Bangalore – Garden or Garbage City?

A crisis that was in the making for a long time & now both the city administration (BBMP) and the state government is clueless on how to solve the garbage crisis that has gripped the city for over two months now (so much so that it has now made it to the New York Times!). It is not as if there is no solution at hand and the government has after tremendous pressure taken a few steps, but the magnitude and the scale of the crisis is just too overwhelming to be solved in a few days time.

Bangalore generates more than 4500 tonnes of garbage every day and most of this waste till recently have been transported to landfills at the outskirts of the city at Mavallipura, Mandur, Doddaballapur{{1}} etc. For more than 10 years now, communities and villages living around the landfills like Mavallipura have had to borne the brunt of the city’s garbage, poisoning their environment and succumbing to diseases as a direct consequence of this. Unable to bare this any longer, the communities in Mavalippura and Maddur have blockaded all forceful attempts by the BBMP’s private contractors to dump garbage in these landfills and have since set up day-night vigil.

With no more landfills to go to at present and with an erratic garbage collection system (as a result of privatization), the people of Bangalore have begun to dump the waste at any street corner resulting in garbage strewn all across the city. The ‘use and throw’ culture (a by-product of capitalism) that has been the norm for a long time is now turning into an environmental and a public health hazard with most people totally unmindful when it comes to disposing of waste. The malls and the supermarket have further contributed to this with the large scale use of plastic.

The main problem begins right at the households with most people mixing both the wet (organic content) and dry waste (inorganic) together (without segregating them separately) and thus resulting into a mixed waste. With the obvious difficulty in separating a mixed waste content, the civic administration and the government have been looking at all different solutions such as the highly polluting ‘ waste to energy’ incineration projects, without addressing the problem at source. There are of course other waste pollutants such as construction debris, biological wastes from hospitals, industrial sludge, untreated sewage etc., that remain totally unregulated and contribute for the overall waste related pollution.

The other culprits have been the criminal nexus between the civic administration/ governments and the private garbage contractor lobby like the Ramky group that have failed in their obligation to manage the waste, profiting themselves in the meanwhile and just dumping the garbage at the landfills. While the BBMP has canceled all the old contracts for now, but it has now hired a new set of private contractors to handle the waste disposal.

Even if the new contractors are obliged to handle waste in a environmentally friendly manner through segregating, composting, biogas generation etc., one is at pains to understand why can’t the government itself handle the waste collection and appropriately treat or recycle the waste accordingly.

It is not as if they do not have the appropriate technology or capacity to handle waste. For instance, according to news reports, BBMP is to set up, among its scheme of proposals, 12 Nisargruna biogas plants (development by the government run Baba Atomic Research Center – Mumbai) to treat the organic waste into biogas and compost. While 12 biogas plants (which has a maximum of 5 tonne/ day capacity each) is simply not enough to handle organic waste generated by the city, why can’t the government set up more such plants (as it only requires limited amount of space) across the city? This type of biogas plant can not only treat the household waste but also industrial waste, the end product of which is organic compost that can be used for agriculture, and biogas that can used as a cooking fuel (a cheaper alternative to LPG). The move can also generate jobs.

The private contractors on the other hand, with profit as their only motive, can never solve the problem. Or even if they do, will exploit its workforce such as the pourakarmikas (municipal workforce responsible for waste collection and keeping the city clean), who are extremely low paid, face job insecurity through contract, are never provided with any safety gear and face caste discrimination on a daily basis because of their lowly background.

Amidst all this confusion, is the recent announcement by the government that it is thinking of re-opening (obviously through brute force) the old landfills in Mavallipura, Mandur etc., to tidy the present scale of the crisis. The other plan is to open yet another landfill, some 100 Kms. away, to dump all garbage from the city. This only proves that the government has not understood anything from the crisis and is starting to repeat the same old mistakes.

The present crisis, if anything, is a consequence of the neo-liberal policies of governments across India of “less government” and move towards privatization of basic services. Garbage is not just a problem in Bangalore, but is a problem everywhere and for governments this is not a priority at all as their only role nowadays is in the promotion of private capital. Many valuable resources can be recovered back from waste, that can be recycled and reused. But no private company would willing invest in them as there is not much profit to be made out of this.

Therefore, there is an immediate need for increased government expenditure on basic services such as waste disposal, drainage system etc., and at the same time adopt environmentally friendly technologies and involvement of working people in day to day running of the civic administration to ensure that it is efficient and corrupt free. While all positive steps in this direction are welcome, it would be foolhardy to expect much under this corrupt capitalist system that is rotten to the core and it has to be replaced by a democratic socialist system.

Anand Kumar

Bangalore

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