RWAs as a Third Component for Sustainable Urban Development

RWAs as a third force for sustainable urban development

The author suggests a six-point formula for sustainable urban development and maintenance of environment, with a coordinated approach between RWAs, municipal corporations, pollution control boards, and CSR schemes of major industries. This plan may not be completely feasible for already overgrown cities, but is more suitable for smaller cities and it can be even made mandatory for the smart cities that are being planned by the Government of India.

By Dr K S R Murthy

Nowadays, the urban citizen is facing complex environmental problems due to rapid urbanization by migration of people seeking to live in urban areas. The phenomenal rise in the urban population during the last two to three decades has resulted in overcrowding of the cities, thereby creating civic issues, such as insufficient housing, rapid growth of slums, lack of public utilities, etc. In addition, there is an alarming degradation in the urban environment due to increasing air- and water pollution, thereby posing a threat to the health and security of the citizens.

At present, monitoring of urban environment is mainly taken care of by Pollution Control Boards (PCBs), dealing with the segment of industrial pollution and by municipal corporations dealing in urban sanitation, disposal of domestic waste, and other related aspects.

Monitoring of the industrial segment of environment in any state is relatively well structured right from sanctioning the establishment of an industry to its impact on the environment through authorities, such as the State Level Environmental Impact Assessment Authority (SEIAA); PCBs and its monitoring wings, such as Consent for Establishment (CFE), Consent for Operation (CFO); and a regular vigilance by regional offices of PCBs in different districts of a state. Though it cannot be said that the quality of environment due to urban industrialization is unaffected, at least there is a well equipped mechanism.

The same is not the case with regulating and monitoring the impact of domestic waste on urban environment. Firstly, all the municipal corporations (MCs) are facing extreme stress in providing civic services to the rapidly expanding urban agglomerate, particularly with respect to roads, public utilities, sanitation, and domestic waste management.

Municipalities are sometimes unable to address urban issues
The financial resources and infrastructure available with municipalities are sometimes insufficient to cope up with the alarming increase in urban population

The financial resources and infrastructure available with MCs are sometimes insufficient to cope up with this alarming increase in urban population. For example, these days a major emerging problem of any city is the generation of thousands of tonnes of garbage everyday, without a proper mechanism to recycle at least a part of  it into useful products. Recent statistics  indicate that there has been a significant increase in solid waste in India over the years from 100 g per person per day in small towns to 500 g per person per day in large towns. Unfortunately, most of this municipal solid waste is disposed of unscientifically. The degradation of solid waste results in the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and other trace gases. The unscientific disposal of this domestic waste may reduce the quality of drinking water and may also cause diseases, such as jaundice, nausea, and asthma. The burning problem in all major cities of our country, therefore, is the disposal or recycling of this domestic waste. In addition, there are other environmental hazards due to urbanization. Coastal cities like Visakhapatnam have additional problems related to marine pollution, coastal erosion, encroachment of Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ), etc.

Resident Welfare Associations

One encouraging trend in all major cities in recent years is the formation of Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs), a self-help group in any colony comprising of several apartments and individual houses, taking care of the environment of its neighbourhood. RWAs are the finest expression of urban civil society consensus: an answer to many urban social problems, a tool for community- building and for self-management and direct democracy.

The main objectives of any RWA are as follows:

  • To be proactive and constructive
  • To liaise with the concerned civic authorities
  • To mobilize and coordinate
  • To express civil society consensus in one voice in respect of major common issues and concerns, where there is, at present, lack of transparency in the decision making, or neglect of civic amenities.

The MCs, the Election Commission of India, and other constitutional bodies have started recognizing the RWAs as partners for fair and equitable delivery of services to the public without political and partisan considerations. Active  RWAs now exist in almost all the major cities of India. In fact, some of the states have state level Federation of RWAs, such as the United Federation of RWAs (UFERWAS), Hyderabad  (established in 2006), and the Andhra Pradesh Federation of RWAs (APFERWAS), Visakhapatnam (2016). There are several such Federations of RWAs in other states also. During the last five years, RWAs have made significant achievements in solving many of the civic problems, through their active participation.

RWAs as a Third Component for Sustainable Urban Development

RWAs can help maintain environment
Self-help groups comprising several apartments and individual houses, can take care of the environment in their neighbourhoods

A complete restructuring of the monitoring mechanism of urban environment in the country is the need of the hour, and it may be advisable to take RWAs in this scheme, as the third component, apart from the MCs and PCBs. RWAs must be recognized as the authorized bodies and must be given more powers in decision making in local governance. Well-established RWAs in any city must be identified by MCs on a zonal basis and should be given responsibilities to identify, implement, and monitor all aspects of the civic issues at zonal or even ward level, so that problems at micro- level are easily identified, understood,  and solved in time. PCBs, in particular, must provide financial resources to reputed RWAs through major industries under the corporate social responsibility (CSR) schemes for improving the civic facilities in the colonies. Strengthening of RWAs by involving them to a greater extent in civic administration and providing them with more resources also eases pressure on MCs, particularly in light of the constrained infrastructure and manpower available with MCs. Let us illustrate this case in detail by discussing the municipal solid waste segregation and disposal/reuse.

