiatives have ensured that the waste is segregated at source which is converted to manure through vermi-composting.

Considering the importance of effective SW management to public health, it is not surprising that citizen action has been most consistent in this area. At the same time, it is a common site anywhere in the city to see people strew garbage in and around the community dustbin. More often than not, the garbage lands outside the bin. Even if it does land within the bin the rummaging for recyclable waste by ragpickers ensures what is within the small bin eventually comes out. It is only when the truck to collect SW comes that the entire area gets cleaned up.

A lack of basic civic education amongst citizenry is to blame for this fallout. This aided with very poor monitoring of SW clearance and disposal by BMP has resulted in many areas of the city, including prime business districts in the city centre, revealing the dirty gut of the city in its most grotesque forms.

Opportunities for Change:

The Committee that was constituted under the direction of the Supreme Court to formulate recommendations to tackle the SW management problem in Class I cities (i.e. cities with population of over 100,000) has produced and extensive report on the magnitude of the problem and provided a range of solutions to the same.

In one section of the Report, the role of the Pourakarmikas (PK) is envisaged as not being involved in not just street sweepings, but also in collection of wet-waste daily and dry/recyclable-waste on a weekly basis direct from households. This is a radical shift from the presently adopted practice. Should the Supreme Court accept the recommendations, not only will the role of the Corporation worker be transformed into that of a community outreach agent, but also it will demand an active involvement of the local community in keeping their neighbourhood clean. The Committee has also recommended strict action against violators per the “Polluter pays Principle” which would entail a high degree of compliance from commercial establishments, trade units, hotels, industries, markets, etc.

A very high level of capacity building both amongst BMP SW management workers, and as well amongst the local community will be demanded. It also requires a responsive and leading role from elected representatives. In the present circumstance, such a cocktail of desired elements does not exist. Thus the chances are that despite the Supreme Court of India intervening in this subject, and making specific and detailed recommendations for municipalities to adopt, there is a likelihood that a good initiative will be lost in the lack of preparedness to accept and adopt it for common benefit.

In response to this progressive thinking on SWM interventions, we undertook the task of working with Pourakarmikas of Ward 49B of the Basavanagudi Range of Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, to understand their situation in detail and examine the various opportunities that exist in developing this sector to respond to emergent needs of the community. This initiative was conducted over a period of a year from June 1999, and was supported with a small grant from the Policy Analysis, Development and Review Unit of the United Nations Environment Programme, Kenya and the active cooperation of the local ward officers. The interventions undertaken in this initiative are described in subsequent sections.

As part of this initiative, a survey of the present innovative community initiatives in the SW management in Bangalore was conducted. It was observed that there is today a very high degree of effort in mobilising the community through a variety of innovative interventions. These are manifest in such ways as, addressing the needs of socially disadvantaged groups such as ragpicking street children, a very high level of lobbying and interaction with senior officials of the BMP, series of debates and consultations on improving the management and financial strength of the sector towards bringing in new technology and constant reporting and monitoring of the issues involved by the media. However, despite such efforts being underway for over a decade now, no demonstrable results have been produced at the community level. To put it crudely, yet candidly, the waste bins overflow more garbage today than they did a decade before.

We felt that in order to overhaul the system from its present pathetic state to the more desirable and radical shift of scientifically managed approach, the needs of the Pourakarmikas were to be addressed, and encourage the enormous potential that is latent in them in performing as effective community outreach personnel for SW management.

A most revealing indication of this failure is the fact that to this day none of the Pourakarmikas are equipped with health and injury protective gear, and are thus exposed to very great risks due to direct and wholly primitive handling of wastes. This lacunae has not been addressed despite the high degree of NGO/citizen monitoring. This is symptomatic of the very low attention that the pourakarmikas are granted, even when they perform the most critical function of the BMP.

This would involve orienting them to the Community outreach role desired by the Supreme Court Committee on SW. And as a consequence, empower them with a standing in society that is far removed from the present receptive status of being mere sweepers to that of a proactive Corporation worker who will define standards for communities to comply in retaining a clean and healthy neighbourhood.

We found this to be an opportunity to contribute to the process of empowering Pourakarmikas, as a means to strengthening a tier of administration that is permanent, well established and familiar with the maintenance of clean neighbourhoods on a daily basis.

Project Initiative and Justification

The project entitled "Towards a Sustainable Community Level Solid Waste Management Strategy by way of Empowering Municipal Pourakarmikas in their envisaged new role as Local Solid Waste Managers" was a collaborative initiative of Environment Support Group ®, Bangalore and the Policy Analysis, Development and Review Unit of the United Nations Environment Programme, Kenya. The project was initiated in June 1999 with the co-operation of the Bangalore Mahanagara Palike and was implemented as a Pilot project in the 49B Ward of the Basavanagudi Health Range. The Project area is approximately 2 sq. km and involves 40 Pourakarmikas (Corporation “sweepers”).

The Project focussed on understanding the working and living conditions of the Pourakarmikas and upgrading their skills to the envisaged role of 'Solid waste managers': an informed and socially aware Municipal Worker who would motivate the local community to engage actively in the joint responsibility of maintaining clean and healthy neighbourhoods.

The process of implementation of the Project Steps involved establishing strong and durable relations with and between the local health officials, the pourakarmikas and the local community. The principal actor in this dynamic being the Pourakarmika, the Project oriented itself towards ensuring their active involvement by motivating and training them in upgrading their skills, and as well responding to their emergent needs. Social surveys, health camps and training programmes were conducted as part of this process, thus achieving the Project’s main goals.

In brief the purpose of the Project was to fulfill the following objectives:

  1. Build the capacities of Solid Waste Workers in one Health Ward of the Bangalore Municipal Corporation towards fulfilling the role proposed for them by the Supreme Court Appointed Committee on India’s Urban Solid Waste Management for Class I cities.
  2. Mobilise the local community in understanding the implications of the new Solid Waste Management Strategy, and supporting the new role of “Pourakarmikas” as community level Solid Waste Managers.
  3. Develop appropriate educational aids in building the capacities of the “Pourakarmikas” and the local community in enabling a sustainable community-level solid waste management strategy.

The following sequential activities were proposed to be conducted by ESG in performing the aforementioned tasks:

  1. Identification of Health Ward for project activity and “pourakarmikas” for capacity building in consultation with Bangalore Municipal Corporation.
  2. Conduct an Appraisal/Health Camp for “pourakarmikas” to provide an accurate understanding of their welfare/health status and as well enable the development of a rapport between them and the project team.
  3. Consultation with “pourakarmikas” to understand their reality, address main issues of concern in the solid waste management in the project area and elicit their solutions for the same.
  4. Capacity building of “pourakarmikas” through various training methodologies in the new role envisaged for them by the Supreme Court committee.
  5. Development of appropriate interventions for a sustainable community level solid waste management strategy lead by the “pourakarmikas” and aided by an extensive community consultation and education approach.
  6. Implementation of the community level strategy developed based on a community outreach approach lead by the “pourakarmikas”.
  7. The report will be provided to the Bangalore Municipal Corporation, and various experts, NGOs and community based organisations working in the sector for comments/review. Should the interventions developed by the project be considered adaptable across the city, then appropriate capacity building processes could be planned for application at a mass scale.