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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Chennai solid waste management - will Urbaser keep the metropolis clean ?

This morning Triplicane was abuzz ! ~ some new vehicles – people clad in new uniforms and a sense of vibrancy ! .. .. ..

Life in 1980s and in 2020s – certainly has changed .. .. those days, in Triplicane, we had long winding houses (resembling lanes) – there were tenants happily co-existing.  Now we have multi-storeyed apartments – people living in flats, mostly not knowing thy neighbour.  This is no post on harmony but on solid waste ! – those days there would be a cement dustbin infront of every house or in between – a round concrete dust bin kept by Corporation.  Corporation workers would come (with bullock-cart) clean and collect garbage; remember streets would be cleaned (with brooms) twice a day. Roads / the area was clean – not any longer ! – why, and who is to be blamed ?  Great value is often associated with a clean city. A clean city is a strong reflection of our moral and civic values. They do not just come by chance. They require – good strategy, execution, responsibility and dedicated maintenance.

Ever heard of this Spanish Company ? – Urbaser !  ~ their website claims them to be a world leader in environmental management, a global sustainability-oriented company, serving more than 50 million people in 30 countries through a huge network of more than 35,000 employees and over 160 subsidiary companies.

What it takes to keep the surroundings clean ? – have you ever wondered when you walk past any area which is untidy ! – other than blaming the system and expecting people to refrain from throwing litter everywhere.. … what can we do to keep the public places clean – how can we prevent people throwing waste from their balconies and from their two-wheelers or throwing from a distance !!  In this beautiful World, it is easier criticising and finding fault with action of others. WE can make a difference to the place around us – all that is required is ‘indomitable will, few leading from the front and people cooperating ’ –  In 2014, Tripllicanies saw vinyl banners dotting the Mada veethis of Thiruvallikkeni – SYMA  launched a ‘Cleaning Campaign’ – not a single day job – with vision to keep Streets of Thiruvallikkeni divyadesam clean.  

Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, campaign was launched on 2nd Oct 2014 at Rajghat by our Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modiji.  The mastermind scheme  was India's largest cleanliness drive to date with three million government employees and students from all parts of India participating in 4,041 cities, towns, and rural areas. The campaign's official name was  in Hindi and translates to "Clean India Mission" in English. The objectives of Swachh Bharat included eliminating open defecation through the construction of household-owned and community-owned toilets and establishing an accountable mechanism of monitoring toilet use.   


In Chennai as in  most other cities -  cleanliness and conservancy is a major issue.  There are no public toilets in most places and in places where there is one, it is not usable by the public.  Elsewhere, it is a  legal requirement for public toilets to be provided with the basic toilet amenities, namely toilet paper, liquid soap, hand dryer (or paper towels) and litter bin. The Chennai Corporation is the civic body governing the metropolis of Chennai.  It looks after the removal of solid waste –  every day around 5400 MT of garbage is collected from the city.    Door to door collection of garbage is practiced in most Zones. Years back, a contract was given to a Private player – Onyx and Chennai residents were thrilled to see modern equipments like composter, compacter, gloved  and uniformed work force – seemingly good but only lasted for some time.  Then the conservancy contract was given to Neel Metal Fanalca, later Ramkay  and presently there are complaints at various places that cleaning is not up to the mark.   

When it comes to cleanliness and remaining litter- free, comparisons are often drawn only to Singapore, the South east Asian State  off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula.  Singapore is a highly urbanized  country.  Singapore has a well-deserved reputation as a clean and attractive city, in large part because of its litter-free streets and pavements.  In a litter-free event, the event organizer would encourage participants and spectators alike to make a conscious effort to take away all their rubbish with them and deposit the rubbish in the litterbins provided.  The comparisons may be endless and aspirations sky-high.  But it is high time that WE did something to make India clean and provide better hygienic conditions.  The Government, individuals like us, Agencies, NGOs and everybody have a role to play in. Everywhere in newspapers and on meetings, it is easy to speak on the lacunae and the requirements.  There is need for building and maintaining more Public convenience in many places, especially in all schools. More important is to be disciplined ourselves.  

Urbaser-Sumeet has now taken over solid waste management in Alandur, Adayar, Valasaravakkam, Perungudi, Sholinganallur, Teynampet and Kodambakkam zones.  It is reported that  unlike Ramky Enterprises, the new contractor won’t be paid based on the quantity of waste collected. The corporation has introduced 36 key performance indicators such as regular sweeping of streets, clearing garbage bins on time, 100% door-to-door collection and creating awareness on segregation that will be audited by a team headed by an independent engineer and corporation officials before the payment is cleared. A toll-free number will help residents post complaints to the call centre through the day.

In a move aimed at benefitting 37 lakh people living across seven zones in Chennai city, Spanish firm Urbaser Sumeet has taken over  solid waste management on an eight-year contract. Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, on Wednesday flagged off a fleet of waste management equipment, including 125 compactors, 38 mechanical sweepers, 3,000 e-rickshaws for waste collection and 11,000 compactor dustbins with 10,844 staff.

The project will cover Teynampet, Kodambakkam, Valasaravakkam, Alandur, Adyar, Perungudi and Sholinganallur zones. According to an official statement, 100% source segregation is expected to be achieved in all these zones in a year. “We will start work in zone 13 (Adyar) from Thursday and the rest of the zones will be covered before December. It is a phased initiation,” CEO of Urbaser-Sumeet, was quoted as saying.  The firm, which was issued work orders by the Corporation in December last year, has  handled conservancy operations in Spain, France, Italy, England, Oman, Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Peru, apart from Delhi. In the backdrop of corruption charges levelled against Ramky Enviro Engineers Limited which was earlier handling solid waste management in Adyar, Kodambakkam and Teynampet, it has been decided to pay Urbaser Sumeet based on performance under 34 indicators, Corporation officials said.

It is stated that the Firm  will be looking at creating awareness of segregating waste among the public. Penalty is likely to be levied on those who fail to segregate waste. “Our battery-operated-vehicles (for collection of waste) come with six bins built for wet, dry and domestic hazardous waste. The drivers will tell residents how they need to segregate the waste. A 24x7 call centre will also be set up at Alandur, where school students will be encouraged to observe how waste is handled and monitored,” the Company said. 

Now getting back to the starting para of 1980s & 2020s – those days, household would generate some waste like vegetable leftovers which would only be placed in the bin next to their home, now imagine the volume of solid waste generated by us, either after a shopping spree or after an order of Pizza or lunch from hotel – and most of us do not want a bin nearby house stating that it would pollute our environ.  WE can make a difference to the place around us – all that is required is ‘indomitable will, few leading from the front and people cooperating ’ – let us hope that the new Agency does solid waste management professionally and the city is kept clean and tidy.

~ and let us vow to cooperate in keeping our place, the city clean, just as we strive to keep our houses clean. 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
10th Nov. 2020. 


  1. Yes.. well said...."and let us vow to cooperate in keeping our place, the city clean, just as we strive to keep our houses clean. "

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