RWAs must be recognized as the authorized bodies and must be given more powers in decision making in local governance.

Municipal Waste Segregation  and Disposal/Reuse—A Complex Process

The MCs in all major cities have recently come up with ambitious projects on segregation of dry and wet domestic garbage for a systematic disposal or recycling of this enormous waste piling up in metropolitan cities. At present, this garbage is either dumped in the outskirts of the city or burnt locally. But in reality, this dump finds place as huge heaps on the roadside or in open drains, thereby choking our drainage system.

The secret of success of this segregation and disposal or recycling lies at individual house level. There must be a streamlined procedure of segregation of dry and wet waste starting at the house level, apartment level, colony level, and finally leading to the final destination where the disposal and recycling is supposed to take place. Often we find that it is not happening in reality, mainly because it is handled by limited manpower and infrastructure available at MCs.

Recently, several social organizations have come out with novel ideas of effectively converting the wet waste into compost that can be used as manure for the vegetation and greenery in the very premises where this waste is generated. However, this novel idea is not able to take off mainly due to lack of proper mechanism and incentives. No individual house or an apartment complex comes forward to go for recycling of the wet waste since it has neither the facility nor the utility factor. On the other hand, RWAs can help MCs in this process at colony level or even at ward level, if they are provided with adequate resources, particularly the equipment and other infrastructure for recycling the wet waste at different ward/zonal levels.

RWAs as the third force
RWAs must be recognized as the authorized bodies and must be given more powers in decision making in local governance.

It is here that the financial help from CSRs should augment. MCs and RWAs if teamed together can effectively take up the segregation and management of domestic waste, with adequate support from CSRs to solve this major issue of domestic waste management RWAs can also play an effective role in various other aspects, such as implementation of solar energy projects in colonies, security schemes with CCTVs, and community health schemes for senior citizens at colony level, etc., if they are given adequate implementation powers and financial support. They can also help MCs or even PCBs in checking land and road encroachments, and also by identifying sources of pollution near industrial/residential areas. Since RWAs mainly comprise of educated and senior citizens working on a voluntary concept, they can create better awareness among the colonies on the importance of a clean urban environment. In due course, such a move might help in electing efficient leaders for civic bodies.

Suggested Plan for Involving the RWAs

  • MCs should encourage the formation of more RWAs, which should encompass all the apartments and individual houses in the city. Reputed RWAs must be identified on ward and zonal level and be given adequate powers to work in association with MCs to solve civic issues at ward/zonal level.
  • RWAs should be included in the monitoring committees and other decision making bodies both by MCs and PCBs. Each ward should have adequate representation of RWAs in the corporation.
  • The State Federation of RWAs (FERWAS) must be recognized by the respective state governments, as an authorized body to deal with all issues related to urban development and environment of the state. Their representatives should be included in all the relevant statuary bodies.
  • PCBs should help RWAs through CSR initiatives of major industries of the city towards the development of the colonies, such as maintenance of parks, recreation facilities, domestic waste disposal, recycling, etc.
  • CSR activities might be reoriented to cover all the urban areas for a sustained urban development. This is particularly relevant for the current major issue of municipal waste management. The concerned authorities of MCs, PCBs, and State FERWAS should chalk out an action plan towards this goal.

A Six-Step Plan for Waste Segregation in Smaller Cities

Here a six-step plan for waste segregation in smaller cities is suggested:

  • Step 1: RWA Federation to divide the city into different zones in line with Municipal Corporation (MC) Nomenclature
  • Step 2: Zonal coordinators to be nominated who will interact with corresponding zonal commissioners of MC
  • Step 3: MC and local PCBs to identify major industries in each zone who can be taken into the scheme for financial aid in the form of CSR
  • Step 4: Zonal commissioners and zonal coordinators to chalk out a plan for waste segregation in their zones with the guidance of local RWAs of the zone. They should prepare a clear budget for infrastructure for meticulous implementation of waste segregation and waste composting (if possible)
  • Step 5: MC and CSR wings of the industries should provide the necessary annual or monthly budget for the respective zones
  • Step 6: Zonal coordinators of city federation of RWAs and zonal commissioners of MCs to monitor strict implementation of the segregation scheme under the control of local RWAs and local sanitary wings

The above proposed six-point plan may not be completely feasible for the already overgrown major cities, but is more suitable for smaller cities and the scheme may even be made mandatory in case of the smart cities being developed by the Government of India.

Dr K S R Murthy is the Retired Deputy Director and CSIR Emeritus Scientist of National Institute of Oceanography (NIO), Regional office, Visakhapatnam. He is an Expert Member of CFO and CEPI of AP Pollution Control Board. Presently, he is the Secretary General of Confederation of RWAs (CoRWA), New Delhi; Vice-President of APFERWAS, Visakhapatnam; and President of JR Nagar RWA, Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.

This article first appeared in TerraGreen (Vol 10, Issue 12) of March 2018. It is reproduced here with permissions.


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