When will B'luru become 'Swachh'?

When will B'luru become 'Swachh'?

The Supreme Court reportedly warned the Centre recently for dumping "junk" before it about solid waste management (SWM) across the country, saying that the top court is not a "garbage collector".  The bench reportedly said, "You had framed rules in 2000 but nobody...implemented it. Then you came out with 2016 rules but nobody seems to be interested...Why do you pass these kind of rules? You withdraw these rules". There could not have been a stronger indictment of states on their failure to make Bharat "Swachh" after 18 years of Supreme Court rulings.

In Bengaluru, too, despite five years of a PIL which has brought forth a series of trend-setting orders from the high court, we are seeing a similar violation of many SWM rules and court orders. Not that everything is hopeless. Colourful manuals, brought out by BBMP as per court orders to guide citizens, claim the following achievements:  Bengaluru is the first city to implement 'segregation at source'; set up state-of-the-art SWM plants with processing capacity of 2,300 tonnes per day; set up 198 dry waste collection centres; promote ward-level composting and bio-methanation; ban single-use plastic; issue ID cards to 7,500 waste-pickers; create a 'ward micro-plan'; and so on. The question arises, why then was Bengaluru ranked 210th in the annual Swachh Survekshan last year despite all these 'firsts'? Citizens need to verify how far these 'firsts' are actually working on the ground.

The BBMP, along with volunteers, has been mainly propagating home-composting, which requires households to spend from their pockets. BBMP is not subsidising this cost, enabling it to relinquish its obligatory responsibility for SWM. Sources opine that the SWM Expert Committee and Compost Santhe has become a platform for many business people to promote their composting and other products. But they show little interest in making BBMP accountable for its violation of several rights of municipal workers and its woeful lack of infrastructure to implement SWM rules and court orders.  

Thus, we have: bin-less pushcarts and lid-less auto-tippers that expose garbage to the workers, public and the environment; transfer stations at which garbage is dumped on the ground and manually handled; lack of bins for secondary storage; defunct bio-methanation plants; standing mountains of garbage; and so on.  

Further, sources say that though 50-60% of the total 4,200 tonnes of waste is supposed to be getting segregated at source and the capacity of seven processing plants is about 2,300 tonnes, only about 850 tonnes are being fed into them and the balance mixed waste is being dumped in three stone quarries unauthorisedly, against all HC rulings and SWM rules. This shows that mixing of waste is happening after collection due to lack of infrastructure for collecting segregated waste. Also, payment to the processing plant is based on how much garbage is tipped there and not on how much of compost or gas is produced by it.  So, the plant has no incentive to process garbage.

Another 'first' the manual claims is that of the 'most historic ruling' delivered by the HC in November 2017, making ward committees responsible for identifying land for local processing of wet waste. Never mind that this order was only a reiteration of a five-year-old order to set up local processing units in all 198 wards within four months! It is welcome that the recent order has placed responsibility for implementing HC orders on the corporators (as chairpersons of the ward committees), since many corporators, through their henchmen, were earlier threatening NGOs working to implement these orders.    

The order also asked all ward committees to meet before the end of November 2017  to prepare an 'Action Plan for SWM' for their wards. The mayor, deputy mayor and commissioner have welcomed this HC ruling in fulsome words in the manual. The mayor has called the formation of ward committees 'a historic moment for Bengaluru';  he has expressed confidence that all the ward committees, "under the able leadership of the ward corporators, will rise up to the occasion."

But, rather than 'rising up to the occasion', the corporators had to be literally dragged in to conduct the ward committee meetings on November 30. Even the fear of being hauled up for contempt of court has not shaken the sense of impunity of many corporators -- only 66 out of the 198 wards conducted the meetings. But thereafter, practically no meetings have taken place.

The HC also ordered that all the ward action plans should be submitted to it before December 8, 2017 and also put up on the BBMP website. There is not a word of it on the website. So much for the "proud moment for the City of Bengaluru to see the emergence of decentralised planning and governance through the ward committees," extolled by the deputy mayor!

Now that the central team to evaluate Bengaluru for this year's Swachh Survekshan has come and gone, what ranking awaits it?

(The writer is Executive Trustee, CIVIC Bangalore)