Bengaluru’s waste chokes villages on outskirts

The brimming Bellahallilandfill near Bengaluru.DH Photo/Pushkar V

When a group of trucks first rolled into our village with heaps of garbage, little did we know that this signalled the beginning of a greater threat to our lives and livelihoods. We realised the magnitude of the problem when every corner of the village started stinking. There was just no place to run,” Ali, 34, said.

Ali, whose house is located adjacent to the Bellahalli landfill, on the outskirts of Bengaluru, explains how the family is suffering due to the garbage piled-up a few metres away from the house.

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Untreated garbage is thrown into the rivers, sea

Is the zero-waste goal achievable?

Nearly 20 years after the first Solid Waste Management (SWM) rules were drafted in 2000, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) is yet to move away from its game of destroying the peri-urban areas for the sake of keeping the city’s streets clean. As residents around the landfills continue to suffer, authorities are in search of new places to dump the garbage.

It is estimated that the BBMP and the state government have in the past five years spent over Rs 7,000 crore towards “waste management”. Of this, Rs 2,314 crore was for pourkarmika payments and landfill management. But the expenditure doesn’t seem to have translated into action. The disastrous results are visible in the villages on the outskirts of Bengaluru.

The abandoned landfills rotting with leachate formation at Bingipura, Mavallipura, Chikkanagamangala, Bagaluru, Doddanagamangala, Mandur, Chikkabidarakallu and other places tell their own stories. Villagers living in the surrounding areas, who have no other way but to cope with the stink and all the health hazards posed by the untreated waste, unravel the scale of permanent damage done to the environs.

Over the past few years, successive governments have talked about putting an end to the landfills. Allocations to the tune of thousands of crores of rupees were made for setting up compost development units, waste-to-energy units and other waste treatment methods. Most of the plans are yet to take off, even those that came into reality lived a short life due to the lack of maintenance and commitment.

Now, with all the landfills full, the BBMP is working hard for the last six months to develop a new one in a village on the outskirts of the city. The villages may not get any aid from the state capital but will be forced to bear the burden of its waste.

DH visited the soon-to-be-shut landfill at Bellahalli, where Bengaluru’s waste is being dumped for the past four years, as well as the site at Mandur which was closed in 2013 but where nothing has been done to restore its environment. The situation is similar in many villages with abandoned landfills.



Ali said there was no public consultation before the dumping. “Of course we had problems earlier and nobody cared. But health problems exploded in the days after the landfill started growing and the apathy of officials is shocking considering they created this whole mess. I will be the happiest if they shut the landfill,” he said.

Dr Rangarajan, who runs Krishna Poly Clinic in the area, explains the health risks posed by the landfill. “I don’t know how people can survive here. I treat the residents with various ailments such as cough, viral fever including dengue and knee joint pain,” he said.

Such concerns were also raised by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report, which looked into performance of the BBMP and the Urban Development Department after the 2012 garbage crisis hit international headlines.

The audit report said there were failures at multiple levels. It was found that the BBMP had utilised 33% of the government funds and crores of rupees were diverted for works other than SWM. It found discrepancies in award of work, especially in one case where tender conditions were changed. “The possibility of realigning tender criteria to favour bidder(s) could not be ruled out. Monitoring was also ineffective..,” it said. The CAG’s concerns expressed about the absence of “waste inspection facility” and fire protection equipment are yet to be addressed.

In Mandur near Hoskote, villagers who succeeded in forcing BBMP to shut down the landfill said the two years of struggle yielded results. “With garbage came respiratory diseases, viral fever and several other illnesses whose names we had not even heard of,” said Munishyama Gowda, a resident. Gowda said 25 people died due to illnesses, the reasons for which can be traced to the landfill. “Leachate used to flow into the drains, wells and even water pipelines,” he said.

As per the latest figures, the city produces about 4,500 tonnes of garbage per day but the seven waste treatment plants can process not more than 2,100 tonnes. The remaining mix of dry and wet waste is dumped into the ever-growing landfills. The BBMP had spent about Rs 400 crore for the waste treatment plants.

However, the ‘original flaw’ of SWM has not been fixed as BBMP has failed to enforce segregation of waste, with only 20-40% of waste being separated.

Almitra Patel, a member of the experts’ committee that drafted the SWM Rules, said that the BBMP began to rely on landfills as its waste treatment plants were choked with mixed waste.

“Keeping waste unmixed at source is the key. Let BBMP disclose ward-wise segregation levels and where exactly that wet waste is going. All our compost plants are currently under-fed,” she told DH.

She warned that mixed waste poses long-term problems of contamination. “Airless heaps of waste, especially the mixed waste, generate foul leachate that can contaminate groundwater as well as surface water. This is a slow genocide of future generations of innocents. Hence only debris-filling of quarries has been permitted. Waste should be stabilised in compost plants,” she said.

The BBMP is now preparing to establish a landfill in Mitiganahalli, near the Bellahalli landfill where it wants to dump waste for the next 30 months. But many have opposed the work and allege that the BBMP deliberately delayed to float tenders by not uploading the tender documents so that no one could participate. There are plans to set up two more landfills at Bagaluru and Hullahalli for disposing of 500 metric tonnes of waste. However, residents in these areas are opposing the project. 

Anjanappa, the corporator of Begur Ward, told DH, “The BBMP shut the previous landfill after people went to court. People had to depend on the reverse osmosis plant for drinking water as borewell water and ponds were contaminated by leachate,” he said.

Administrative apathy

Former Bengaluru Development Minister Ramalinga Reddy, under whose tenure the seven compost plants were set up, said it was disappointing to know that they were not working properly. “If the BBMP treated garbage in these plants, there was no necessity to search for landfills today. There is no supervision in the chain of the garbage disposal. Officials are not concerned about treating garbage,” he told DH.

The BBMP has been talking about waste-to-energy plants. Three such plants in Kannahalli, Doddabidarikallu and Chikkanagamangala, each with a capacity to treat 500 tonnes of waste, have been planned. However, Sarfaraz Khan, joint commissioner of solid waste management in BBMP, had noted that getting funds to set up such plants is difficult as banks and investors see them as unviable.

Activists note that the authorities have deliberately chosen to ignore recommendations of several studies and even state policies for the involvement of the community. “Most of the waste management is in the grip of garbage contractors and any other effort is only cosmetic,” an activist said.

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