Clean up or close down. The message, from the West Bengal Pollution Control Board (PCB) to hospitals reluctant to treat their bio-medical waste, is clear.
This ultimatum will be served on leading hospitals and healthcare centres of the city and districts at a workshop being jointly organised on Thursday by the Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and PCB.
“There is nothing unique or brazen about telling the health centres to treat bio-medical waste or be prepared to shut down,” says PCB member-secretary Ravi Kant. “We are just trying to implement the Bio-Medical Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 1998, which states that the onus of ensuring proper treatment of bio-medical waste lies squarely with the generators. They can do it either by setting up their own treatment facility or joining a common one.”
As per the rules, the clean-up deadline expired on December 31, 2002, and the law empowers the PCB with “the closure, prohibition or regulation of any operation or process; the stoppage or regulation of electricity or water supply; the closure of the healthcare unit”. Closure, however, should not be the solution for any healthcare unit, clarifies Ravi Kant, and so the Board is “making an extra effort to convince them about the gravity of the situation and also offer them the possible solution”.
There are three kinds of bio-medical wastes — anatomical wastes in yellow bags; infectious wastes in red bags; sharp needles and syringes in blue bags. Incineration is needed for treatment of the first category. Only two hospitals in the city and three in the districts — Command, Apollo Gleneagles, Base in Barrackpore, Military Hospital in Panagarh and 158 Base in Bangdubi — have this. Waste autoclaving and shredding, a must to treat the red and blue bags, is present in 17 hospitals of Bengal, but no state health centre in the city, said Board officials.
The clean-up onus is on the government sector, as 17,565 beds (of 26,424) in state-run hospitals produce 44 per cent of the total bio-medical waste in town. “We are not trying to scare off the hospitals. The government has constituted a committee that has decided, in principle, to hand over responsibility of preparing a ‘common bio-medical waste treatment & disposal facility’ to a private operator,” says Ravi Kant. Once operational, the private operator will charge the hospitals anything between Rs 2.25 and Rs 7 per bed.
ICC secretary-general Nazeeb Arif terms Thursday’s meet “a unique example of the regulatory body educating the so-called violators” and feels the healthcare industry “must reciprocate”.