Garbage crisis looming, but BBMP is in denial

Why is Bengaluru so ill-equipped to handle waste when Chennai and Hyderabad manage it efficiently?

Huge garbage uncleared at Kaveri Bhavan in Bengaluru on Friday, March 29, 2019. DH photo by Janardhan B K

Bengaluru, once the envy of other cities in south India, has gradually developed into a dump, with only its climate to redeem it.

It is fortunate that climate needs no ‘management’ from officialdom, or even that advantage might have been lost. An enormous amount of money is spent on the city: pavements are being laid, planter boxes made ready, the Metro being expanded, new flyovers built and important roads ‘white-topped’---but one is led to believe the expenditure is an end in itself. The drastic increase in announcements of new projects at election time indicates this.

There is incessant, massive construction underway in Bengaluru, a feature one rarely encounters in major cities outside India. Construction activity is also the biggest cause of pollution in our cities, but it is rarely monitored since public expenditure on it is lucrative. But most important of all, there is a secret garbage crisis brewing; where Chennai and Hyderabad have evidently been able to cope with waste,  Bengaluru has been steadily deteriorating.

We are aware that there is an enormous amount of resistance from villagers to garbage dumping in landfills. But how are the other cities managing waste? Evidently, we need processing plants and segregation of waste, and this needs to go beyond tokenism.

BBMP appears to be coping by using vacant lots within the city to dump waste, and partly also by burning waste furtively. One finds empty plots where the weeds are scorched. If the arterial roads are relatively clean, the uninspected side roads are where waste piles up.

Another ploy is using the planter boxes adjoining the pavements in upscale areas. As long as there were no ornamental plants ‘decorating’ the pavements, the pourakarmikas were effective in sweeping the streets, but with plants appearing, waste remains concealed there. People drink on these pavements late at night and empty bottles usually litter the planter boxes. Passers-by also find it easy to drive past these pavements and drop their waste at convenient spots.

Householders who waste enormous amounts of water washing their SUVs are casual about waste. It is piling up gradually on the streets, and the poor municipal workers with their wretched handcarts are clearly unable to cope. The worst periods are festivals. With religious identity becoming all important, the pourakarmikas have an even more difficult time, and one wonders how the refuse is removed at all.

With the increase in kitchen or food waste, rats are breeding furiously, some as large as puppies, and the planter boxes and vacant lots where waste is dumped are providing them with housing. A few weeks ago, I found one covered with flies rotting on a tiled pavement and it remained there a few days---until a responsible soul pushed it under some palm branches lying there. A few days later, I discovered the whole pile reduced to ashes. The dead rat had been cremated.

Accumulating waste is certain to cause public health problems that insurance cannot ameliorate. Till some months ago, a pourakarmika working close to my home was being helped by her husband, but the man disappeared suddenly and the girl is now seen managing alone. When I asked after her husband, I found out he was no more, after just three days of a mysterious fever.  

One is not sure how serious the BBMP is about resolving the garbage crisis, since it does not even admit to it. A garbage contractor’s assistant whispered the information to me, which is why I know about it. But if it becomes serious about waste disposal here are some things it could do:

(a) Use drones to make an estimate of where garbage is being dumped or burned and trace it to those culpable.

(b) Make it mandatory for all glass bottles to be taken back for Re 1 or Rs 2 by traders and manufacturers. Where plastic bottles have a ready market, glass bottles have none and disposal is difficult. I recollect that soft drink and beer bottles once fetched a few rupees each and there is no reason why the return of bottles cannot be made mandatory.

(c) The BBMP can buy dry waste from the public at a small price at chosen centres. This might provide an incentive for the unemployed poor to contribute to garbage removal.

(d) Review and license all eateries, including mobile ones, with regard to their waste disposal.

There is evidently a waste management crisis mounting in Bengaluru and it is unfortunate that the educated classes are apathetic about it, distracted by the violent excitement of the national elections and its rhetoric.

In the context of what has just been said, it does seem that local issues are more important than ‘national’ ones and they are the ones we should be preoccupied with, if making our lives better is our principal aim.

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Garbage crisis looming, but BBMP is in denial

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