Muhammad “bin” Tughlaq advises Naidu on Bins and Waste Segregation


The Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Management and Handling Rules in India prescribe waste segregation at the source under Section 4 that describes Duties of Waste Generator. The directions are as follows

  • segregate and store the waste generated in three separate streams namely bio-degradable or wet waste, non bio-degradable or dry waste and domestic hazardous wastes in suitable bins and handover segregated wastes to waste collectors as per the direction by the urban local body from time to time;
  • wrap securely the used sanitary waste as and when generated in a newspaper or suitable biodegradable wrapping material and place the same in the domestic bin meant for non bio-degradable waste or dry waste;
  • store separately construction and demolition waste in his own premises, as and when generated and shall dispose off as per these rules; and
  • store separately horticulture waste and garden waste in his premises and dispose of the same as may be prescribed by urban local body from time to time.

People are required to follow implementation of these Rules by putting the household waste in three different bins. Two additional bins may be put on premises or at community level for construction and demolition waste and horticulture waste.  In reality, very few follow this directive. People are generating more and more waste and not following the rules of segregation at source, Mixed waste makes  reuse and recycling of waste both difficult and uneconomical. Littering continues to be an eyesore in the streets and the railway stations.

Muppavarapu Venkaiah Naidu, the Union Minister of Urban Development, Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation and Information & Broadcasting called for a high-level meeting to address this challenge. He extended me an invitation as an Observer. The focus of the meeting was bins at the household level. Naidu in his opening remarks said that poor segregation of waste at the source was the real culprit for the slow progress on the Swatch Bharat Abhiyan (SBA). The Abhiyan wasn’t doing that well as compared to the “hype” it had created.

After Naidu’s opening remarks, the meeting opened up for suggestions and discussions.

“We are asking for waste segregation only in 3 bins while world has moved to 4 and 5 bins and in some cases even more number of bins are practiced – like in Japan. We must ask for at least 5 bins” One of the leading bin manufactures from Andhra Pradesh said.

Naidu asked “Does anyone know about the statistics on the number of bins in various countries?”

“Yes Sir”, a Woman wearing expensive spectacles with a chain, a khadi saree and diamonds in the ears said. “We just compiled such information”. She cited the reference and reported the following

There are many countries, like Poland, Belgium, Serbia, Bulgaria, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Norway, the Philippines, Egypt and Latvia, that are using recycling bins at home. Some countries like Brazil, Russia, New Zealand, Indonesia and Argentina (La-Plata) have a 2-bin facility for dry and wet waste, whereas Moldova and Malaysia prefer 3 recycling bins for paper, plastic and glass. Some countries, like Portugal, the Czech Republic, Finland and Spain are using 4 or 5 bins at home for segregation of recycling waste for paper, plastic, metal, glass, compostable and e-waste.

“Oh, separate bin for E-waste?” Naidu exclaimed. His PA immediately noted.

I tried to butt in

“Minister Sir, in India we don’t throw away paper and glass. Newspaper and magazines go to the Raddiwala and glass bottles to the Batliwali. We store used electronics in the house and look for the first opportunity to trade. Too many bins will clutter the already narrow passages in the building. It will only help the building cats to go to the right bin (i.e. organic/wet/biodegradable) for their brunch

Minister Naidu did not like my intervention. “We must follow what’s happening in other countries. We cannot be lagging behind. If others are using 5 waste bins, then we should go for 6 bins”

“The issue is not number of bins but the interest in segregation. There is an attitudinal barrier. We must undertake a survey across different income groups and religions in the metro as well as tier – 2 cities to find out why people don’t want to segregate the waste. That’s the million-dollar question.” A Professor from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) quipped.

“Good point”, Naidu said and immediately sanctioned a research grant of 1 million to TISS to conduct such a survey.

“The crux of the problem is that we are following the conventional and drab bin designs. These designs are not attractive to compel the use of the bin” A consultant cum professor from National Institute of Design (NID) said this in a rather somber voice. He had just returned from a summer school held on waste management infrastructure in Amsterdam.

He expanded his point further. “Why cannot be make the bin design say “child friendly”?. He said this while circulating pictures of bins that were shaped like a Donald Duck. “Kinds of today are the major waste generators. These kids will love to use such bins and segregate the waste. And look at this “trunk” design of the bin for storing the horticulture waste. This bin when placed in the garden is going to catch attention of the morning walkers (who often litter)”



Naidu was very pleased to see this “out of the bin (Oops box!) thinking. “Please send me a proposal on a pilot project on innovative bin designs and the SBA will be happy to fund”, The NID expert was happy.

