The garbage syndrome

The dirty picture... Bangalores litter crisis has matches across major towns and metros

The garbage syndrome

Garbage as a source of  electricity, landfill and recycling material is known to all. But none would have guessed the power of filth, dubbed as solid waste in municipal parlance, to hold a powerful sporting body to ransom and, now, to dunk an elected government in deep despair!

Cut back to April this year, the city fathers of popular Bangalore used a ‘dirty’ trick to try and force Karnataka State Cricket Association to extend VIP invites to all ...... elected members of the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP or the Greater Bangalore City Corporation). The BBMP simply refused to lift garbage from the Chinnaswamy stadium ahead of a crucial IPL 20:20 cricket match.

Some months down the line, the same garbage bomb has exploded in the face of the civic body, leaving it tottering and unable to tackle a mounting waste burden. As communities near overflowing landfills on the City outskirts are refusing more dumping citing pollution and health hazard, the Karnataka High Court has ordered the BBMP to clean up its act or quit. A hapless Mayor, the city's first citizen, has gone on record that he is ‘helpless’ as he is not getting co-operation from the council, MLAs from the City and the state government!

But Mayor Venkatesh Murthy has bravely announced a deadline - November 15 - by which time he believes the city will be lifted out of the dirty dumps as fresh garbage contracts take effect on that day. Until then, a filthy, smelly Diwali to all!

How did this happen to a city with many epithets like IT-BT capital, knowledge hub, emerging health city, pensioners’ paradise, garden city and more? To cut a long story short, the present situation is the cumulative effect of the failures and corrupt policies of the previous coalition government - billed as a 20:20 partnership between the JD (S) and the BJP which came apart, and its continuation by the successive BJP government which is in the saddle now.

 Starting from 1989-90, the City grew by leaps and bounds with the number of wards or localities increasing from 87 to 100 first and later to 198. With this, the total area under the corporation’s control went up from 184 sq km to 856 sq km, the latter expansion taking place under the 20:20 arrangement of then chief minister H D Kumaraswamy from the JD (S). Just before his tenure ended, a master Comprehensive Development Plan was unleashed, re-engineering the topography of the City and its periphery.

Expansive landfills were identified at Mandur and Mavallipura in addition to some existing dump yards, and the land acquired on behalf of the BBMP. While the nearly 300 acres acquired for the new landfills was never handed over in its entirety, even the one-km buffer zone around Mandur was shrunk to a mere 50 metres. With developers and others nudging closer and closer to the landfills, community resistance started building up against the dumping of Bangalore’s waste in their backyard.

Pushed against the wall, the BBMP and the State Government claim to have struck a deal with the protesting people to allow the dumping for a few months more until alternative arrangements are made, but the community leaders are unrelenting.

Meanwhile, other murky tales of a politician-contractor nexus helping garbage contractors worthy of being blacklisted for flagrant violation of tender obligations, manipulation of bills etc., going scot-free and also getting rewarded with fresh contracts are legion.

All the built-in regulatory provisions in the garbage tenders are thrown to the winds and none of the errant contractors, barring one or two, have been penalised, claimed an elected representative, pointing an accusing finger at the Palike Commissioner and the government, who enjoy the punitive powers under the Karnataka Municipalities Act.

For the record, five ministers are from Bangalore, including one who is in-charge of the City, and 28 MLAs of whom 18 are from the ruling BJP have been elected from city constituencies. And yet, there are no sure answers yet for Bangalore’s garbage, estimated to cross 4,000 metric tonnes a day, with another tonne or more added during festivals. As the hapless citizens await the Mayor’s November 15 promise of a cleaner Bangalore with new contractors in tow, informed sources dub it as just another dirty word.

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Socio-economic policies the root cause

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