Kathmandu Metropolitan City spent millions on smart dustbins. No one is using them.The city’s mayor, while defending the purchase, said residents were deliberately making him look bad by not using the trash cans.
It is 6 am and Phun Maya Pode, along with half a dozen others, is busy sweeping up litter from outside the Nepal Airlines office in New Road. The ‘smart solar dustbin’, installed by the Kathmandu Metropolitan City in November, is empty, but there is trash everywhere, littering the streets.
“There are five such dustbins between Jamal and Sahidgate, which is the area that I am assigned to sweep every morning,” said 40-year-old Pode who’s been sweeping the city for the past 25 years. “I have never found garbage in any of them.”
When the Post visited New Road early Wednesday morning, the smart dustbin was out of order, neither displaying the pollution level nor the temperature. Even its mobile charging point was broken. The Post then visited numerous other locations across the city, scouring the smart dustbins for signs of trash; most were empty.
“These dustbins look like a showpiece. If only people threw garbage in here, our work would be so much easier,” said a sweeper in Maitighar, who refused to be identified.
Kathmandu Metropolitan City has installed 60 such smart dustbins across the city—in Maitighar, New Road, Ratnapark, Babarmahal, Chabahil and Koteshwor—under a public-private partnership model with Krishna Suppliers Pvt Ltd. The installation was heralded by the city as the beginning of a ‘smart era’. Each dustbin cost around Rs 600,000.
But in an informal survey of pedestrians, the Post discovered that most didn’t even know that the rectangular box on the streets was really a dustbin.
“I thought it was just a display advertising board,” said Suman Adhikari, an MBBS doctor who had recently returned from China. “How can a poor country have such an expensive dustbin, which isn’t even used?”
The design of the dustbin itself is puzzling. The large front portion of the dustbin is advertising space, which also displays rudimentary images of birds and animals, and Nepal’s religious and cultural heritage. The upper portion displays the temperature and pollution level in Kathmandu, but many have broken down and either display nonsensical characters or nothing at all. There is text on the bottom that reads ‘Let’s keep our city clean’ in Nepali.
The dustbin portion is actually on the back, with two small, inconspicuous holes segregated by biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste.
“People barely see it. Since it cost a lot of money, there must be a concession game here,” said Adhikari.
When the Post reached out to Ishwor Man Dangol, spokesperson for the municipal office, he said people need not worry about the smart dustbin as the city itself hadn’t spent money on the project.
“We only provided the space. The dustbins were installed by a private company,” said Dangol.
But Dangol's statement shows a lack of understanding of the public-private partnership because the public partner's role in such a model is defining and monitoring compliances.
Mahesh Kafle, a department chief who handles public-private partnerships for Kathmandu city, said that the smart dustbins had been installed under a ‘Build-Operate-Transfer’ model. As per a deal reached Krishna Suppliers, Kathmandu Metropolitan City would own the dustbins after five years.
“This project does not have taxpayers’ money,” said Kafle, when asked why the city was not monitoring how the dustbins were being used.
“We had installed plastic dustbins at different locations, but people did not use them; some were broken and some were burnt down,” said Kafle. “That’s why we decided to install smart dustbins after a private company came up with the idea.”
According to Harish Agrawal, managing director of Krishna Suppliers, his company has invested Rs 30 million for the project and the dustbins.
“Our motive is fully commercial. We invested the amount and we are going to earn money from the advertisements we place on these smart dustbins,” Agrawal told the Post. “We are not making money now, but at least we are doing something new. People will soon learn to use them.”
While Mayor Bidya Sundar Shakya defended his office’s decision to install smart dustbins under the public-private partnership model, he said there was a “conspiracy” afoot.
“If people are not dumping the waste into the smart dustbins, it’s their fault,” said Shakya, who has taken flak for failing to deliver on the numerous promises he had made. “There is a conspiracy to prove me inefficient by throwing garbage on the roads.”