There were some smart looking firangs in the roundtable. One of them had just flown in from Chicago and seemed to be in a Jet Lag.

“Minister, how about the smart bins? We can offer you such bins that will well fit in your smart city program” He saw that most members had a bit dumb expression on their faces. “Can I show a few slides?” He had a portable LCD projector. I thought he was smart.

His very first slide had the following header line “Revolutionizing how Smart Cities and Responsible Recyclers manage their collection operations using unique container intelligence”. This header line impressed everybody

The smart bin solution he proposed was essentially at the premise or community level. The benefits were “Know the fill-level of your containers always, send optimized routes directly to the vehicle drivers, Cut the collection service costs by up to 50% and reduce the city’s carbon footprint” All this  looked very impressive.


A Smart Waste Collection System

Well, one of the senior Municipal Commissioners said “This looks interesting – but remember that first the waste has to reach the smart bins and in a segregated form, then the vehicle drivers need to understand and follow the routing “system”. The tough part is the integration of traffic related data with the waste collection system. All these ideas and propositions are difficult to achieve on the ground”

“Oh, Come on Commissioner”, Naidu growled. “We must start somewhere. We must look into the future. Let us have a pilot on this in Delhi where we can take our international visitors to show case. Visit Chicago and see the application by yourself, ask all the questions and get convinced”

The Commissioner agreed to the pilot proposal when the Minister said that he could visit Chicago. His son was studying in Illinois.

A retired Finance Secretary (FS) was attending the meeting. He being an IAS spoke at the end. Many of your know that a typical IAS summarizes, steals all the good points and articulates them as if they are his/her own. In his clever summary speech, the Ex-FS highlighted need to provide financial incentives and disincentives. “Reward people if they segregate waste in bins – and when they do so regularly and correctly. Tax them when otherwise. I am sure that the money collected on penalties will far exceed the budgets set to provide incentives. So no additional Government borrowing or budgeting will be required”. Everybody just listened as this has been said by many several times before.

In the evening, Naidu met PM Modi and reported the outcomes of the high-level meeting. PM wasn’t very happy with the discussions. “We must get in touch Muhammad bin Tughlaq. I recently consulted him on demonetization of Rs 500/1000 notes.”

I thought PM wanted Tughlaq because his name contained the term “bin” that was important for waste segregation. But well, that could be just a coincidence and not the real reason.

Muhammad Bin Tughlaq has been a man of controversies and crisis. He experimented to shift his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad that was disastrous decision which cost millions of tankas and thousands of lives. The decisions had misfired.

In the context of the recent demonetization move in India PM Modi is described by the Opposition as the “modern day Tughlaq”. It is said that Tughlak rule spread out from Delhi to Daulatabad, while Modi rule spread out from delhi to Daulat(money)bad(black)! (see comment by Bhaskar Mukadam)

Bin Tughalaq was living in disguise in the old part of Delhi in one of the abandoned forts. When I accompanied Naidu to meet him, he asked us all the relevant questions regarding waste characteristics of today, the MSW Management & handling Rules and the challenge of waste segregation. After a patient hearing to both of us, he looked outside the window for a while and gazed.

“Well Minister Naidu and Dr Modak, I have a question and suggestion. Why do you need to segregate the waste at source? This is never going to happen in India. Even if citizens segregate waste, the waste collection people often remix the segregated waste at community level defeating the entire initiative, and frustrating the segregators. So, let the waste stay mixed”

“Instead of promoting or investing in the six bins that you propose, I will recommend that you invest in waste sorting and shredding machines. These machines will separate the waste streams efficiently and provide opportunity for both recycling and volume reduction. Insist that every housing society must have a waste sorting cum shredding machine at their premises and operate a waste collection system on this basis. This will open up a new industry and business segment. Besides, people will not be inconvenienced to figure out which waste goes where and make mistakes and waste their time. The SBA should come up with an aggressive financing scheme to make the installation of waste sorting/shredding machines possible and viable”

I though this time Bin Tughlak was right.  He looked much more realistic and smarter!

Don’t be surprised that the NDA Government will come up with a yet another Bin Tughalaq recommendation. Never know this time it could just work!!

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  1. प्रसाद, खूपच माहितीपूर्ण आणि प्रत्येक जागरूक नागरिकाने वाचले पाहिजे इतके प्रभावी.! योग्य ठिकाणी चिमटे आणि कोपरखळ्या ही तुझ्या लिखाणाची खासियत मला फार आवडते . असाच लिहीत रहा.

  2. informative but sairical article .how far indian people will follow god only knows worth publishing in daily news paper.

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