Privatisation: A Formula for Provision or Perversion of Municipal Solid Waste Management?

Brooks Anderson, June 2011

Over the past decade, the Indian government has encouraged localities to privatise municipal solid waste management (MSWM), an essential public service that local bodies have tended to perform inadequately. Surprisingly, the reasons for, and consequences of this major change in governance have been subjected to far less scrutiny than is warranted by its significance. This paper compares the theory and expectations of privatisation with the performance record of privatised public services in several countries in order to inform and stimulate scrutiny of India’s determination to privatise MSWM.

Advocates of privatisation of municipal solid waste management promote privatisation as a recently devised solution for many of the problems plaguing government-run services. For example, USAID claims that privatisation offers “cost savings, new technologies, improvements in efficiency and effectiveness and reduction in the need for permanent sanitation staff. . . . This new approach, which emphasizes commercial viability, enables Indian cities and urban authorities to respond more effectively to the greatest needs: increasing access to services and improving service levels. Significant benefits for the poor, in particular, can be achieved through a commercial orientation” (USAID 1999:1 & 4).

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