ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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India’s Waste Problem

Envisaging a Just Transition

Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India by Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey, Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2018; pp xv + 393, ₹ 799 (hardcover).


In recent years, the issues of waste and sanitation have gained widespread attention in the national and international media coverage of Indian policy. Indian policymakers, from Jairam Ramesh (of the Congress) to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have, in particular, spoken about the need for toilets over temples (Ramesh 2014; Press Trust of India 2013). Waste management is at the forefront of the Prime Minister’s Office’s(PMO) flagship programme Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, the primary goal of which is to end open defecation. The importance attached to sanitation in public policy leads Assa Doron and Robin Jeffrey to ask, “Why is India so filthy?” And its corollary, “How can a clean India be achieved?” This is the central investigation of Waste of a Nation, where Doron and Jeffrey describe and explain the sociopolitical character of India’s waste problem.

The book consists of seven main chapters addressing various aspects of India’s waste problem. Doron and Jeffrey employ the use of several detailed case studies, textual analysis, archival research work and interviews with people who work with waste.1 The authors highlight the presence of both continuity and change that is to be found within and outside India in dealing with the question of waste. The history of waste management, and the growth and development of waste and sewage, form the bulk of the first three chapters. Some of the more important aspects of these chapters include the exploration into the history of sanitation under the colonial government. This includes the relatively lesser-known reports on the state of sanitation in India prepared by Florence Nightingale. These chapters also trace the sanitation concerns in cities in post-independence India, such as with the changing nature and scale of waste in Chandigarh. The third chapter details the question of municipal and sewage waste, faecal waste, dry latrines, open defecation and the impacts of the same on caste, gender, and child health. An important takeaway from their assessment of continuity and change in these chapters is that India’s waste problem bears a resemblance with the state of industrialised countries in the late 19th century; such as the pollution and stench in London (called the Great Stink) that forced the closure of the English parliament. India’s lesson from this history is the benefit of learning, from hindsight and the development of modern institutions, science and technology, to deal with waste.2

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Updated On : 8th Jan, 2019
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