More buildings set to achieve net-zero waste

Centre will bring in new norms for all upcoming housing and commercial complexes; States to be directed to incorporate the requirement in building bylaws as part of efforts to end manual scavenging; mechanised sewerage important for achieving Sustainable Development Goals

All upcoming housing societies and commercial complexes in the country will soon have to mandatorily ensure net-zero waste and have their liquid discharge treated, as part of the Union government’s push for reforming and modernising the sewage disposal system.

Achieving net-zero waste means reducing, reusing and recovering waste streams (sludge) to convert them to valuable resources so that zero solid waste is sent to landfills.

The Union Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry will send a directive, likely by March-end, to all State governments to incorporate the net-zero requirement in the building bylaws and ensure implementation, a senior official in the Ministry said.

The Ministry is looking at integrating septic tank design into the bylaws and adherence to standard specifications, geo-tagging all septic tanks and manholes for proper tracking and reducing GST on mechanised cleaning vehicles.

The directives are part of the government’s effort to implement the manhole to machine-hole scheme to eradicate manual scavenging.

In her Budget speech for 2023-24, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that all cities and towns would be enabled for 100% transition of sewers and septic tanks from manhole to machine-hole mode.

Other guidelines

The guidelines include asking urban local bodies such as municipalities to explore the potential of commercial use of processed sludge as fertilizer and empanelling all agencies providing sanitation services in both the organised and unorganised sectors.

Apart from this, the government will review the Indian standards for mechanised cleaning equipment and consider differential tariff rates for residential and commercial de-sludging.

A “Make in India” start-up for promoting low-cost technological solutions such as mechanised spades and sensor sticks for gas detection is being considered.

For proper implementation, the Centre will ask the States to impose a legal penalty if buildings do not adhere to the bylaws and standard operating procedures, the official said.

Towards SDG

Experts believe a mechanised sewage system, coupled with the mandatory zero net waste clause for housing and commercial complexes, was important for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The United Nations SDG 6.3 aims at “halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increase recycling and safe reuse globally” by 2030. India currently generates 72,368 million litres of urban wastewater a day, of which only 28% is treated, show the Ministry data from 2023.

The real estate sector has welcomed the move. The Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI), the apex body of private real estate developers in India, said these changes could be promoted by incentivising urban local bodies to strengthen their sewerage and treatment infrastructure.

“We have encouraged our members to set up solid and liquid waste management units in their projects. Some developers are setting up sewage treatment plants (STPs) within their project premises too,” Harsh Vardhan Patodia, president, CREDAI, said.

According to a 2021 Housing and Urban Affairs Ministry report titled “Circular economy in municipal solid and liquid waste”, India’s economy could be boosted if the sale of treated sewage is institutionalised.

At a conservative estimate, it has the potential to add close to ₹3,285 crore annually.