B’luru’s Achilles heel

SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT

Solid waste management unit

Bengaluru’s poor showing in the annual cleanliness survey of cities across India—at 194 among 425 cities—should evoke gloom and make the city fathers sit up and muse over the steep decline of the City’s rating which once upon a time prided itself on being the ‘Garden City of India’. Not long ago, only last August, the first ever ‘Ease of Living Index 2018’ had ranked Bengaluru 58th among 111 cities in India. It was a survey conducted by the Union Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs (MoHUA).

Read together, these surveys and ratings reflect the pathetic downswing of the quality of life in the city which has been the destination of much FDI, visits of various heads of states, students and those looking for treatment, venue for startups and cozy homes. No wonder, the city has been on international headlines for piles of garbage and foam and fire in the lakes.

The cleanliness survey mainly looks at the waste management and sanitation. The Ease of Living Index however determines the ranking on safety and inclusiveness of the public spaces, accessibility of the basic amenities,, efficiency and responsiveness of institutions responsible for the delivery of basic necessities, the kind of education and employment opportunities the cities offer, cultural flavour that embeds their identity and the accountability of those who govern them. 

Inefficient solid waste management (SWM) has clearly emerged as the villain of the piece for the nosedive of the city’s prestige. That phenomenal growth of the city has contributed to much of the mess and muck making onslaught against the pupils and nostrils is an old story.

As of now Bengaluru has nearly 27 lakh households which together generate over 5,000 metric tons of solid waste every day. It was the first city to lay down a formal policy to deal with the bulk waste generators; to set up Dry Waste Collection Centres (DWCC); and introduce ID cards for waste-pickers.

But over the years serious gaps have emerged in policy framework compounded by failure in compliance with byelaws and implementation. Studies by NGO Saahas point out that only 60% of the city’s solid waste gets segregated at source. If merely segregation could be increased to 85%, 15.5 lakh tons of additional waste could be saved from ending up in landfills annually. It says: “Every ton of waste could provide employment to ten persons”.

Story so far is not altogether disappointing. Though no drastic changes have happened, incremental changes have been witnessed in the handling of SWM over the years. Wages (nearly Rs. 1,200 crores) are now being digitally transferred in the bank accounts of 40,000 pourakarmikas (PKs) thereby eliminating the scope of delays and defaults by garbage contractors.

Five hundred tons of garbage from bulk generators (function halls, kalyana mantapas, hotels, restaurants each of whom generate more than 10 kg of waste per day) is being routed through empanelled vendors. Dry waste is being collected by 266 DWCCs which pass this on to recyclers. Implementation of the ‘No garbage on the ground’ policy too is being observed as the garbage is directly transferred from auto-tippers to compactors thereby obviating the involvement of human hands. This is in contrast to the goods autos which carried the garbage leading to littering at the transfer stations. Auto tippers are now tilted over compactors.

Yet issues remain. A decade long experience shows that the landfills are not the option for disposal of garbage. First, because the city’s periphery is itself inching where the landfills were located once. So the garbage mounds and pollutants which once threatened the villagers are now standing at the city’s doors. Second, no solution has been found out to address the mafia which operates with the involvement of truckers who are in league with corporators and bureaucrats even while the task of collection, compaction and transportation is getting complex by each day.

The BBMP set up seven composting centres at a cost of Rs 400 crores which turn organic waste into manure. Some of them have become a sore point with residents who guided by NIMBY (not in my backyard) mindset, do not want them anywhere near their habitats, lest the value of their real estate dipped.

The mandatory buffer zone between such centres and human habitations vanish within no time as slums sprout on finding the lands vacant. Politicians tend to nurture them as solid votebanks. The leachate from the compactors can be seen dripping over the roads as they race towards composting centres. These factors constantly thwart the cleanliness drive.

Mushrooming PGs

It is estimated that around 15% of the solid waste generated everyday in the city remains unpicked. It gathers in cages meant for transformers, into the hedges on the road medians, and beneath four-wheelers parked in streets where PK’s brooms cannot reach. Besides, smaller pouches of gutka, supari, shampoo, and candy wrappers cannot be efficiently picked. Poops of stray dogs and cattle dung are left to dry under the sun or wash off during rains.

Roadside eateries, mainly run by migrants from outside the State, serve both as homes and business points for the owners and add to the eyesores and dirt. Of late, paying guest (PG) facilities have been mushrooming over the cities, most of them being unauthorised. There is no clarity in byelaws if they came under bulk generators. A single ward in South Bengaluru has 30 of them. No effective strategy to address these has been in offing.

It is imperative that plans chalked out by the Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF) formed at the turn of the century is revisited and wider consultations are held with citizens to look at the issues for a cleaner and greener city from a fresh perspective.

(The writer is a member of the Bangalore Environment Trust)

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B’luru’s Achilles heel

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