Hiccups in transition to new system of city’s upkeep

Several new compactors, e-vehicles and modern equipment deployed in the wards

This monsoon marks the transition from the old “tonnage” system of solid waste management to a new “performance-based” system of conservancy in Chennai. While residents of a few areas like Adyar have reported an improvement in services, many locations have started reporting civic issues because of inadequate infrastructure for implementing the new system.

For instance, the infrastructure to charge electric vehicles has not been installed in locations like Kodambakkam ahead of the launch. Zones like Teynampet are yet to get infrastructure for charging all the battery-operated vehicles. Private conservancy operators will take over 11 out of 15 zones of the city by the time this northeast monsoon season ends. Residents have demanded that the civic body develop all infrastructure for smooth functioning of the system.

Private conservancy operations, as per the performance-based indicators, have started in Adyar and Teynampet. The private conservancy operator will start operations in Kodambakkam on November 30. Work is expected to begin in Alandur, Valasaravakkam, Perungudi and Sholinganallur this December. Work order for Tiruvottiyur, Manali, Madhavaram and Ambattur has been issued last week.

Over 11,000 conservancy workers are expected to be hired by Urbaser Sumeet, the private conservancy operator for the Teynampet, Kodambakkam, Adyar, Sholinganallur, Alandur, Valasaravakkam and Perungudi zones. At least 4,500 workers have been hired till date.

Bright spots

The improvement in solid waste management has been significant in some parts of Adyar after the new private conservancy operator took over 30 days ago. “Conservancy operations are fairly good in Adyar. I won’t say the system has improved 100%. Previously, they never used to clean the road. Day-to-day collection was not regular. They have improved in the past few days,” said S. Thiruvengadam, secretary of Adyar Citizens Welfare Association.

“Residents have requested officials to respect their sentiments. Door-to-door pick-up should be regular on Sundays. Dumping of waste by illegal hostels should stop after relaxation of the COVID-19 restrictions,” said Mr. Thiruvengadam.

Following the launch of private conservancy operations in Adyar 30 days ago, the civic body launched operations in the Teynampet zone 10 days ago. But conservancy operations have not improved in many parts of the zone. A large number of new compactors, battery-operated vehicles and modern equipment have been used to clean the area for the past few days. The number of vehicles has increased in the past few days. But services have been inadequate because of lack of coordination between private workers and civic officials.

Most new drivers of compactors are inexperienced, affecting conservancy operations in areas like Teynampet. The new drivers require guidance from corporation workers but they have not received any support at the field level. Sweeping of streets is inadequate. Some stretches like Anna Salai and Pattulos Road remain dirty. Sweeping has not been done for more than 15 days in some parts of the Teynampet zone.

According to the data compiled by the Corporation, the number of complaints received from residents has come down from 15 every day to zero in most of the wards in the Adyar zone after the launch of the new system.

Officials attribute the reduction in the complaints to the increase in the number of equipment and mechanisation of operations. But the number of workers has reduced in zones such as Adyar and Teynampet. For instance, just 30 sweepers have been deployed in a ward in Adyar to clean 160 streets. As a result, a sweeper has been asked to clean 1,100 metres of streets. New supervisors have been harsh in dealing with inexperienced conservancy workers. Each sweeper was asked to clean just 500 metres of road by the old conservancy operator.

Representatives of conservancy employees said the risk of attrition among employees was expected to be high after the COVID-19 restrictions were relaxed. Many new conservancy workers have joined the private conservancy operator owing to loss of livelihood during the lockdown. They would leave their jobs after they get their original source of livelihood.

Transport issues

The issues relating to direct transport of waste from streets to the dumpyard at Perungudi has affected conservancy operations. After civic issues were reported because of the closure of transfer stations at Mylapore, small vehicles have been permitted to dump waste in the transfer station. Ahead of the launch in the Kodambakkam zone this month, conservancy operations have been disrupted in many parts of the zone.

N. Thiyagarajan, a resident of Kodambakkam, said the number of conservancy workers had come down in the vicinity of Anna Main Road. “Garbage is dumped on Anna Main Road from the interior roads. Clearance is not done at regular intervals. Once a resident complains on the 1913 helpline, the worker is removed from the job, and the situation turns worse,” he said.

Residents are waiting for the new conservancy operator to start full-fledged operations in Kodambakkam this month. Some parts of Kodambakkam have already received the services of the private conservancy operator.

Former councillor S. Mangala Raj said the quality of conservancy work in areas like Bazaar Road in Mylapore had worsened in the past few days.

The performance of the private operator would be evaluated by the Assistant Executive Engineer of the Corporation before payment. In the event of a poor score, the payment would be reduced significantly.

Corporation Chief Engineer N. Mahesan said they were creating awareness among bulk waste generators who generate more than 100 kg a day to prevent dumping of waste near residential areas. “We held a meeting of 2,000 bulk waste generators, including malls and hotels, last week. We have advised them to stop dumping waste on the road. As per the Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016, the bulk waste generators have to do on-site composting and recycling. Just 25% of the bulk waste generators have done it. We will start collecting fine for violations,” he said.

“We will focus on night conservancy. Overflowing of bins will reduce. Seven zones will stabilise by January. Decentralised facilities such as bio-gas plants and resource recovery will start next month. Our awareness-creation activities for creating a cleaner Chennai among the shops in areas like Triplicane have helped to improve the conditions. Our focus is on waste segregation at source. Residents are requested to hand over the segregated waste only to the BOV operator. Waste management services by Urbaser Sumeet is free of cost. Residents are requested not to pay cash or in kind to any Urbaser Sumeet staff member,” he said.

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