Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
Waste Management for Soil Health
Keeping cities clean is essential for keeping their residents healthy. Our health depends not just on personal hygiene and nutrition, but critically also on how clean we keep our cities and their surroundings. The proliferation of dengue and chikungunya are intimately linked to the deteriorating state of public health conditions in our cities. If we do not rise to the occasion to manage the waste that we generate and fail to create clean and healthy cities, we will face many more man-made disasters such as we have seen in recent months in Deonar, Bellandur, and Ghazipur.
The good news is that waste management to keep cities clean is now getting attention through Swachh Bharat Mission.
Much of the attention begins and stops with the brooms and the dustbins, extending at most to the collection and transportation of the mixed waste to some distant or not so distant place, preferably out of sight.
The challenge of processing and treating the different streams of solid waste, and safe disposal of the residuals in scientific landfills, has received much less attention in municipal solid waste management than is warranted from a health perspective.
Instead of focusing on waste management for health, we have got sidetracked into “waste for energy”. In the process, we are opting for financially and environmentally expensive solutions such as incineration plants which are highly capital-intensive. While the National Green Tribunal (NGT) does not allow incineration of mixed waste, nor of any compostables or recyclables, enforcement is a challenge, and the danger to health from toxic emissions looms large.
An alternative to farmyard manure:
City compost from biodegradable waste provides an alternative to farmyard manure (like cowdung) which has been valued from time immemorial for its rich microbial content that helps plants to take up soil nutrients. It provides an opportunity to simultaneously clean up our cities and help improve agricultural productivity and quality of the soil.
Improving soil health:
India’s Green Revolution rescued us from huge dependence on food imports during droughts by using high-yielding varieties of seeds and chemical fertilisers to boost the productivity of food grains. But over time, excessive and imbalanced use of chemical fertilisers has led to severe deterioration in the quality of soil. Organic manure or compost plays a very important role as a supplement to chemical fertilisers in replenishing the nutrient-depleted soils. City compost can be the new player in the field.
Benefits of compost on the farm are well-known. The water holding capacity of the soil which uses compost helps with drought-proofing, and the requirement of less water per crop is a welcome feature for a water-stressed future. Because of good water retention, farmers do not need second or third sowing if rains fail. By making soil porous, use of compost also makes roots stronger and resistant to pests and decay. Farmers using compost therefore need less quantity of pesticides. There is also evidence to suggest that horticulture crops grown with compost have better flavour, size, colour and shelf-life.
Weed-free unlike farmyard manure: City compost has the additional advantage of being weed-free unlike farmyard manure which brings with it the seeds of undigested grasses and requires a substantial additional labour cost for weeding as the crops grow.
City compost is also rich in organic carbon, and our soils are short in this. Fortification of soil with organic carbon is an essential element of integrated plant nutrient management as it increases the productivity of other fertilisers. City compost can also be blended with rock phosphate to produce phosphate-rich organic manure.
Chemical fertilisers when used by themselves pollute surface water with nitrogen runoff because only 20 per cent to 50 per cent of the nitrogen in urea is absorbed by plants. The rest runs off into streams and lakes. The addition of compost or organic manure reduces nitrogen wastage, as its humus absorbs the nitrogen and acts like a slow release sponge.
Rules and regulations:
SC directive- Recognising the importance of organic manure for the balanced nutrition of crops and restoring soil health, the Supreme Court had directed fertiliser companies in 2006 to co-market compost with chemical fertilisers. However, this direction went largely unheeded.
The Solid Waste Management Rules 2016- It makes the co-marketing of compost mandatory.
The MDA Scheme– To provide incentive for co-marketing to the fertiliser companies, in February 2016, the Government of India’s Department of Fertilisers notified a policy to promote the use of city compost by offering Market Development Assistance (MDA) of Rs 1,500 per tonne on the purchase and distribution of city compost through the rural outlets of these companies. In 2017, the MDA scheme was extended to compost manufacturers on bagged compost.
The MDA scheme has not worked well because of its administrative complexity and it needs to be simplified. The high volume but low value nature of compost also makes it not so attractive for fertiliser marketing companies to promote its use. While compost manufacturers must meet the quality specifications laid down by the Fertiliser Control Order (FCO), it is equally important for fertiliser companies to make vigorous efforts to market city compost using their well-connected dealer channels and help develop this nascent sector.
A possible solution in such a situation would be to find a way to make the payment of fertiliser subsidy to the fertiliser companies conditional on the co-marketing of compost.
The state agricultural departments can also help facilitate the use of city compost through their widespread extension networks.
