Third Session: Practical Steps Toward a New Economic Paradigm

Speaker: Shanta Chatterji

Clean Air Island

Ethics seems to take a toss when economic power is concentrated in a few – whether the public or the private sector. One may be better than the other at various times of history but actual dispersal of economic activity at the ground level provides so many legs to the tripod of the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary that keep it evenly balanced.

Hire and fire takes place automatically, through the restraints of efficiency.

A new Economic Paradigm slowly emerges.

In Mumbai, India, we have experimented with the Social Economy – a term of the European Commission but implemented by NGOs long before the EC's Asia Urbs project, "Environmental Services and Waste Management in a Social Economy Framework" took place.

From 2000 to 2006, Clean Air Island, a society set up for the rejuvenation of urban spaces has employed the unemployable, largely unskilled workers from the neighborhood, to train and carry out environmental tasks in support of City Council municipal services.

Technology in the vermiculture of public and market wet waste and public awareness and persuasion of roadside hawkers and students have been used for greening, with the aid of these Social Economy stalwarts, to change the environment.

Not all has been successful but enough to establish the validity of the Social Economy in the waste management and greening sectors.

The City Councils of Mumbai, Leicester and Dublin – the lead Council – have, some grudgingly, some skeptically and some willingly, accepted vermiculture – the recycling of organic waste by the use of deep burrowing earthworms in situ – as a possible way of life.

The 5 year vermiculture project at the Colaba Pumping Station between BMC (Brihanmumbai (Bombay) Municipal Corporation) and Clean Air Island, joined by the European Asia Urbs team of City Councils and NGOs midway, has validated two things.

  1. The applicability of the natural process of this type of vermiculture in dealing with wet waste effectively, without mess or smell, in an urban situation in an elite area, co-existing with plants.
  2. The cost effectiveness, saving of expense, of transportation over long distances, of pollution through the use of electric vehicles and of hunting for landfill areas for more waste.

Since the completion of the EC project in mid 2004, the extendibility of vermiculture to Institutions, corporate areas, residents, schools and slums has also been demonstrated, now run independently by the beneficiaries.

An Envirowise course at a local municipal school was held for its 11 to 15 year olds, staying mainly at the Fishermen's Wharf slum. Vermiculture, greening, paper re-use, nutrition and child- spacing concepts were inculcated in a 3 months course, with environmental theatre as a sweetener . The response to this Rotary Club of Bombay project planned and executed with Clean Air Island, has led to a project being implemented for vermiculture for 500 households in the colony.

The Rotary Club of Bombay and Clean Air Island are now set to putting up a 10 ton/day vermiculture project at the Govandi slum, funded by a bank and a corporator.

Extension of this integrated concept of covering waste, air pollution and rejuvenation, to a model of 10 sq. km.is required, to cover the main objectives and develop a Clean Air Island.

  1. Vermiculture of wet waste
  2. Pollution- free electric vehicles in the utilities and city transport.
  3. Enviro Roads for greening, in situ, road waste management and public awareness and participation.

A power point presentation will illustrate and elucidate the concept, action and plan of Clean Air Island on 6 th May, 2006, at the Siena Conference.

The run-offs from such a scenario could be :

  1. Evaluation of the potential for a reduction of green house gases and climate change in a larger context. Carbon credit purchase by the industrialised countries from such projects, which reduce methane gas and carbon dioxide.
  2. A boost to organic farming and soil reconstruction through the use of vermicompost, rich in self - propagating nutrients, completing a food to waste to food cycle.
  3. A fillip to the Social Economy whereby the marginalized have employment within their learning skills and at their doorstep and feel worthy of a contribution made to society and the environment.
  4. A reduction in the role of City Councils and increase in public participation in areas of day to day operation and renewal, where they can share responsibility.
  5. An improvement in health standards and productivity through a mitigation of air, soil and water pollution and a better habitat for the growth of other species, to maintain an ecological balance.

Signs of hope in Mumbai, which some of us still call Bombay, can be seen at Mahim Nature park

  • The doubling of migratory and other bird species from 55 in 1983 to 110 species in 2005
  • The attraction the Park provides to 55 species of butterflies in 2006, from zero in 1983.

Mahim Nature Park was set up from 1983 on a garbage dump where 250 trucks of waste a day were deposited earlier.With a land area of 39 acre, in a total creek and land area of 450 acres, it now has 12000 indigenous trees and plants, and 110 medicinal varieties, opposite one of Asia's largest slum, Dharavi.

Nature has its own ethics, if we aid and abet it.