Bengaluru’s stinking problem

Filth street 7,500 tonnes of garbage piled up in the city in just 20 days
Filth street 7,500 tonnes of garbage piled up in the city in just 20 days  
Bangalore News Photos

IN THE past four months, Bengaluru, the ‘garden city’, has turned into a ‘garbage city’ as the BJP-led state government and the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP, the municipal corporation) have failed to tackle a recurring ‘waste’ problem, forcing judicial intervention to avert a major crisis. The Karnataka High Court has suggested a slew of measures to rid the city of its garbage woes.

With a population of 78 lakh, Bengaluru generates close to 5,000 tonnes of garbage every day, which is dumped in 310 acres of landfill outside the city: 80 acres in Mavallipura, 130 acres in Mandur, and 100 acres in Doddaballapura. Of the total waste, households contribute 54 percent, markets and banquet halls, 20 percent, and commercial establishments and institutions, 17 percent. It was only after residents of Mavallipura linked the death of Muniraju, 42, on 25 June from kidney failure, to toxins from the nearby landfill that the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) was forced to take action. On 11 July, it ordered the closure of operations at the Mavallipura landfill.

Since 2002, Mavallipura residents had been opposing the “unscientific” operations by the landfill operator, Ramky Enviro Engineers Ltd. Also, periodic water sample studies done by Environment Support Group (ESG), an NGO, which showed high levels of pollution, had been ignored. According to Srinivas, a Dalit leader from Mavallipura, in the past 10 years, nine residents have died of diseases linked to pollution.

Soon after the closing of the Mavallipura landfill, people living around the Mandur landfill started stopping BBMP trucks from dumping garbage there, leading garbage to pile up on the city’s streets — more than 7,500 tonnes in 20 days, according to BBMP estimates. To tide over the crisis, the KSPCB revoked the closure order, reopening the Mavallipura landfill. In the protests that followed at Mavallipura, there was a lathicharge during which one protestor reportedly succumbed to a heart attack. On 25 October, ESG filed a PIL challenging the reopening of the landfill.

‘If the industries are going to pollute, why should others have to bear the cost?’

Sandhya Narayan
Member, Solid Waste Management Round Table

As Leo Saldanha of ESG points out, of Rs 450 crore spent annually by BBMP on solid waste management, 60 percent goes into hiring trucks to transport garbage from the city to the dumping zones. “That’s where the money is,” says Saldanha. “Successive governments have been awarding contracts to certain operators year after year, leading to a nexus between contractors and politicians. If waste is segregated at source and recycled in the city, it won’t have to be carried to far-off places, but that’s not in the interest of this lobby.”

Bengaluru has seen an unprecedented growth in the IT sector, but the garbage disposal system has remained old and unscientific. Most of the garbage generated in the city lands up in nearby villages. “There have been cases of villagers dying as a consequence of the dumping of toxic waste. Many suffer from infectious or chronic illnesses,” says Saldanha. “The pollutants have contaminated lakes, wells, streams and the air, and are finding their way back to Bengaluru’s residents through the food chain.”

It was only in 2004 that a system of door-to-door garbage-collection was set up by BBMP through private contractors. Earlier, people used to dump their garbage in community dustbins. “There was no segregation at source and that made recycling difficult,” says BBMP Commissioner Rajneesh Goel.

“What the city needs is a multifaceted approach to tackle its waste. The city planners did not understand this, so they did not built the appropriate infrastructure,” says Sandhya Narayan, a member of the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMPT), Bengaluru, a group of organisations and individuals that have come together to promote the segregation of waste at source and the ethics of ‘reduce, recycle, reuse’.

A Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court, which heard ESG’s PIL, has tried to promote such a multifaceted approach to the problem. Through a series of directives to the state government and the BBMP, dated 22 November, the court has tried to get a new waste management regime established, which would incorporate the latest scientific methods. In a first-of-its-kind judgment in the country, Chief Justice Vikramjit Sen and Justice BV Nagarathna have made it mandatory to segregate wet and dry waste at source, in all the 198 municipal wards in Bengaluru. The court has also made it mandatory for waste-disposal trucks to carry only segregated garbage.

“During the past four months, there were quite a few problems concerning the garbage issue. With these directives, it seems we can properly tackle the issue in the long term,” says Goel. “However, it still needs to be seen how the directives would be implemented on the ground.”

ANOTHER REMARKABLE aspect of this judgment is that it has raised hopes of the revival of the Karnataka Compost Development Corporation (KCDC), which, after decades of successfully composting and vermin-composting (composting by using worms) the city’s waste, has not been working to full capacity in recent times. The court’s order takes note of the fact that the KCDC, in a letter dated 17 November, “mentioned that out of 9,65,363 tonnes of garbage received… (it) had processed 8 lakh tonnes”, and that the processing of the rest “is in progress at the rate of 200 tonnes per day”. It had also shown willingness to process an additional “75 to 100 tonnes per day of segregated wet waste”. The court has directed the BBMP and the state government to respond to the letter with “the urgency it deserves”.

“While the court’s directives are progressive and it is a momentous judgment, it does not address the issue of fixing the responsibility of the producers of waste,” says Narayan of SWMPT, which is trying to get the “producers pay” principle enacted in law. A lot of e-waste is generated from the corporate offices and the IT industry. The packaging industry is also to blame for the garbage problem. “Currently, there are no laws to factor in the producers’ responsibility. If the industries are going to pollute, why should others have to bear the cost?” she asks.

Imran Khan is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.
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