| by N.S.Venkataraman

( October 3, 2014, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) On Mahatma Gandhi's birth day on 2nd October, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has launched Clean India Campaign with great fanfare.

Till now, Indian politicians and ministers have been largely focussing on garlanding Mahatma Gandhi’s statue and singing prayers on Mahatma Gandhi's birthday throughout the country. By launching clean India campaign on the day of Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary, Mr. Narendra Modi has certainly given a new purpose for this national celebration. Mahatma Gandhi said that cleanliness is next to Godliness and Mr. Modi has tried to bring this message of Mahatma Gandhi to the attention of country men while celebrating Mahatma Gandhi's birth day.

However, declaring an objective and goal must be matched by strategic action plans to achieve the end results in tune with the ground realities. Apart from urging the country men to work atleast two hours a week for the cleaning campaign, Mr. Modi has not taken the country men into confidence yet as to how he would execute this national campaign to lead to the logical end.

Many people, who would strive to keep their households , office premises and surroundings clean by carefully collecting the wastes and dumping it into the bins provided nearby by the civic authorities , would wonder as to how such waste material would ultimately be handled . The problem confronting the country today is the lack of adequate waste treatment and disposal facilities in an optimum manner. In the absence of such facilities, the present situation of the waste collected in one area being transported to some centralised dump yard, that remain there or being burnt in crude manner would continue , causing pollution around. The immediate case study is the Perungudi and Kodungaiyur dump yards in Chennai city , where one can see the condition of the dumped waste emanating nauseating smell around and remaining as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, apart from being an eyesore.

Even while launching this clean India campaign, the government of India ought to have asked the state governments and local municipal bodies all over India about their plans for treating the municipal solid waste and sludge in optimum manner and the investments required and the time schedules to implement the scheme. While some isolated schemes have been launched in the country, there is no indication that such steps have been taken in all nooks and corners of India. In such circumstances, there is the threat of the clean India campaign ultimately proving to be a non starter and such situation should be avoided.

There are several technologies available for treating the municipal solid waste materials and sludge in an eco friendly manner and even with an element of profitability.

Of course, the obvious method is to use the combustible solid waste material as fuel for power generation in small power plants located near the centralised dump yards. Such schemes have been under discussion by Chennai Corporation for many years now.

The solid waste materials can also be subjected to composting and fermentation for generation of biomass, which can be used as organic manure for agricultural operations.

The fermentation of solid waste materials can lead to the production of important and value added chemicals . For example, plants are now in operation abroad for producing synthetic gas mainly consisting of carbon monoxide and hydrogen by municipal solid waste sludge gasification process and the synthesis gas in turn is converted into methanol. India imports around one million tonne of methanol per annum and the municipal solid sludge can be an excellent source for the generation of methanol.

Using sewage water, algae crop can be cultivated and algae is an excellent source for generation of bio fuel as well as methane gas for power generation and ethyl alcohol, by subjecting algae bio mass to anaeorobic digestion and fermentation.

There are several other possibilities such as recycling of the waste materials to useful products. For example, the plastic waste materials can be recycled by converting them into plastic granules for reuse.

Converting sewage water by treating them into useful water is a well proven technology and already plants are in operation at Manali in Chennai and other cities.

Technologies for treatment of municipal solid waste are well developed around the world and what is needed is proper systems for collecting the wastes , segregating them and treating them usefully in tune with the local conditions in different places.

Asking the country men to involve themselves in cleaning everywhere without providing facilities for treating the waste materials or converting them into useful products may be viewed as similar to the act of putting the cart before the horse.

The clean India campaign would be more assured of success if the government has taken an integrated approach, without giving an impression that it is launching a campaign in a hurry.