Ritu Sain, an IAS officer from 2003 batch was posted to a small city of Ambikapur in Surguja district of Chhattisgarh in 2014. On her arrival she found the city with a population of 1,45,000 was stinking due to open dump yards. In an interview, she recalled the poor condition of the city when she first came to Ambikapur. “There was a big signpost welcoming people to the municipal corporation of Ambikapur. Just opposite to that was a huge open dumping yard. The stink was unbearable. I thought to myself, what kind of impression the city would create if this was the first thing a person saw after entering.” she says. By then Sain knew what her first priority will be as an administrative officer. “There was no looking back since that day. I was clear about what I wanted to do,” said Sain.

Pilot project; waste management programme

After realising the management failure, she conducted meetings with all the stakeholders to lay a waste management plan. She started from the basics by preparing a plan for segregation of solid and liquid waste. But this wasn’t an easy task as lack of fund and ignorant citizens made this project more difficult. “It was a challenge. The city with a population of 1,45,000 had meagre funds and hardly any capacity to take up the cleaning task.  Whatever I did would have to be participatory, viable and replicable.” said Sain in an interview with Hindustan Times. That is why the first waste management programme was introduced as a pilot project in one of the small ward under the Ambikapur city.

Starting with a small team, women from various self-help-groups (SHG) were hired. A team of three members, each comprising workers from SHG, was assigned a group of 100 households from where they had to collect garbage from door to door. After collecting the garbage from each house, the workers segregated the collected garbage into 24 categories of organic and inorganic waste. Finally, after a micro segregation was done, the refined and cleaned waste was sold to a scrap dealer.

Read Also: The art of waste management with Nirmala Kandalgaonkar

Changing the face of Ambikapur

All 48 wards of the city were covered by the municipality by 2016. The municipality also fixed a charge on door-to-door garbage collections, which was later used to pay the workers. Currently, 447 women work from 7 am to 5 pm daily at 48 garbage segregation centres with required safety gear such as jackets, aprons, gloves and masks.  These workers also undergo routine health check-ups. As a result, 200 overflowing community dustbins have now been replaced with only five and the 16-acre dumping yard has been converted into a sanitation awareness park for the public.

“It’s a self-sustaining model. Each woman gets to earn Rs 5,000 per month from user fee and sale of recyclables. We have spent Rs 6 crore to put the entire infrastructure in place and have already earned Rs 2 crore. The money earned is being spent on the sanitation workers,” said the happy officer.

As a result of her constant efforts, Ambikapur has been declared as the cleanest smallest city in 2018 cleanliness survey by the Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry. “It’s very fulfilling to see that something we started has come so far and is sustaining itself,” said Sain while expressing her gratitude.

Divya Tripathi is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

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