5 Innovative Lessons India Can Learn From How This IAS Officer Managed Leh’s Waste

"Paper and cloth waste are used for making decorative items, curtains, toys, cushion covers, etc. Alcohol bottles and other broken glasses are reused in the construction of buildings. We are also shredding the plastic and selling it to Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) for road construction."

This article is part of a series by experts in support of the ATL Tinkering Innovation Marathon – organised by Atal Innovation Mission, NITI Aayog and The Better India. Read more about the marathon here.

The Leh district administration under Deputy Commissioner Avny Lavasa, started ‘Project Tsangda,’ a sustainable waste management initiative in rural and semi-rural areas of the district on December 12, 2017.

‘Tsangda’ or ‘Stangda’ means cleanliness in the local Bothi language.

The local Rural Development Department and the Leh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) collaborated with them on this project.

By any measure, Project Tsangda has proven to be a real success. Besides getting local communities heavily invested, the initiative has also found its way into a recent list of ‘Best Practices’ from around India collated by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation.

On December 25, 2018, The Better India published a story about its success.

Yesterday, TBI spoke to Deputy Commissioner Avny Lavasa about some of the innovative measures she took to ensure that Project Tsangda becomes a successful endeavour, and the five lessons it offers to the rest of the country when dealing with waste management.

Leh DC Avny Lavasa (Source: Facebook/Leh District Administration)
Leh DC Avny Lavasa (Source: Facebook/Leh District Administration)
“The first major lesson Project Tsangda offers to the rest of India in waste management is the need to build a self-sustainable model. We expect the government to create infrastructure, which it does. But to operate and maintain ongoing waste management works or projects, we need to have a working financial model to run the day-to-day operations of collection and segregation. Everyone pays for it here because they know what’s at stake. Households pay Rs 50 per month, while shopkeepers pay Rs 200. The user fee that locals pay usually goes towards paying the fuel costs for trucks that go out to collect waste and the salary of those working at these segregation centres,” says Lavasa.

This is innovation at the level of resource management. Closely linked to the idea of self-sustainability is full community participation.

“In Leh district, the communities are traditionally very aware of how to conserve and reuse things. This is something we don’t really see in other parts of India, but there are fears that local traditions of conservation are getting lost. As a country, we have always aspired to live in harmony with nature, but people here still do so to a large extent. More importantly, the waste management process we follow here is simple. It does not rely on mechanisation. The process is uncomplicated and at the same time, efficient. We always tried to make this process as simple as possible, and that’s how we generate community involvement. People must easily understand the process for them to participate. Also, unless they believe in the benefits of a particular project, they will not pay,” stresses Lavasa.

“I didn’t know that it would be so easy to get the local communities involved in such a positive manner. Locals are today purchasing dustbins marked in different colours that notify dry and wet waste. We are even getting requests from other parts of the district to start waste segregation centres,” she adds.

DC Avny Lavasa standing alongside a garbage collection truck. (Source: Facebook/Leh District Administration)
DC Avny Lavasa standing alongside a garbage collection truck. (Source: Facebook/Leh District Administration)

“Also, considering the climatic conditions prevalent in Ladakh, it’s imperative to note that machines have their own mechanical concerns, so it becomes imperative to rely less on machinery. We will eventually hand over the entire waste management system to individual panchayats to run independently. Although the community must take ownership, the government must play a role in setting up the system,” notes Lavasa.

In The Better India report on December 25, 2018, we describe the first half of the model.

“It’s the standard model of having two dustbins—one for dry waste and other for wet waste. Ladakh, fortunately, does not generate a lot of wet waste. People traditionally use it for their own household requirements, or they feed it to their cattle. Once segregation happens at the primary level, the district administration sends out a small truck to collect the waste from a scheduled locality to the segregation centres.”

Following the segregation, the next important lesson is to recycle and reuse. This is where innovation plays a critical part in how a district manages its waste.

“Dry waste is sold to scrap dealers, or reused to make recyclable products. Paper and cloth waste are used for making decorative items, curtains, toys, cushion covers, etc. Alcohol bottles and other broken glasses are reused in the construction of buildings. Selling this dry waste to construction companies has worked well for us. We are also shredding the plastic and selling it to Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), mandated to utilising hazardous plastic refuse for road construction. This also generates a good amount of revenue for the administration to run the project,” says Lavasa.

One facet of waste management that does not get much attention is the need to document innovative best practices from around the country so that we can learn from each other.

“We only studied a few waste management systems in India before initiating Project Tsangda. When we were exploring how to recycle the waste, we were doing it by hit and trial method, and that takes much longer to execute properly. We need to document best practices in waste management countrywide that people can have easy access to best practices from different parts of the country,” argues Lavasa.

Finally, what Project Tsangda can also teach the rest of India is that waste management does not entirely mean focussing on garbage. Smart and innovative governance practices can also greatly assist the process of waste management.

DC Avny Lavasa at the inauguration of Project Tsangda in Choglamsar town on December 13, 2017. (Source)
DC Avny Lavasa at the inauguration of Project Tsangda in Choglamsar town on December 13, 2017. (Source)

“We have recently last month expanded our operations into Hundar in the Nubra Valley, covering all the major resorts there. That was a huge concern of the locals that these resorts are generating so much waste. Another major step forward is the inauguration of a waste segregation centre in the vicinity of the Pangong Lake. This pristine lake had become another zone of growing volumes of garbage with the mushrooming of tourist camping sites. So, the question was, how do you regulate it?”

“We earmarked two sites near the lake, and only there people are allowed to set up camps. If outsiders are setting up camps, they need to establish an agreement with the locals. The land there has been divided among the local villagers so that they have a stake in it and can earn a livelihood. That gets them invested in the waste management process as well. Now, that these camps are located at specific locations, it becomes easier to regulate them, collect their waste and check whether they are complying to segregation rules. It just helps us manage the waste better,” she adds.

There were attempts at product innovation as well with the introduction of traditional and biodegradable straw baskets for dustbins. Unfortunately, these did not pick up because people’s psyche had become attuned to the colour codes on different dustbins for wet and dry waste.

“We use these baskets in one centre, but it hasn’t quite worked out,” says Lavasa.

Meanwhile, the district will soon inaugurate a solid waste management centre just outside the main Leh town near the hillocks towards Nubra Valley. The local administration is also framing a plan to clear out the eyesore that is the Bomb Guard landfill in Leh.

(Source: Facebook/Leh District Administration)
(Source: Facebook/Leh District Administration)

“Waste management is a critical facet of our existence. The amounts of waste we are generating is unsustainable allied with our limited resources. We have to recycle and reuse. That’s the only way forward for us as a country,” says Lavasa.

Initiatives like ATL Tinkering Innovation Marathon give young innovators a platform to closely observe different issues that the country is facing and develop innovative ways and means to solve them.

Know more about the ATL Tinkering Innovation Marathon here.

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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