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In the US and Japan, people segregate garbage into three categories: decaying garbage, plastic and metal. They tie these up in separate bags and keep them outside their homes to be picked up by garbage vans (The Mountains We Make, April 23). But scientific waste management is still a far cry in a land that swears by the Swachh Bharat slogan. Factors like rapid economic growth, the population explosion, the consumption boom, corruption, a lack of civic sense, and poor governance have contributed immeasurably to the problem in India. But with technological advances, there are now machines that can recycle waste and convert it into energy. Chennai alone generates more than 5,000 tonnes of garbage per day, and this can be converted into fuel through the plasma gasification and vitrification process, a technology developed by NASA. Under this technology, segregation of waste at source is not necessary. It is a complete recycling process that does not generate any harmful by-products, says US-based Solena Fuels, which represents NASA and is eager to enter into public-private partnerships with governments in India. Japan’s technology for recycling garbage should also be studied by state governments in order to stop this constantly ticking time-bomb.
Kangayam R. Narasimhan, Chennai
“Prodigality is the spirit of the era. Historians, I suspect, may allude to this as the Throwaway Age”, wrote eminent American social writer Vance Packard long ago about his own country in his thought-provoking book The Waste Makers. India seems to be not far from realising this, given the enormity of our garbage menace, with only 25 per cent of the garbage collected being processed and the rest ending up in disposal sites; salvaging from the latter, the humble rag-picker has been eking out a livelihood and ameliorating the problem.
Unrecycled plastic and aluminium foil packaging waste is contributing to mountains of trash. My local kirana shopwallah rues that he wastes Rs 3,600 a month to buy plastic packaging for his customers, with zero return on investment either in the form of a plastic fee or the bags themselves being returned!
Either we strictly enforce “Extended Producer Responsibility”, or ban plastic carry bags as did Kenya and Rwanda recently; for the latter, we need the discipline to use reusable cloth carry bags, water bottles, biodegradable disposables (from palash, areca nut leaves, bagasse). More importantly, we must segregate and compost organic waste at the source, i.e the household/ community level (e.g. Alappuzha, Panaji, Mysore and Bobbili), so that only non-biodegradable wastes would be left to garbage collection; this could then be recycled for road laying, pyrolytic oil generation or replacing coke in steelmaking (using waste tyres) . Short of taking these measures, no Swachh Bharat mission can ever purify our country!
C.V. Krishna Manoj, Hyderabad
It appears that there is no viable solution for solid waste management in Delhi—every scheme is deficient in some way. The three major landfills are overflowing, having exceeded their permissible parameters. The original idea behind creating these was to burn the waste in a furnace to produce electricity. Though Delhi has three waste-to-energy plants near these landfills, they have reportedly been lying almost idle since the trifurcation of the MCD in 2012, with no means available to manage them. Environmentalists find burning this waste ecologically hazardous. Then, there are researchers and specialists suggesting a method followed by several countries: the use of incineration plants that burn the waste to ash, which is then sold and put to other uses. According to one scientist, this method, which would reduce the volume of waste by over 70 per cent, is impossible to implement until the waste is segregated into dry and wet. This segregation has to be done at the source, and that is next to impossible in India. Waste-management is not Delhi’s problem alone, but one affecting the whole country. Alappuzha in Kerala is an exception (Clean Up After Yourselves)—and behind its transformation was the unrelenting T.M. Thomas Isaac, who spearheaded the movement. Millions of Isaacs are needed to transform India into a clean country.
M.C. Joshi, Lucknow
It is very unfortunate that other than a few flashy slogans and campaigns, we are completely unprepared for managing waste. This issue is as important as food. And must we showcase these eyesores and stench generators in visible proximity of our high rise structures or at the entry points of metropolises? There are solutions for waste management. As mentioned in your cover story, the effort has to begin from citizens who should mandatorily segregate waste. If spraying bioculture on smaller heaps of well screened bio waste turns it into soil-like matter, the same method can be applied later to the bigger mounds of waste.
Mohan Singh, Amritsar
In Bangalore, we face the dual problem of garbage piles and polluted lakes. A telling monument of the collective apathy of Bangaloreans, both citizens and municipal bodies, is the once pristine Bellandur lake, which froths and fumes, as if in disgust, due to pollution. It even bursts into flames, literally, with a potent mix of domestic industrial waste acting as fuel. Waste segregation at the source is half of the solution and proper long-term planning with corruption-free disposal of waste by the authorities is the other half. We must all wake up or be ready to be buried under these mountains of doom. The Alappuzha model is worth emulating and citizens there deserve a standing ovation.
Pradeep Baid, Bangalore
My family has subscribed to Outlook for years…since I was a school kid. I enjoy reading the magazine very much, but is it necessary to pack it in a plastic packet? For someone who uses zero plastic, I find this a nuisance (and the Earth does too, trust me). The only plastic in my house is from Outlook. I subscribe to other magazines too. None of them come packed in plastic, including those that come from abroad. I could read the magazine online too, and avoid getting the plastic, but then I like to have a physical copy, like all magazine lovers.
Ierene Francis, Bangalore
These topless towers of refuse sentry-ing the capital are testament to India’s growth story.
Satindra Paul Singh, On E-Mail
This is with reference to your editorial comment (Gandhi’s Spectacles, April 23), Gandhi’s advice for the maintenance of sanitation and equality in society—that we should all ‘become’ bhangis—proves his shrewdness, as he never wanted to offend the majority of non-untouchables by stating the truth that we all are all rotten at heart. We hire others to clean our toilets. We claim to be human beings, but don’t understand the ABCD of humanity when we consider our own brethren to be untouchable. The only way left to understand the equality and dignity of labour and the practice of untouchability is to clean the toilets and handle others’ shit. Only then may we be better placed to talk about sanitation and equality in society.
