Waste management, beyond quarries

Waste management, beyond quarries

Garbage dumping illustration for PB

Hijacked by a potent mix of the powerful garbage mafia and official apathy, the city’s solid waste management strategy has again hit a roadblock: Quarries. If lakhs of tons of untreated garbage dumped in landfills destroyed villages, residents in the vicinity of garbage-filled quarries are now crying foul.

Despite stringent regulations against the practice by the National Greens Tribunal (NGT), the dumping continues unabated in the Bellahalli quarry pit. Truckloads of non-segregated, untreated wet and dry waste are being ferried here daily. Other abandoned pits spread across Kannuru, Mitiganahalli and surrounding areas are already full.

Pulled up by the NGT, the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) had diverted the trucks from Bengaluru to Bellahalli. An estimated 400 compactor trucks dump over 3,500 metric tonnes of garbage into this quarry daily. Massive volumes of the toxic leachate, formed at the bottom of the quarry, have now leaked through cracks in the rock surface to the groundwater.

Landfills to quarries

Were no lessons learnt when the same problem played havoc with the lives of people in Mandur, for instance? Mountains of garbage dumped for years had devastated the once clean environment of that village. Leachate polluted its once pristine groundwater to such an extent that many migrated out.

The Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) had warned BBMP against dumping garbage in quarry pits. The Board, according to its Chairman, had even directed the Palike to set up leachate plants at various landfills that have already reached a state of no return.

The Palike maintains that there is no option but to dump the mixed waste in the quarry pits. Tenders called to set up waste-to-energy plants, segregation and processing units will take time, notes a senior Palike official in charge of solid waste management. To get around the immediate crisis, the Palike’s plan is to cap the waste with soil and construction debris.

Toxic leachate

But topping the mixed waste with soil will do nothing to eradicate the toxic leachate underneath. The residents of Kannuru have realised to their shock that the groundwater is contaminated and water from the borewells turned unfit for drinking. Residents here say they have to pay the price when their area is not even in the BBMP limits.

A private laboratory which tested the borewell water samples sent by villagers had more damning disclosures: For every 100ml of borewell water, the lab found 17 total coliforms, far exceeding the limits set by the Bureau of Indian Standards. The implication was clear: It was not fit for human consumption. The contamination with sewage was deadly.

Two months timeframe

BBMP officials say only the Bellahalli quarry site is functional now. This quarry pit too will be shut in one or two months as it has reached its full capacity. The Bagalur and Mittaganahalli quarries were filled to the brim and shut.

BBMP contention

The quarry issue had come up during the recent BBMP Council meeting. The Palike Commissioner N Manjunatha Prasad had recalled the orders of the NGT and Supreme Court to separate the wet waste from the mixed waste dumped into the quarries.

But, as Prasad maintained, this was impossible. “We have been asked to segregate the waste and also remove the wet waste from the mixed dump. Experts including those from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) have told that it is impossible to undertake this process. Eventually we were asked to pay a penalty of Rs 5 crore.”

So, what is the solution? The commissioner’s response was this: “It is necessary to undertake segregation at source.”

The Palike’s Joint Commissioner, Health and Solid Waste Management, Sarfaraz Khan notes that it is important to scientifically dispose of the waste. “We dump upto 3,500 Metric Tonnes of waste to Bellahalli on a daily basis. This is mixed waste, sourced mainly from the South zone,” he informs.

Question of stench

Khan says the Palike is extracting leachate from the quarries. “There is no smell that spreads in Bellahalli,” he claims. Once the Bellahalli quarry is filled, the Palike has proposed to convert it into either a tree park, sports complex or a motor racing track.

But a flash protest last week by villagers around the Bellahalli quarry shows the problem will not go away in a hurry. The protest had its desired effect on the city as door-to-door collection was severely affected for days. The villagers’ main grouse was the stench and the environmental hazards. The leachate plant too was not fully operational.

Next steps

What next after the closure of the Bellahalli quarry? The Palike has its eyes set on other quarries and landfills. But officially, the civic body talks about segregating the waste and sending the wet waste to seven solid waste processing plants. The dry waste would go to the dry waste collection centres.

But a big question remains. How can something that could not be achieved for years materialise in two months? Currently, the city generates an estimated 5,600 to 6,000 Metric Tonnes of solid waste every day. Of this, 4,200 MT are generated by the domestic households while the bulk generators (restaurants and apartments with over 50 flats) make up another 1,500 MT.

There is a ray of hope only if all the seven waste processing plants function optimally. This could potentially take care of about 1,800 MT of the city’s wet waste. But the promise comes with big riders.