Chance 'waste'd, crisis recycled

Last Updated 07 June 2014, 19:04 IST

Despite unfriendly policies and lack of support, a handful of waste entrepreneurs have smartly shown the way to treat a small part of the City’s waste. But, there is no official effort to replicate and scale up such initiatives, thanks to a powerful garbage mafia.

Reeling predictably under another Himalayan garbage crisis, the City has just found one more resounding reason not to trust its civic agencies. Crushed mercilessly by a heartless, greedy garbage-transport-contract mafia, the Mandur residents are fighting back.

Mass arrests, prohibitory orders and round-the-clock police vigil haven’t dulled their spirit to fight back this time. They know they can’t survive in the pathetic state they are in now: Critically sickened by the unprocessed dumping into the towering landfills next door. Six more months, the BBMP seeks. Not anymore, never again, they cry in unison!

In the months and years past, talks about a hundred alternative solutions to dumping had swamped Bangaloreans. Hope had risen, perched precariously on concepts as basic as waste segregation at source, organic waste composting, and industry-scale recycling.

But as the city struggled to implement any of these, a new creed rose, away from the mafia: Waste entrepreneurs.

These small yet highly energized men and women, focussed on micro-managing waste at an apartment here, and a company there could be the city’s saviours. Yes, provided the State intervenes to swell their numbers, provide them incentives, spread their tentacles, and protect them from the greedy mafia.

Daily Dump strategy

Daily Dump is one such waste entrepreneurial effort that emerged six years ago in Indiranagar.

Despite the unfriendly policies and lack of support, TED fellow and former industrial designer, Poonam Bir Kasturi had set it up stocking a range of products that had one main objective: To encourage residents to manage waste generated in the house by themselves.

Her simple home composter -- terracotta pots stacked one above the other -- eventually became a hit among her 20,000 customers. “As many as 14,000 kilograms of organic waste is now kept out of the government’s landfills. This is roughly the capacity of a compacter truck. This way, we are saving capital cost, fuel, labour and diseases (for people living close to the landfills,” Poonam explains.

Operating and maintaining organic waste converters (OWC) in 170 locations across the City, Vennar is another important player in the field. Its waste converters are now in operation in several big apartments, IT companies, clubs, malls, hospitals, factories and R&D organisations in the City. In the apartments, as Vennar’s Narendra Babu explains, residents do the source segregation and the segregated waste is transferred to the OWC room by the housekeeping staff. “The organic waste is eventually converted to manure, most of which is consumed by the residents themselves for various gardening activities. The remainder is sent to the farmers.” The same applies to IT firms and other establishments.

The Vennar method

The OWC converts the organic waste to homogenised odour-free output within 15 minutes through the bio-mechanical process, emerging out as compost. This is not rocket science, and as Babu asserts, the process could be replicated all across the City providing employment to thousands of people. Babu cites the case of Hariprasad, an unemployed youth who had approached him for a job.

“Through the OWC, he has now in turn employed 20 more people.”

So, if garbage could be smartly managed generating employment in the bargain, why does the BBMP get it wrong year after year? Why has waste entrepreneurship remained low-key in its spread?

Poonam feels people and companies should be ready to pay for the eco-friendly end products of organic and recycled waste. People should realise the huge benefits of this smart treatment of waste through a win-win method. “We want to be entrepreneurs, not NGOs,” she says. 

The City had to get a policy through legislation to ensure that independent apartments, SEZs, hotels, hospitals and companies generated zero organic waste. “Garden waste should never be allowed to be taken to the landfills. The City should dump only 10 per cent of waste that cannot be recycled to the landfills. Now 90 per cent is going there.”

Babu squarely blames the current mess on the Palike. “It is the mother and father of the whole problem,” he says. The implication is clear. The garbage mafia, the unholy nexus of politicians, officials and contractors has kept the issue on the boil.

Mandur is a clear case. It takes in about 1,800 tonnes of waste everyday, and over the years about 25 lakh tonnes have accumulated there. The land given to the garbage processor companies was to set up a waste-to-energy project. But even after 10 years, that has not materialised. Result: A once green, clean environment that helped farmers maintain a decent living disappeared, to be replaced by a stinking, disease-spewing garbage hill.

Wasted years

Closure of the Mavallipura landfill had triggered hope among villagers that other landfills too would be eventually shut down. When that did not happen, protests broke out in the villages. After the deadlock at Mandur sparked a severe garbage crisis in 2012, BBMP had sought one year’s time from the Mandur residents to make alternative arrangements. Yet, the Palike lost the precious one year only to search for an option. The delay ensured that the garbage transporters continued to make big money.

Currently, of the 4,000 tonnes generated by the city, the lion’s share goes to Mandur. Terrafarma receives about 500 tonnes a day. The remaining garbage is sent to Bengipura and Lakshmipura.

Each truck could carry a load of upto four tonnes of garbage. About 1,000 trucks are engaged by BBMP and private contractors to transport and dump the garbage.

Learning no lessons from the Mandur Mavallipura landfill fiascos, the Palike tried setting up another landfill off Ramanagar between Kodiyala and Karenahalli villages. It even attempted acquiring at least 74 acres of land through a middleman under the Transferrable Development Rights (TDR) scheme. This, despite the rule that TDR is applicable only within the BBMP limits and not 40 kms away.

Clearly, the intention was to retain the existing system, thereby pocketing Rs 230 crore to Rs 250 crore. A probe by the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force (BMTF) way back in 2009 had shown that 43 contractors and many officials misappropriated at least Rs 180 crore in the name of transporting garbage. Yet, till date, no action has been taken against any of the officials. Contractors were shunted out following the High Court direction but these contractors, as reliable Palike informers inform,  were replaced by their relatives!

(Published 07 June 2014, 19:04 IST)

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