M.N. Bhartiya, Goa
It is curious that the BJP in Karnataka is finding it tough to take advantage of the anti-incumbency factor in the Congress-ruled state ahead of next month’s polls (Not Exactly Virgin Soil To Plough, Apr 23). What’s more, the saffron party is facing a strong challenge even from the JD(S). While the Congress is boasting about its welfare schemes under CM Siddaramaiah (accused of maintaining poor law and order), Deve Gowda’s JD(S) is projecting farmers’ issues, loan waivers and the Cauvery water-sharing problem as the main poll-time questions. The BJP has been harping on the issues of corruption and ‘appeasement politics’ in reference to the Congress’s proposal to recognise Lingayats as a minority religion. Karnataka seems set to get a hung assembly this time.
K.R. Srinivasan, Secunderabad
It’s a no-holds-barred battle. It’s vital for the Congress to retain power—to show that the party, at the national level, is on a comeback trail under the new president, Rahul Gandhi. For the BJP, of course, a victory in Karnataka can help show that the party has a flag flying high in a southern state as well. But then the CM seems to be outshining the BJP in the campaign. If an array of welfare schemes has been his highlight, the proposal to grant the Lingayats minority status seems to be further working to his party’s benefit.
G. David Milton, Maruthancode
This refers to Gandhi’s Spectacles, your comment (April 23). Gandhi was a master at practising the politics of symbolism. Realising the potential of the symbolic for influencing a humongous mass of people entrapped in different kinds of oppressions, the Mahatma devised a symbol for each of the nation’s problems. He had the charkha for self sufficiency, the broom for self-sanitation and an orange juice cure for Ambedkar’s ‘rebellion’. But, I dare say, for all the Mahatma’s saintliness, he was a shrewd politician. Symbols can only get you so far. When it comes to the problem of manual scavenging and garbage disposal, symbols have taken us nowhere. In fact, inspired by the power of Gandhi’s successful symbolism, Modi has taken charge of the broom, cleaning dry leaves and chips packets for photo ops. The real shit always remains hidden. It is not Gandhi we must turn to with regard to the current problem—it is Ambedkar’s rationalism and humanism we must revisit. Symbols only give a convenient illusion of solving problems; we need to be logical and rational to achieve real results
Anil S., Pune
Outlook’s story on the recent communal clashes in Bengal over the Ram Navami celebrations (At The Fire Ceremonies, Apr 16) highlights a dangerous situation. As Indians, we don’t have time to lose, knowing that in the past we have done a shoddy job of stemming the rot of communalism. Or is it that in today’s India it’s tough to form the obvious consensus on these matters? Queering the pitch are the political parties who, oblivious of the fact that it’s secularism that makes India stand out amidst a fraught South Asia, use such nefarious means to divide the populace into convenient votebanks. Unless we fight this with all our power, suffering will be our handmaiden.
Sheikh Hyder Ali, Pune
The story The Funny Bone of Grey Matters (April 23) about director Abhinay Deo was a nice read. He really is a director of witty realism. Some more pictures and some bits on his personal life would have added more value to the story. But I think the picture of actor Irrfan Khan in the top-right corner of the issue’s cover was somewhat misleading. It gave the impression that there was a story of Irrfan in the magazine. Irrfan is a big star and an actor par excellence; a separate story on him would be welcome.
Minati Pradhan, On E-Mail
This refers to Just Pass the Wine, Comrades (April 23), your story on poll violence in Bengal. Elections are the bedrock of democracy. Free and fair polls are necessary for the formation of a truly representative government. But in Bengal, we see ruling party goons targeting opposition candidates in a bid to intimidate them. If this is not proof enough of a breakdown of law and order, then what is? Even journalists have not been spared by the Trinamool Congress. And the police are mere pawns in the hands of the ruling party. One has heard of farcical elections being organised in banana republics and under dictatorial regimes. What is happening in Bengal today is not much different. It is quite apparent that democracy is under threat in the state. The conditions were bad during the days of the Left Front as well. I had expected the Trinamool to behave differently in power, but it is aping the ways of the Left. It is anybody’s guess, then, how free and fair the panchayat elections will be.
J.S. Acharya, Hyderabad
This is about the story on Nepal prime minister Oli’s visit to New Delhi and the efforts on both sides to ease the tensions that had soured relations (Apr 16, The Old Sport of Goodwill Hunting). It’s in India’s interest to build a constructive friendship with Nepal based on sovereign equality. Even if Oli is seen as pro-China, his visit should be seen as an opportunity. India’s security-driven foreign policy forgets one thing—that ‘China card’ diplomacy by its neighbours has its limits. Nepal, fearful of its large southern neighbour’s long reach, may want to keep India at arm’s length, but would eventually come to see its much larger northern neighbour’s machinations as a greater threat. Thus India has to be proactive too—if China builds a hydroelectric project in Nepal, India should be interested in buying the power generated. If there are lessons from India’s engagement with Nepal over the last four years, it is not to make crude demands for loyalty based on size, but to acknowledge the agency of a sovereign nation and offer friendship based on equality.
M.S. Khokhar, On E-Mail
Outlook’s cover story on fake news being generated on social media platforms like Twitter (Malice As News, Mar 26) couldn’t have come at a better time. When John Swinton, who had been chief of staff of The New York Times in the 1860s, was asked to give a toast on ‘free press’ at the New York Press Club, he stated: “There is no such thing, at this date in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it. There is not one of you who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with.” “The business of journalists,” he continued in the same scathing vein, “is to destroy truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to vilify; to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread.” Does this ring a bell in today’s India? If it does, even partially, what’s the point in castigating the common man who vents on Twitter and insists he’s not telling lies?J. Akshobhya, Mysore
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