LAHORE - The Punjab government is set for another misadventure by privatising the sanitation and cleanliness system, primarily a job of Solid Waste Management (SWM), knowingly the bitter fact that privatisation introduced more than two times in an attempt could not bear the fruits due to one or the other reason. But the provincial government is also planning to experiment the same in five other major cities in near future. The renewed bid to privatise the system is bound to fail again as the problems that led to its rolling back in the past still persist. Opposing the step, hundreds of SWM sanitary workers staged protest demonstrations and sit-ins in front of Lahore Press Club and Punjab Assembly. And they are again set to protest again today (April 28). A number of attempts have been made over the years to shift the municipality-run waste removal services to private operators but none have been successful, primarily because of a highly 'anti-franchise attitude by the Sold Waste Management, duty-bound to keep the city neat and clean. Legal ambiguity, irrational service fee structure, lack of or in some cases no knowledge of the existing situations, corrupt management, absence of mechanical support, unwanted political interference and faulty planning are some of the reasons contributing to the overall failure of the system. Not surprisingly, the officials of Sold Waste Management (SWM) believe that if the privatisation produces the desired results, the department will lose utility and would be made defunct leading to downgrading their authorities. Though the Punjab government is yet to unfurl the system, an agitation campaign to wind up the plan is all set to spring into action. The sanitation staffs, more than 10,000 in number, has threatened to resist the project. The scavengers have also warned of launching broom-down strike. Sources privy to the development revealed that official of SWM were behind the agitation. They were using sanitation staff as instruments for their own interests, sourced informed. It may be recalled that during the past few years several initiatives were taken both by the public and private sector to find a lasting solution for the ever increasing waste problems but all failed miserably, primarily because of the inept management and vested interest of the corrupt within the department. Among the noted public-private partnerships was an initiative undertaken by the YCHR-CRT with the financial support of the DFID-UK and the Walled City was selected as a pilot project. The locality comprised of narrow streets, densely populated with very little room to experiment heavy machinery to move the over 200 tons of waste generated daily. There was no door-to-door service as well. The YCHR-CRT took charge of the operations with the SWM staff under the arrangement that the organisation was to manage the operations and work within the existence resources while the DFID-UK provided funds for management cost and for introducing customised equipment. Within a year the organisation was able to reduce the strength of the staff working in the area from over 120 to below 80 and the level of services increased. The issue of reducing waste at source was addressed, awareness campaigns were carried out and mechanised system for removing waste was introduced. Although the system had shown marked improvement, the department was not happy with the situation as the bribe generated from the locality was curtailed and hence they made concerted efforts to sabotage the project. However, it continued for almost three years, primarily because of the success in the operations and secondly by the support of the British High Commission in Pakistan, as most of the department officials were aware of the interest the project had generated among the donor organisation. The program ended in 2001 and the management went back to the SWMD. The tragic part is that the level of service dropped drastically in the days to come and it was back to the point where the YCHR-CRT had stepped into the game. The area has been designated 'troubled again as highly vocal residents have been protesting against declining services and have even thrashed the staff in public for poor service delivery. Towards the end of year 2002, the franchise system was introduced in which franchising some of the localities was initiated in the first phase with the model that the private contractors would provide door-to-door waste collection and sweeping services while the SWMD would provide support by shifting the waste from the collection points to the dumping sites. One of the aims was to decentralise the services to improve the efficiency and reduce corruption. The un-served localities were divided into blocks of one thousand households each and many entrepreneurs came up and started operations in areas that had never witnessed an organised waste management. By the mid of 2002, the number of houses served by the private SWM operators had increased by 30,000 and had started attracting the attention of more investors. According to the contract terms, the private operators were granted rights to work in their respective areas for a period of three years and they were to collect the service fee directly from the houses and commercial areas. It meant that the role of the SWMD was reduced just to removal of the waste from the waste collection to dumping and monitoring of the service delivery. The system was not allowed to stand on its feet, as certain elements within the SWMD feared its success as a direct threat to their interests and hurdles were again created. The waste removal vehicles required to shift waste from the designated sites at least twice a day did not visit for several days and the increasing odour from the collected waste enraged the residents regularly. They were forced to pressurise the contractor who intern was left with no option but to bribe the vehicle operators to remove the waste. The monitoring officials in their reports reported inept services as huge piles of waste was lying at various points but disregarded the pleas of the contractors that the vehicle operators were unable to remove the waste daily. The main issue was that waste containers in the localities had never been filled to their capacity before two weeks and when the process of door-to-door collection started, people stopped dumping the waste at open places with the result that the waste collected at the designated spots was often more than what was being gathered there in weeks prior to the arrival of the private operators. The private operators received another set back when the commercial areas refused to pay the service fee but at the same time insisted on receiving the service. The suspension of service in the commercial areas often resulted in threat of physical violence against the sanitary staff of the operators. The department officials, according to the terms of the contract, were to help the contractor in securing the recovery of the amount but several complaints in this regards and requests for legal action against the defaulters were totally disregarded. The contractors started facing financial constraints and were forced to limit their operations to certain areas. Another problem arose with the introduction of the newly elected local bodies as a result of the devolution of power plan. In the previous system, the elected members of the local bodies were solely responsible for the sanitary staff in their constituency and they demanded of the private contractors to ensure the presence of at least three to five sanitary workers at their disposal - a demand not only highly inappropriate but in direct contradiction to the agreement signed with the CDGL. The denial to do so resulted in further troubles. Using their political clout, the elected councillors pressurised the residents not to pay the service fee and in some streets within the operation areas of the private operators, allowed certain individuals to initiate similar services. The eventual result was that one by one all the private operators opted out of the system and the experiment which had started showing signs of improvement went back to square one. The irony of the whole scenario is that the politically elected head of the CDGL is willing to find a solution to the problem but nor the members he lead and neither the department is willing to let go the opportunity to make money.