Propositons, dispositions weigh on B'luru's waste issue

Bengaluru's garbage problem: Bureaucrats propose, politicians dispose

Rarely do we see a civic project accomplished on time in the city due to increased political interference and delay in tender process

The project to bio-mine shuttered landfill sites has failed to take off because of too much political interference, officials say. Credit: DH file photo/Ranju P

Bengaluru may be getting a "smart makeover" as far as roads are concerned, but several crucial projects that have the potential to fix the city's notorious garbage problem have failed to take off due to political interference and bureaucratic red tape.

Embarrassed by years of bad press, civic authorities had gone to the drawing board to find a permanent fix to the garbage problem. Among the things they planned to do was reclaiming large chunks of land from landfill sites through bio-mining.

Under bio-mining, biodegradable waste (mostly unsegregated solid wet waste) is treated and broken down with bio-organisms. The process is considered environment-friendly.

The BBMP had decided to use bio-mining at the Mandur landfill site, which it shut down in 2014 following fierce protests from local residents. Officials had hoped that bio-mining would help free up precious land for better purposes.

Cut to 2021, the Rs 80-crore project is still on the drawing board, and attempts to complete the tender process have gone nowhere due to what the BBMP says are "false allegations".

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"We have been trying to implement the project for years but false allegations are a stumbling block that's impossible to overcome," says Sarfaraz Khan, Joint Commissioner (Solid Waste), BBMP, who is also the executive director of Bengaluru Solid Waste Management Limited (BSWML).

In a last resort, the BBMP has sent the bio-mining tender to the state government for approval. "We had no other option," he adds.

Another crucial project stalled by political interference is the door-to-door collection of garbage.

The BBMP had proposed to spend Rs 15 lakh on garbage collection from each of its 198 wards and another Rs 15 lakh on the collection of secondary garbage. "To this day, the tenders remain unapproved," says Sandhya Narayan, a solid waste expert associated with the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT). "The garbage problem has only gotten worse."

Officials aware of the civic body's history and functioning aren't surprised. "We have to fight for every project that we conceive in public interest. If members of one political party accuse us of favouring a particular company, others say we rig the tenders to please our political masters," an official says.

Many others question the technology or nature of the project and dismiss it as being outdated. "When everyone is trying to criticise and stall every project for one reason or another, how can we run the city," the official said in exasperation. "Nobody is ready to take the initiative and get things done. Everyone is happy being a back-seat driver."

Another member of the SWMRT echoed a similar opinion and pointed to the stalled project of installing a biometric attendance system for municipal workers. "Something as basic as providing uniforms to pourakarmikas took almost five years. The proposal to deploy marshals to enforce solid waste rules met similar resistance," the member added.

"Whether it's the use of mechanical sweepers or installation of a secondary garbage collection system, no project was allowed to be implemented without being mired in allegations," Narayan said. "By the time these obstacles are overcome, the projects are no longer useful or necessary."

The hurdles also come with significant cost overruns. In Khan's words, political interference and allegations lead to policy paralysis and discourage bureaucrats from approving ambitious projects. "Our officials no longer feel motivated to do something better for the city," he said.

A junior engineer in the BBMP said no official was ready to take risks and that files do not move beyond the first step. "Lack of trust is suffocating us," he said.

Project delays have often earned the BBMP the National Green Tribunal's (NGT) wrath. "There are projects that need to be implemented in a time-bound manner as per the NGT's directions. But when the projects are stalled, we cut a sorry figure before the NGT," Khan said.

While officials remain despondent, Narayan sees a ray of hope in the newly established solid waste management company which she believes could expedite decision-making and provide a framework for time-bound implementation of projects.

The zonal and ward-level organisation of the BBMP has complicated decision-making, she said.

Khan says people who make false allegations must be penalised for delays if officials are found innocent.

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