Unsegregated waste overflows in sheds located near water bodies that cater to thousands of people in Ogmuna and Hardu Aboora villages of Baramulla district
By Ishfaq Reshi
Kunzer, Jammu and Kashmir: Launched in 2020-21, the Swachh Bharat Mission (Grameen) (SBM-G) Phase-II had instilled a new hope among the residents of 6,650 villages in Jammu and Kashmir. The drive had promised to provide interventions for the safe management of solid and liquid waste (SLW) in every gram panchayat of the Union Territory (UT).
According to official data, as many as 6,535 waste collection and segregation sheds were constructed in the UT as part of the initiative. Around 50,000 dustbins, 23,826 community soak pits, 12,308 community compost pits and 5,527 community sanitary complexes were set up for the first time to manage SLW.
However, residents complain that the SBM-G failed to make a positive impact on the ground. ‘It is evident from the overflowing trash bins in markets, lanes and alleys,’ says Sheikh Rayan (30) of Hardu Aboora village in Baramulla district of north Kashmir.
According to the guidelines issued by the Central government, the residents would dump the segregated waste in the respective dustbins, which sanitation workers would transport to the sheds where biodegradable waste will be composted.
‘Around April-May this year, a bin was placed in the market area here. For about a month, two sanitation workers were hired by the Rural Development Department. As their wages were not paid on time, they stopped collecting waste. So now, there are overflowing dustbins everywhere, emitting foul smell and attracting flies. It is impossible to stand near this area,’ says Rayan.
‘Instead of helping us, the initiative has aggravated the problem. Earlier, we would segregate kitchen waste and use it as fodder. We would burn some portion of the solid waste in our homes itself. Whatever remained used to be disposed of on the village outskirts. Now garbage of over 40 households and over a dozen shops is collected in a bin installed near a stream,’ says Ali Mohammad (48), who runs a shop in the nearby market.
Unsegregated waste in segregation sheds
On the outskirts of the heavily populated Ogmuna village in Kunzer stands a segregation shed built at an estimated cost of Rs 5.16 lakh to manage waste from over 700 households. According to officials, waste from about 100 households of nearby Ketch village is also handled here.
‘Ideally, the waste should have been sorted into three — wet, dry and biomedical. However, the shed has become a dumpyard. Blankets, sanitary pads, food scraps, plastic bags, medical waste, shoes and kitchen waste are scattered in and around it,’ says Suhaib Ahmed (29), a resident of Ogmuna.
‘The plan has failed. The authorities have actually increased our problems. Earlier, we encouraged people to manage waste at home by putting compostable waste in pits set up in their orchards or by gathering waste outside residential areas. But this segregation shed has encouraged people to bring and dump waste here,’ Ogmuna panchayat sarpanch Jahangir Ahmad Dhobi tells 101Reporters.
Calling it a matter of grave concern, Jammu and Kashmir General Health Services Director Dr Salim-Ur-Rahman says the waste causes both health and environmental hazards. ‘The health risks associated with open waste are multifaceted, including water-borne and vector-borne diseases. Segregation sheds and dustbins can be a breeding ground for rodents and insects. Coming into contact with wastewater can expose people to harmful micro-organisms leading to diseases like giardiasis, severe stomach cramps and hepatitis.’
The residents are particularly worried as sanitation facilities are functioning near vital water bodies. ‘Look at this so-called segregation shed right by the banks of two significant water sources,’ remarks Farooq Ahmad Wani, a senior citizen. The segregation shed in Ogmuna is positioned near a spring providing pure water to the village. On the other side is a scenic water stream called Wussan Nullah, from which water is supplied to numerous villages, including Tarhama, Heing, Barzulla and Soipura, in summers.
Irfan Banka, an anthropologist and chairman of J&K RTI Foundation, says the persistent challenge to rural sanitation is the existing untreated waste that continues to seep into vital water sources. ‘This leads to a surge in skin diseases and gastrointestinal infections as emphasised in the official report from the Sub District Hospital, Magam,’ he says.
‘Our rural sanitation programme must evolve to address the immediate deterioration of water bodies. This involves not only relocation but an integrated approach that incorporates effective waste management practices, community education and sustainable solutions,’ he adds.
No payment for workers in waste management
Farooq Ahmad Ganie (35) and Mohammad Shafi Bhat (46) worked as sanitation workers in Hardu Aboora for Rs 5,000 per month. Ganie says he signed an employment letter in the sarpanch’s presence in May. ‘They provided us with uniforms, carts and necessary equipment and we began working within a week. However, even after two months we did not receive the promised money,’ he says.
‘When we approached the officials, they informed us about the fund crunch and told us to collect user charges from the community. But people refused to pay us… They [officials] are mocking our poverty. If they did not have a proper policy in place, why did they promise to pay us initially,’ Ganie asks.
Ogmuna sarpanch Dhobi blames the Rural Development Department officials for the residents’ “irresponsible” act of dumping unsegregated waste at the shed. ‘The department lacks adequate staff and an effective system to handle waste… I have always been against simple dumping of garbage. Waste can be a significant resource if managed properly. It can even create job opportunities,’ he says.
About a km away, in Hardu Aboora, a similar condition prevails at the segregation shed. It has become a den for stray dogs, which feed on waste and scare away anyone approaching the area. The shed got ready in September under the SBM-G at an estimated cost of Rs 5.15 lakh. However, there is no mechanism in place to sort the waste, says Ghulam Mohammad Wani (60), a resident of Hardu Aboora.
According to environmental activist Dr Raja Muzaffer Bhat, the error lies in the management system. ‘Of the 6,535 segregation sheds constructed so far, there is not even a single place in Jammu and Kashmir where segregation is undertaken in sheds. The dustbins placed for cleanliness add to the messiness and filth of rural areas.’
Farooq Ahmad Wani, sarpanch of Hardu Aboora, complains that the government policies are not designed for the people but bureaucrats. ‘Despite catering to a population of over 800 households in Hardu Aboora, Kharpora, Haripora and Gulabdaji, only 10 dustbins have been placed so far,’ he says.
What officials say
Acknowledging the issues, Kunzer Block Development Officer Dr Shuyab tells 101Reporters that many residents discard both biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste in open spaces near the sheds, causing issues in subsequent processing. ‘Segregation sheds, if managed effectively, can play a vital role in promoting organic farming,’ he adds.
Speaking to 101Reporters, Charandeep Singh, Director, Rural Sanitation, Jammu and Kashmir, admitted that ‘there are loopholes here and there, but it is not that simple to immediately come to the conclusion that the mission has failed.’ ‘In fact, we are the first UT to declare open defecation free-plus model status in the entire country,’ Singh informs.
Asked about the issues faced by sanitation workers, he claims, ‘We have hired two swachhagrahis in every village panchayat. They are being paid by the government. They were hired after a resolution was passed by the respective village panchayats and agencies and their monthly payment of Rs 5,000 is being paid to these gram panchayats and agencies regularly.’
Asked if this amount was sufficient, he says, ‘It is ultimately a community-driven mission and to make it successful, we have to levy user charges from the residents. We cannot rely solely on government funds. The operation and maintenance have to be done by the community through elected members and representatives to make this programme a success,’ he says.
Ishfaq Reshi is a Jammu and Kashmir-based freelance journalist and a member of 101Reporters, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.