Vatavaran works on socio-environmental issues through
creating simple, replicable models to mitigate problems. One aspect of Vatavaran’s
work is managing garbage through the so-called Cleaning Brigade Scheme. The
scheme is scientific, employment-generating, and resident-friendly. Cleaning
brigades manage solid waste for at least 2.5 million residents in Delhi. The
working principle is that since each of us is responsible for creating garbage,
it is imperative that we share the responsibility to manage it. It is possible
to make each colony a zero garbage area, and Vatavaran can play a catalyst’s
role in that.

At least eight per cent of India’s landmass has become
wasteland due to open garbage dumps. These dumps are breeding ground for
infectious diseases like plague, cholera, tuberculosis, jaundice, and numerous
skin aliments. The unmanaged garbage also leaves behind a spate of civic woes
such as logging of sewers and uncontrollable emission of toxic gases.

Cleaning brigades operate along simple and sustainable
lines. The garbage is collected from door to door, at a nominal charge of Rs 60
per month per house. The waste collected is segregated. The biodegradable waste
is used for making organic compost through the pit system and sold at Rs 5 per
kilogram. The non-biodegradable is further segregated into groups such as
glass, paper, and plastics, and then sent to recycling industries or to mills
that require these for raw material. The money collected through the scheme is
distributed back to the workers in the form of pay. The cleaning brigades
manage garbage for a maximum number of people without using heavy vehicles,
loaders, machines, or plants.

Anaerobic composting is done for residential areas as
it does not require any initial investment. Also, it means there are no open
dumps or stench, as both vegetarian and non-vegetarian leftovers can be
composted. For schools, wormicomposting is preferred because worm pits are
popular with students. They study the process of composting in their biology
classes and analyse the compost in their chemistry classes.

When residents of a colony contact Vatavaran for
launching their cleaning brigade, the quantum and type of garbage produced by
the colony is studied. Next, a patch of wasteland within the colony is selected
for composting. Local ragpickers and underprivileged, unemployed youth are
trained to collect and segregate the garbage.

Before launching of the scheme, the concerned resident
welfare association (RWA) is required to send a notification to all the
residents of the colony requesting them to join the scheme. Further, the RWA
must arrange for an appropriately designed three-wheeler cycle rickshaw for the
transportation of garbage. Other responsibilities for the RWA include
demarcating wasteland for segregating and composting, providing uniforms to the
cleaning brigade, helping the supervisor to collect monthly payment from
residents, and monitoring the day-to-day working of the scheme.

Vatavaran has published a report titled ‘Garbage
Management: My Experience ‘ by Dr. Iqbal Malik, founder and executive director
of Vatavaran. The project has been extensively documented on video cassettes,
some of which can be procured from the University Grants Commission, India.

Carry on the
solid work
In south Delhi’s residential colonies such as Asiad
Village and Vasant Kunj, the waste-management initiative is now being carried
forward by the respective RWAs. The compost pits yield high-quality manure that
is either sold or used to promote horticultural activities within the colony. Vatavaran
has successfully set up cleaning brigades in low-, middle- and high-income
residential localities, educational institutes, markets, and resettlement colonies
with the help of local communities. Vatavaran has already converted Jawaharlal
Nehru University (JNU) and University of Delhi South Campus (UDSC) into zero
garbage areas. It has assisted various colleges and schools in setting up
paper, plastic, or waste management programmes.

Vatavaran also studies solid waste situation in railway
stations, markets and commercial establishments, hospitals, etc., and
recommends changes according to the context. In 1996, a thriving hospital waste
market existed behind Safdarjung Hospital in Delhi; its exposure by Vatavaran
led to its closing as well as delineation of hospital waste management rules by
the Supreme Court.

The organization has trained 11 Delhi-based NGOs in
waste management and monitoring of plastics, metals, glass, rubber, etc. These
NGOs are Indcare, Accord, Samarth, Development Alternatives, Navjyoti, Disha,
Deepalaya, Concern India, Iffcord, Rotary Eco Foundation, and Inner Wheel.

Vatavaran has twice been conferred with the ‘Best
Practices Award’ by United Nations Cell on Human Settlements (UNCHS), in the
years 2000 and 2006.