No stopping the black spots

Unclear garbage at T Dasarahalli, NH4, Tumkur Road, in Bengaluru on Tuesday 19.06 2018. (DH Photo/ B H Shivakumar)

Does a thriving city of 1.3 crore Bengalureans deserve to be forever trapped in an inglorious garbage mess, its waste management systems utterly compromised by a greedy nexus of corporators, contractors and bureaucrats? When well-crafted rules are in place, how does this nexus manage with such audacity to squeeze out every rupee and leave the city to rot in a stinking twister of black spots?

Dirty, putrid and extremely repulsive in sight, the black spots paint the picture of a system gone wayward in every respect. Despite years of big ticket announcements, mandatory processes lie in near-total disarray: Waste segregation at source, ward-level treatment, wet waste composting, dry waste collection and processing, transparent transportation and beyond.

Procedural gaps

Huge procedural gaps scream out for immediate resolution at every stage, from door-to-door collection to treatment to disposal of untreated waste. In residential areas across the city, daily door-to-door collection of segregated waste is critical to the setup. But the auto tippers are notoriously irregular, houses and even streets are randomly skipped, and waste, segregated by residents are blatantly mixed at the next stage.

The collection rules are clear on paper: Each auto tipper is required to collect waste from one block of 750 residential units and 200 small shops, excluding apartments. Wards are divided into blocks. On paper again, each auto tipper is hired for Rs 53,000 per month. The tippers transfer the collected waste to compactors, each of which is hired for about Rs 2.5 lakh / month.

Resistance to tenders

But, since garbage contractors – in connivance with elected representatives – have resisted a tender-based system for years, there is no way to know how many vehicles are operated, how much waste is collected and what quantity of garbage gets into the compactors.

“The powerful contractors lobby never allowed GPS tracking of the vehicles. They are not liable to be transparent about quality of the material, the manpower or the destination,” points out Sandya Natarajan from the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT).

Despite sustained campaigns by citizen activists, NGOs and experts, the contractors have ensured that the crying need for a tender-based waste management system is trapped in legal wrangles for years. Result, as N S Ramakanth from SWMRT frankly puts it, is this: “Collection and transportation is today a total disaster. Enforcement of the rules is nil. People who have been segregating too are all fed up.”

Dry waste collection

To plug the segregation gap, Dry Waste Collection Centres (DWCC) was seen as a promising option. The idea was to collect segregated dry waste separately, twice a week, and ferry them to the DWCCs, to be set up at each of the BBMP’s 198 wards. Today, an estimated 165 wards have these Centres, but only a fraction of them operate efficiently.

It is no rocket science why the Centres are bound to face severe obstacles. Treating dry waste locally will make a huge dent in garbage volumes taken directly to the quarries. “All the contractors and their corporator relatives want to do the long distance. That’s where the big money is. Bypass even the zonal processing centres, and maximize profits. That is their plan,” elaborates a waste management expert.

For nine months, waste pickers collected the dry waste without payment. To make it worse, most of the Centres are of very low capacity. “The collection area ranges from 800 sqft to 5,000 sqft. In a majority of Centres, you cannot handle beyond 500 kgs.”

Residents’ co-operation

The Palike insists that whatever the gaps, waste management cannot be efficient without full cooperation from the residents. Articulating this, BBMP Commissioner N Manjunath Prasad says: “The problem of littering on streets is in a way related to the lifestyle of young working families. These citizens, well educated and employed in top companies, complain that the pourakarmikas come to collect either when they are not awake or when they would have already left for work.”

This, he contends, eventually results in citizens dumping the garbage on streets late in the night, while going for a walk after their dinner. “Not only this, suppose our pourakarmikas clean the streets with all their effort, it will be dirty within an hour or so as someone else litters,” he adds.

Black spot triggers

But in localities across Bengaluru, vacant spots designated for transfer of collected waste from tipper to compactors, have morphed into black spots. Reason: Spill over effect, where collected waste that do not fit into the compactors remain at the site. Under the cover of darkness, many are seen dumping their unsegregated waste at these spots.

To eliminate black spots, the Palike has a plan, says Prasad. “We are introducing transfer stations that will help the collection vehicles to directly unload the waste onto compactors. This will prevent the spill over,” he explains.

Segregation mix

But he admits that there are lacuna in segregation at various levels. “There is no denying that sometimes the problem begins with pourakarmikas, as they mix the waste segregated by the residents.”

What is left unsaid is this: The mixture at the critical transfer points happens for a reason, and with a deliberate strategy. High value waste is identified and taken away, but the low-value stuff is mixed, dumped into the compactors and taken untreated to the quarries. The compromised system ensures that no truck is checked enroute.

(Inputs by Madhuri Rao)


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