The Central Pollution Control Board, in a report submitted to the National Green Tribunal on January 14, 2021 on scientific disposal of biomedical waste (BMW) arising out of COVID-19 treatment, made certain errors. In a state-wise list of details on COVID waste generation and treatment capacity utilisation, data on Lakshadweep's biomedical waste generation has been "misprinted" and a column is ambiguously labelled.
The report highlights that India generates 615 tonnes of regular biomedical waste in a day, and an average of 146 tonnes of COVID-19-related biomedical waste daily (as per December 2020).
FactChecker spoke to scientists who wrote the report and experts who misinterpreted it owing to the errors.
Total waste generated or treatment capacity?
In the list for state-wise details on COVID-19 waste generation with treatment capacity utilisation, the CPCB has, against every state, put four columns: Non-COVID BMW generated, COVID BMW generation, total quantity of BMW and the number of common waste treatment and disposal facilities (CBWTF) engaged.
The third column, labelled 'Total Quantity of BMW', if meant the total biomedical waste generated by a particular state, should have reflected the sum of the first two columns (Non-COVID and COVID BMW generated). But it doesn't for all states.
For some states/UTs, the numbers reported in the third column were either distinguishably greater or lesser than the addition of the numbers in the previous two columns. For example, Jammu & Kashmir generates 5.9 tonnes/day of non-COVID waste, 1.133 tonnes/ day of COVID waste, but the total biomedical waste it generates is 13.9 tonnes/day.
To understand how this number was calculated and reported, FactChecker contacted : CPCB Scientists VP Yadav and Youthika, who are part of the Waste Management division and who worked on this report.
"The column of 'Total Quantity of BMW' is the amount of the total treatment capacity that is utilised. If a state, for example, has a total installed treatment capacity of 10 tonnes/day, but is not receiving [or generating] that much, but is generating 8 tonnes/day, then the treatment capacity utilisation is 8 tonnes/day," Youthika told FactChecker.
According to this explanation, the treatment capacity utilised for Kerala doesn't add up. The state has just one biomedical waste treatment facility with a capacity of 63 tonnes per day. But, according to the erroneous CPCB report, the capacity utilised for the state is 89.5 tonnes a day and it generates 60.429 tonnes of BMW a day. Jammu & Kashmir too, as mentioned above, displays the same ambiguity. FactChecker asked the scientists about this, but they refused to answer.
Lakshadweep has no treatment facility
Lakshadweep has no common waste treatment and disposal facility (CBWTF) as it is "not feasible due to geographical isolation and lesser quantity of biomedical waste generation", according to a monthly progress report submitted to the NGT by the National Mission for Clean Ganga in January 2021. And yet the CPCB report mentions that the Union territory's total waste treatment capacity utilised is 72 tonnes per day.
The report mentioned that the UT generated 0.10 tonnes of non-COVID-19 biomedical waste and 0.01 tons of COVID-19 biomedical waste daily. But the BMW treatment capacity utilised in Lakshadweep was shown as 72 tonnes a day despite absence of any treatment facility in the UT.
When asked Yadav, he said, it's a misprint. "We have examined the matter and observed that it was a printing mistake. It should be 0.11 tonnes/day," Yadav told FactChecker via email. However, CPCB has not clarified this error publicly or to NGT.
Owing to the error, the number has been misinterpreted in an article published by Down To Earth in June 2021. In the article, 72 tonnes a day is taken as the treatment capacity of Lakshadweep instead of the treatment capacity the UT utilises. "Consider this. In its January 2021 report submitted to NGT, CPCB mentions that Lakshadweep has a treatment capacity of 72 tonnes a day, even though the board itself has stated that the archipelago does not have a single common biomedical waste treatment facility," read the article.
But, even then, how does Lakshadweep treat 0.11 tonnes of biomedical waste? Let's find out.
How Lakshadweep manages its waste
In Lakshadweep, all human anatomical waste, animal waste and discarded medicines and drugs are disposed of through incineration and deep burial in the island. "Deep burial is generally an isolation mechanism. The land becomes practically useless. We have no data or reports on the amount of waste buried and what kind of pits were used to carry out these deep burial activities, which are likely to have increased due to the surge in the biomedical waste generated during the pandemic. A lot of the waste is also not biodegradable," said Siddharth Ghanshyam Singh, author of the above mentioned DTE article and Deputy Programme Manager, Municipal Solid Waste division, Centre for Science and Environment.
All the other waste is transported to mainland [India] after pre-treatment in healthcare centres for recycling. An agreement is done between IMAGE treatment facility, a CBWTF in Kerala, and Lakshadweep Administration, mentions the Clean Ganga report. This facility has a treatment capacity of 63 tonnes/day.
"Many of the health care facilities also have captive treatment facilities integrated which are able to treat and incinerate the waste as required." Singh concluded.