The city waste needs to be composted before making it available to the farmers for applying to the soil, cities would be cleaned up and the fields around them would be much more productive. It would, however, require that delivery mechanisms be set up for the delivery of city compost to farmers.
Assuming that urban India generates 70 million tonnes of municipal solid waste in a year, and assuming 15 per cent yield of compost, this would provide 10 million tonnes of city compost annually. Quite apart from cleaning up the cities of biodegradable waste, this would be a major and sustainable contribution to improving the health of our soil without further damage by excessive chemical inputs. That would surely be a marvelous transition from waste to health.
Connecting the dots:
Converting city waste into compost will not only help clean up cities of biodegradable waste, but would be a major and sustainable contribution to improving the health of our soil. Elaborate.
TOPIC: General studies 2:
Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora.
Important International institutions, agencies and fora- their structure, mandate
United Nation’s Ineffectiveness
The picture of the UN’s ineffectiveness on each of the issues confronting the world today is grim. The Secretary General António Guterres in his speech listed the world’s seven biggest threats: nuclear peril, terrorism, unresolved conflicts and violations of international humanitarian law, climate change, growing inequality, cyber warfare and misuse of artificial intelligence, and human mobility, or refugees. Each of these issues saw little movement at the UNGA.
The UN’s actions in response to North Korea’s missiles and nuclear tests just amounted to another round of sanctions against the Kim Jong-un regime. Past history points to the slim chances of success of this tack. Since 1966, the UN Security Council has established 26 sanctions regimes, of which about half are still active. In some cases, the sanctions only squeezed the country’s poor, as in Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia) and DPRK itself, while not changing its belligerent positions. In most cases, the misery was heightened by international military interventions, from Yugoslavia to Libya and Yemen. The truth is that sanctions do not work on rogue states; they only help isolate their populations from the world, which in turn tightens the regime’s stranglehold on its people, and strengthens its resolve to disregard the UN.
Libya did relinquish nuclear weapons but still NATO destroyed Libya anyway. This is a disincentive. The UN failed to censure NATO on violating its mandate only to the responsibility to protect (R2P) and not for regime change in Libya in 2011. To other countries that may enter talks, as Iran did, the imminent threat from the U.S. of walking out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (P5+1 agreement) would make them question the efficacy of the UN in guaranteeing any deal struck. Other decisions of the Trump administration in the U.S., to walk out of the climate change agreement as well as threaten to cancel its funding contributions to the UN, have also seen little comment from the world body, which further reduces the respect it is viewed with.
Lack of respect against sanctions:
Nowhere is that lack of respect more obvious than regarding Myanmar, where the military junta faced sanctions for years. Despite inviting former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to prepare a report on Rakhine state, post-democracy Myanmar has been able to carry out one of the region’s most frightening massacres just days after the report was submitted. On the basis of satellite pictures, and eyewitness accounts, the UN Human Rights chief called military action a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”, as half a million Rohingya fled for their lives from Rakhine villages that were then burnt down, with landmines laid along the border to Bangladesh to prevent their return. The Security Council is short on ideas and late on action, and restoring more than a million stateless refugees to their homes seems a daunting task, even for a world-body that was set up expressly to ensure that such a displacement would “never again” be allowed to occur.
On issue of terrorism:
A similar impotency has been imparted to the UN on the issue of terrorism. India’s grievances are a symptom of the UN’s powerlessness to enforce even the basic strictures against terrorists it sanctions, given that Hafiz Saeed and associates now plan to stand for public office in Pakistan, while others like Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who received bail despite UN financial sanctions, have simply disappeared. Meanwhile India struggles to convince China to allow the Security Council to sanction Masood Azhar, whose release in exchange for hostages in 1999 should have been proof enough of his perfidy.
The world is seeing an increasing number of cyber-attacks, especially from non-state actors. The UN must at least do more to act on attacks carried out by states, especially those that are permanent members of the Security Council. Both Russia and the U.S. have been known to use cyber warfare, but equally the use of new-age warfare — drones, robotic soldiers and remote killings — must see more regulation from the international community.
What UN’s first Secretary General, Trygve Lie said in 1952, “The United Nations will not work effectively if it is used merely as forum for destructive propaganda. Neither will it work if it is used only as a convenience when national interests are directly involved, and regarded with indifference, or bypassed or opposed, when the general world interest is paramount”, still hold true.
Connecting the dots:
The world is facing some of the biggest threats ranging from nuclear peril, terrorism, unresolved conflicts, climate change, growing inequality, cyber warfare, refugees etc. In this light it is the need of the hour that the United Nations brings changes in the way it governs. Critically analyze.
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