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Wasted – The Messy Story of Sanitation in India


Author: Ankur Bisen


Publisher: Pan Macmillan

Award Category: English Non-fiction


About the Book: 

Urban India generates close to 3 million trucks of untreated garbage every day. If these were laid end-to-end, one could reach half way to the moon.

The need for attention to sanitation and cleanliness is both urgent and long-term. This book takes an honest look into India’s perpetual struggle with these issues and suggests measures to overcome them. Historically, we have developed into a society with a skewed mindset towards sanitation with our caste system and non-accountability towards sanitation.

Through stories, anecdotes and analysis of events, this book seeks solutions to the current entangled problems of urban planning, governance and legislation, and institutional and human capacity building. Wasted traces interesting relationships between urban planning and dirty cities in India; legislative and governance lacunae and the rising height of open landfills; the informality of waste management methods, and the degrading health of Indian rivers, soil and air.

Arguing that all current solutions of India are extrapolated from these flawed beliefs and structures and are therefore woefully inadequate, Bisen draws a benchmark from clean countries of today. Underlining the need for inclusive human clusters, specificity in legislation, correction of existing social contracts and governance frameworks, creating a formal resource recovery industry in India, and the pursuit of diplomacy around this industry, this book shows how these solutions could lead us towards a brighter future and better social development.


About the Author: 

ANKUR BISEN is committed to his concerns about the environment and the accountability

of citizens to improving conditions of sanitation in urban India. While growing up in

India's quaint small towns, briefly leading an expat life, and working in bustling Indian cities and towns, he developed an enquiring mind towards a cleaner and greener future. In his years as a management consultant at Technopak Advisors and before that in the Tata Group and Lemon Tree hotels, he has thought and researched about India’s sanitation problems and possible solutions while working in diverse fields such as affordable housing, food, retailing, urban and rural consumption clusters, resource recovery and consumer products with an India focus.

Ankur has written regularly for leading English dailies in the past. This is his first book.


‘This book enhances our understanding of the historical issues that have plagued India’s sanitation challenge. A must read for those who are interested in the important agenda of a clean environment for all’ NAINA LAL KIDWAI, Chair, India-Sanitation Coalition

‘Despite the clarion call by our Prime Minister, Indian society still lacks clarity on the nature of the desirable solution for sanitation. Wasted is a serious attempt at pointing out possibilities and solutions. Written lucidly and in a narrative style; it provides an inspiring peek of a clean future. A much-needed book for our times’ DR RAJIV KUMAR, Vice Chairman, Niti Aayog

‘Wasted advocates that the handling of waste in India requires the finest management and developmental architecture. The book remarkably delves into the depth and breadth of the problem of yesterday and today and presents it as a free-flowing story’ MARTIN MACWAN, Dalit human rights activist

‘Wasted locates India’s missed opportunities in sanitation in its complex civilizational legacy; its comfort with caste, informality and child labour; and in its appalling local governance systems. Necessary reading for every policy maker, town planner and engaged urban citizen.’ HARSH MANDER, author and activist

‘Wasted addresses India’s complex caste-driven perception of waste. It traces the illogic of our constant discontent with modes of disposal, while being deliberately blind to socio-political processes behind its creation. This book must be read by all concerned Indians’ ARUNA ROY, socio-political activist and Magsaysay Award winner (2000)

‘India is not working on the science needed towards the management of pollution that it emits in the name of development. Therefore, even well-intentioned projects do not yield results. This book can be an entry point to understanding the process to reduce use of nature and to rejuvenate nature for our sustainable future’ DR RAJENDRA SINGH, environmentalist and Magsaysay Award winner (2001)

REC- VoW Book Awards 2024

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