A conflict of interest

Basic Flaw

A conflict of interest

Despite the BBMP’s staunch claims that its solid waste management programme is on the right — if slightly delayed — track, the garbage crisis in the City seems to be spiralling out of control.

Given the absolute mess the system is in, with residents complaining of uncollected garbage and segregated waste that is being remixed post collection, it seems that the body is viewing the situation with rose-tinted glasses. The fact remains that the generation of trash in the City is still at an alarmingly high rate and the tentative system which has been introduced to cope with this is faltering despite repeated attempts to get it right.

A closer look at the model built by the BBMP to collect and correctly dispose of waste provides a reason for this. The collectors, upon whose shoulders rests the responsibility of managing the City’s garbage output, have built a business out of this duty. With this commodification, they now have a vested interest in ensuring that more garbage is generated, which then has to be transported longer distances — a basic conflict of interest which goes against the segregate-recycle-compost plan that the BBMP has been touting as the answer to the crisis.

“There’s a very simple answer to the question of why segregation has failed,” explains V Ravichandar, from the Bangalore City Connect Foundation. “The contractors in charge of collection are fundamentally transport contractors. They have no interest in segregation at source. In fact, they want contracts for larger amounts of garbage, which have to be transported longer distances,” he adds.

On the other hand, if segregation at source was to become a reality, these revenue-raking contracts would no longer be possible. “If segregation is implemented, wet waste would be composted and dry waste would be taken to a neighbourhood recycling centre rather than a far-off landfill, which means contractors would lose a significant part of their revenue,” says Ravichandar.

This attitude partly explains why much of segregated waste is once more mixed together after collection, something which has irked conscious citizens no end. There are other indicators of the fact that the contractors have zero interest in cutting down on garbage generation. “For instance,” says Bhargavi S Rao, trustee and coordinator (education programmes) at Environment Support Group, “the contractors have actually argued in court that if trash isn’t transported to landfills outside Bangalore, they will lose their livelihood.

On the contrary, if composting and recycling units were set up in each ward, it would actually create more jobs. There is a large amount of money involved in this business, which is also why the contractors tend to overstate the City’s garbage generation. They claim it is 5,000 tons whereas the real figure is probably closer to 3,600. The issue is very simple — who, after all, owns the trucks which are transporting the garbage? Mostly, it is the BBMP corporators themselves, who are looking to make profit from it.”

In her opinion, it would be impractical to assume that this flaw in the model would be rectified by the authorities. “The change has to come from citizens. They have to understand exactly what happens to their trash once they dispose of it. If segregation was practised at the household, apartment and school levels, the amount of garbage generated will come down. It’s an uphill task but it will happen, simply because there is no other answer. We don’t have the space to accommodate so much garbage,” she adds.

There is another loophole in the model which is contributing to the problem — the trash which is being dumped in landfills isn’t being monitored. Wilma Rodrigues, from ‘Saahas’, an NGO dedicated to waste management, explains, “The solid-waste management rules lay down distinct guidelines on what can be put into a landfill and what cannot.

Only inert waste — which can neither be composted nor recycled and which comprises only about 20 per cent of the total waste generated — can be put in a landfill. If there is enough regulation at the end destination to ensure that contractors are abiding by this, it would actually help the cause of cutting down on garbage generation. This is the responsibility of the BBMP and the Pollution Control Board.”

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