Ranchi: Different ways to dispose medical waste

By Shruti Sinha 

Ranchi: Even after repeated guidelines, the city’s waste disposal system is thriving on the dangerous difference of figures between the state government and non-profit organisations 

In Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand which is being developed as a smart city under the flagship Smart Cities Mission; the number of incinerators dedicated to all the hospitals and clinics is TWO. That is, two incinerators are functional against more than 200 hospitals and 12 Lakh people. That’s an overwhelming figure, even on paper. It makes one wonder in times marred by a pandemic, where does all the bio-medical waste go, before and after treatment? Is it even getting treated, and if yes, where is it being dumped after? 

The first view in sight the moment one enters the city’s biggest government-run hospital, Rajendra Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), is that of separate bins with ‘Covid- 19’ stickers pasted on them. It makes one cognizant of the numbers in which the hospital is generating biomedical waste and assumingly managing it. But on ground, literally and figuratively, that’s not the case. The only incinerator installed in the RIMS premises has the capacity of treating 100kg of medical waste per hour but the ground is littered with used syringes, personal protective equipment (PPE) kits, blood bags etcetera, making it a terrifying sight. “It hasn’t been used since morning today, otherwise it’s always functional,” says Shyam Tete, one of the three incinerator unit operators at the hospital, on repeatedly asking.

The Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), Government of India sent out a 13-paged document in March, 2020 titled “Guidelines for Handling and Disposal of Bio-Medical Waste” to the state of Jharkhand to ensure proper waste management. However, as blasphemous it may sound, the official website of Jharkhand State Pollution Control Board(JSPCB) only has the data up until 2018 available for public view. The data is stagnant, at ‘Quantity of Bio-Medical waste  Generation (in kg/day) is: 12788 kg/day’. On being asked if the figures are regularly updated, Dhiman, Principal Secretary (H & FW), Nepal House, Ranchi says “We are complying to the management guidelines as shared by the Central Government but the figures are not meant to be shared or uploaded”. 

A couple of surveys, however, narrate a different story. Ranchi-based NGO ‘Lok Swar’ claims that around 52% of the state’s bio-medical waste goes untreated. Lack of disposal facilities and incinerators being the primal reasons. Conducted in 17 private and one government hospital in Ranchi, the survey claims that out of 5,300 tonnes of waste produced annually, over 34% or 1,802 tonnes goes untreated. The hospitals disallowing the use of incinerators for treatment of waste generated outside its own premises is furthering the problem even more. The discrepancy with the pollution watchdog in Jharkhand, JSPCB is even further glorified because of cases filed against it. The reports, published by the aforementioned NGO states that “The glitches in the tracking and management of waste disposal are impossible to ignore.” Dr Prabhat Kumar, head of the waste management task force under JSPCB in Ranchi, refused to comment after several calls. The mismanagement is alarming, and even more so as the research surrounding proper disposal of bio-medical waste and the hazards of further contamination still hasn’t concluded. “The study to determine the rate at which contamination multiplies from deceased patients hasn’t yielded any results as of now and the unaware stature is a definite concern” says Dr. Prabhat Kumar, a resident doctor at RIMS. The management calls the litter “unavoidable” and continues to flout the medical procedures of waste management as stated by the Pollution Control Board in an internal notification of 2016. There’s a need for the board to not only manage but also become a watchdog for a reversal of scenarios.

While on the way out, a lanky man, in his 20s is rummaging through the bins, “to look for plastic bottles to fill his garbage bag and sell out for 10 bucks per 20 bottles later” on being asked. For a fully vaccinated and doubly masked person, the privilege is mine and staring at my face. For Hemant, a ragpicker for as long as he can remember, it is his job to enter a hospital and look for “waste” that might fetch him today’s meal; unaware of the potential threat to his health and well-being.