For cleaner pastures

May 19, 2024

Suthra Punjab, an ambitious project of the Punjab government, is being launched with the promise to turn the province into a zero-waste region

The programme will be launched in phases. — Photo by Rahat Dar
The programme will be launched in phases. — Photo by Rahat Dar

Sabir Masih is one of the 10,000 janitors tasked to keep the city streets clean round the year. Every night, at around 1, he picks up his broomstick and is ready to sweep the streets in Gulberg. By the time the sun rises and the locality comes to life, Masih has already started collecting waste from door to door. By 11 in the morning, he’s done with his day’s work.

Masih isn’t aware of the Suthra Punjab initiative, which is famously spearheaded by the Lahore Waste Management Company. He says rather nonchalantly that he doesn’t need to know about it. But he would like to urge the government to “teach the general public to keep the roads and streets clean, and not litter.”

the Suthra Punjab programme, solid waste management operations will be
outsourced, targeting both urban and rural areas at tehsil levels — Photo by Rahat Dar
Under the Suthra Punjab programme, solid waste management operations will be outsourced, targeting both urban and rural areas at tehsil levels — Photo by Rahat Dar

Suthra Punjab is an ambitious project, aimed to turn the Punjab into a zero-waste region. According to Umar Chaudhry, a senior manager of communications at the LWMC, “The Punjab, with a population of over 127 million, generates 57,500 tonnes of waste per day; Lahore’s share alone is 6,000 tonnes. Our waste collection system is overwhelmed. It’s able to collect only 18,438 tonnes daily from across the province, leaving behind 39,062 tonnes of waste along the roads, parks, school walls and so on. This is a huge gap. It is causing severe environmental and health hazards.”

The data led the Punjab government to launch the Suthra Punjab programme under which the solid waste management operations will be outsourced across the province, targeting both urban and rural areas at tehsil levels. “We’re certain that this shift will yield sustainable results and ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for all,” Chaudhry adds.

Previously, the waste management operations were limited to eight divisional headquarters in the province, with eight waste management companies responsible for cleaning only the divisional HQs. To quote Chaudhry, “For instance, earlier, the LWMC managed waste from Shahdara to Manga Mandi, and from Raiwind to the border areas. It will now take care of all areas that fall in the Lahore division.”

All municipal committees are expected to sign agreements with the WMCs. The MCs often face challenges due to their limited workforce, with only 40-50 workers available to them, which leaves out the rural areas. In order to address these issues, the scope of the WMCs has been expanded. Instead of focusing solely on divisional headquarters, the WMCs will now cover the entire divisions. For example, the LWMC will extend its services to include Sheikhupura, Kasur and Nankana Sahib districts.

“[Such] expansion requires that the WMCs reach agreements with the MCs, town committees and union councils,” says Chaudhry. “A similar arrangement was made when the LWMC was initially formed. The company acquired the services of the Lahore Municipal Corporation staff. At that time, the LMC had only 5,400 workers. Today its workforce has grown to 15,800. The resources include 10,000 janitors and 1,400 vehicles.”

Suthra Punjab’s goal is to ensure comprehensive cleanliness across all areas through public-private partnerships. Waste collection services will be outsourced. Efforts will be made to improve waste segregation. This includes setting up five landfill sites and 10 Material Recovery Facilities that will serve as collection points for recyclable materials. (Lahore currently utilises the Lakhoder landfill site only.)

Umar Chaudhry says that 40-50 percent of waste is green. Only 20-25 percent is suitable for dumping. He says the need of the hour is to raise public awareness on waste categorisation, as most of the waste collected by the LWMC consists of non-recyclable materials like mud and sand, which are unsuitable for waste-to-energy projects.

Further, under the Suthra Punjab programme, one janitor per 250 houses will be allocated. The LWMC had employed between 25 and 60 workers per UC, depending on their populations and areas.

Financial sustainability remains a challenge. Chaudhry says, “Only the shopkeepers are charged a nominal fee of Rs 600 per year. This generates Rs 150-200 million. Private houses are not charged a penny. Waste collection is heavily subsidised in Pakistan.”

The Punjab’s existing waste management system comprises 229 local governments and eight WMCs.

In response to a query, Chaudhry says that door-to-door waste collection will be outsourced. The idea is to ensure that waste is collected directly from outside the houses. Also, mechanical sweeping and washing functions of urban areas, smart monitoring mechanism, desilting of rural areas, establishment of temporary collection points and dumpsites and revenue collection will be outsourced.

The programme will be launched in several phases. For instance, the proposed model of operations will be implemented in two phases. In the first phase, the focus will be on immediate action such as Service and Asset Management Agreements between the existing WMCs and the respective LGs, comprehensive SWM planning and the hiring of contractors for outsourcing. This phase will establish its revenue generation model to ensure financial sustainability of the programme.

In the second phase, advanced waste segregation models, establishment of MRFs and exploration of waste disposal solutions such as composting, waste-to-energy (WtE) initiatives and biogas production will be launched. The aim is to reduce the environmental footprint of waste management and promote resource recovery and recycling.

The government is certain that by outsourcing the SWM services and adopting a structured, merit-based approach, the Punjab can become a model for sustainable waste management in the country.

Ahsan Malik is a media veteran interested in politics, consumer rights and entrepreneurship

For cleaner pastures