Can Local Authorities Charge Extra Fees for Sanitary Trash Pickup? Supreme Court Seeks Responses from States

The Supreme Court today (July 9) gave the states a last chance to file their counter-affidavit in a PIL challenging the collection of additional fee by local governments for disposal of sanitary waste.

The Court noted that the states of Goa, Chhattisgarh, Kerela, Tripura, Assam and Punjab, Madhya Pradesh have filed their counter-affidavits, but other states will do the same within two weeks.

Earlier, the petitioner, Indu Varma, had personally raised the issue of Kochi Corporation in Kerala not collecting household waste.

I am only seeking an interim order allowing the Corporation to collect the sanitary waste from the households as prescribed in the rules (of solid waste management). The rules require the Corporation to collect the sanitary waste as part of ‘solid waste’. The definition of ‘solid waste’ includes sanitary waste.,” the applicant had submitted.

When the counsel for the state of Kerala stated that these charges are being levied because there is no scientific method to process this (sanitary) waste, the court responded sternly:

Is it a euphemism for something else? The usage fee may be legal, but how can you charge the extra fee?

At the start of today’s hearing, the petitioner stated that every woman who menstruates at home has to call a certain number to collect her menstrual waste. How is this wise? Sanitary waste is part of solid waste, according to the rules, she asked.

The Court then asked the applicant to identify the states that levy such a separate charge for the disposal of sanitary waste. The Court also asked the applicant to identify the categories that should be exempted from this charge, including school-going children, the young or elderly, and the poor or marginalized.

To this, ASG Aishwarya Bhatti said that the Union had written to all the states and 15 states had responded. When asked about the Union’s stand, she informed the court that the Union has a policy decision on this and sanitation is a state subject.

Ultimately, the Court made the above order before the case was published in September.

It is also worth noting that all other States have also become parties to this petition and the Court has made it clear that comprehensive guidelines will be issued, which are not limited to any single State.

The petition also raised the issue of municipal bodies levying user fees for waste collection. Although the fee is provided for in the Solid Waste Management Rules, the petitioner contested it, arguing that no specific amount was set aside for user fees.

They can charge any fee. That is why different houses in the state of Kerala pay different rates. There are houses that pay Rs. 150 per month to the person who comes to collect it, some pay 200, some pay 300, some cannot afford to pay but they are still forced to pay. I have challenged the user fee

Usage fee is a misnomer. It’s kind of a misconception. It’s a matter of collection; why should there be a fee for collection, that’s the point“, Ms Varma stated earlier.

Case Details: Indu Varma v. Union of India (WP(C) No. 1062/2023)