A Visit to Kulithalai Municipality
On Wednesday, 1 September, Dr. Lucas Dengel, a sanitation consultant and proprietor of EcoPro (www.ecopro.in), invited me to accompany him and 3 of his staff on a trip to Kulithalai Municipality, approximately 40 km from Trichy. We shared a desire to visit Kulithalai because it is a role model for solid waste management in Tamil Nadu, and we wanted to observe their process, practices, infrastructure and impact.
To give ourselves enough time to accompany waste collectors on their morning routes, we left home at 3:45 a.m. Thanks to the newly completed highway between Villupuram and Trichy, we reached Kulithalai by 7:45 a.m.—a journey that took over 5 hours before the new highway was done. The journey seemed to take no time at all because we were engrossed in conversation about things like website search engine optimization, photography hardware and software, and the topic of our greatest common interest: garbage management.
Upon reaching Kulithalai, we proceeded to the home of the municipality’s chairman, Mr. Amuthavel where we were graciously received by Mr. Amuthavel, his family, and Mr. Vijay Anand, a representative of Exnora International. Mr. Amuthavel and Mr. Vijay Anand had just arrived from Chennai. They had left Chennai at 1 a.m., but they showed no sign of fatigue, and immediately accompanied us on a neighborhood walk. We interacted with waste collectors, titled “Street Beautifiers”, as well as with “link volunteers”, women appointed to monitor waste collection. The process is also assisted by NSS students who help to educate residents about the importance and purpose of sorting garbage before giving it to a Street Beautifier.
The use of link volunteers and NSS students are two innovations that caught my attention because they address two common weaknesses of waste management services: monitoring and public awareness raising. I was impressed that the link volunteers were recording data of each home’s waste, scoring each household according to whether waste is properly segregated or not. The records showed that less than 20% of residents properly sort their trash, which isn’t a surprising figure in a locality that recently introduced source-segregation. One use of this data is for NSS students to identify homes where residents do not properly segregate biodegradable from non-biodegradable waste, and educate such residents about the importance of segregation.
Biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes are deposited at collection points where Street Beautifiers perform a second sorting, separating plastic, paper and other recyclable waste and bagging it. Meanwhile, cows consume some of the biodegradable waste. From this point, the bags of recyclable waste are taken to the municipality’s office, where the waste is weighed, recorded, and then undergoes a third sorting to separate sellable from non-sellable material.
The sellable material is then baled and stored until it is sold to a scrap merchant.
The results of this work were in plain sight—streets and drains that are free of litter—very uncommon in India.
We were joined by Ms. G. Dhanalakshmi, Commissioner of Kulithalai. She accompanied us to an 8-acre compound that contains Kulithalai’s compost yard, where the municipality is experimenting with different methods of vermicomposting. The municipality has planted trees on much of the land, and it will soon be a beautiful wooded lot.
At the compost yard, biodegradable waste is converted into vermicompost.
Kulithalai Municipality is doing something that many people claim is impossible. Kulithalai demonstrates that it is possible for local administrations to directly implement waste management services without hiring a private waste management company or relying upon an NGO to take up this work, and to perform services in compliance with the Government of India’s Municipal Solid Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000.
During our interaction, Mr. Vijay Anand remarked that garbage is managed best when local authorites take charge directly. I agree. With the exception of the DAE Townships at Kalpakkam, where Exnora Green Pammal has been hired to manage solid waste, the cleanest Indian localities that I’ve seen are those in which the local authorities directly take charge of waste management. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true–the dirtiest localties also happen to be ones in which local authorities manage the waste. It’s the amount of sincerity, attention and interest on the part of the responsible officials that makes all the difference.
According to Mr. Vijay Anand, Exnora International is in the process of replicating the Kulithalai model in five other municipalities: Pudukottai, Sirkali, Rasipuram, Thanjavur and Perambalur.