Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Bangalore Garbage Saga! A conversation with N S Ramakanth

This blog can be rightly called 'The Bangalore Garbage Saga'. 

The basic strategy is simple and  well explained.
The levels 
I am impressed at the media coverage. We have probably produced as much verbiage as the garbage we create. It is also trendy with a facebook page by BBMP . But not on the trendier twitter! But I did see a tweet from Kiran Mazumdar which said 'Take garbage off BBMP’s hands,.. I fully endorse this proposal'. But I could not access the article she was referring to.

A picture on the BBMP facebook page. Very educative and impressive! There are clear instructions on how to segregate garbage and how it is collected. Only  Debris is collected for a fee. ( Now we know why debris is allover the place for months!). Also Wet waste is collected daily from our door or nearest point. (In my case the nearest point is just opposite our home is  where garbage is casually thrown!) 
I learn from my chats with Ramakanth that while the strategy looks simple, especially for an Individual,  just segregate the solid waste from wet waste,  it is in fact very complex. There are many layers of activity in garbage management.

 While he soldiers on as an Individual, he is also active as a member of the BBMP Expert Committee on Municipal Waste Management...and part of the Solid Waste Management Round Table. And NSR is constantly on the job. 

It is his passion to see something is done to clean up this ugly mess. But I find that it is NOT just the garbage that is ugly! While the nexus between contractors, politicians and officials is well known, Ramakanth and many other committed citizens have chosen to work within the system to break the stranglehold the trio have over the management of waste in Bangalore.

 And it is not going to be easy as the system of exploitation is well entrenched and why would anyone give up the easy pickings? Only a smart and a responsible government that can find a way out of this, by creating alternatives for those affected. You just cannot wish them away. Look at the way this group of people have been dumping garbage near villages for the last ten years. Obviously their conscience, if they have any, has not been pricked. I am not sure whether they are even god-fearing! I would have nightmares if I knew I was directly responsible for the sickness in these villages. 

In fact, we the city-dwellers are also responsible. We all share the blame in one way or the other. It is probably this guilt, apart from the stench that has made many citizens act. I spoke to Dr. Meenakshee Bharat, an activist involved deeply in this war on garbage, and she said that apart from the ugliness she was deeply worried about the health hazards created by the garbage strewn around the city.

The latest  is the involvement of the High-court because of an  PIL and its weekly follow up on the progress on its directives. The group of people involved with PIL are patient, unafraid and not one to give up. There is hope something good will come out of their efforts.

If you wonder why is the high court  involved in all this, it proves you have been away and have not kept track. Often times it appears that the executive wing, namely politicians and  bureaucrats who should implement; appear lethargic, uncaring or just unpredictable. A friend who knows better said that a politician having made so many promises to so many diverse groups of people that he takes shelter in a court order to explain if he has to renege on his promise. And it is the bureaucrat who takes the heat from the judiciary. Very complex.

 But it is clear that without a PIL and the judiciary taking it seriously, the garbage crisis would have gone on forever. And I guess there are attempts to scuttle the court directives through various means!
Since his involvement began in SWM, he is busy giving workshops to individuals and various organisations. A grass roots approach. He talks to the lower officials in BBMP and others and coaxes them to act. He goes to schools and enthuses children to get involved.

 He is pleased to say that 100 apartment buildings consisting of 25,000 flats have adapted the system and 12 hotels invited him to give workshops and 7 of them have implemented.  Hospitals generally have a garbage handling system of their own and few have adapted the more broader methods of handling garbage. Among public limited companies HAL and BEL have adopted, BHEL is in process. 

 He is disappointed that while the strategy is to REDUCE, in reality the opposite is happening. For instance in a traditional South Indian wedding lunch which is served many innovations have been added.  The grand way a roll of paper is unfurled over the table is impressive. And the table is cleared in a jiffy as the paper is just folded along with the banana leaf. Then there is the plastic bottle of water, a safe bet after our tap water became unsafe and the tissues at the wash basin to dry your palm .
A small pellet expands vertically as water is poured on it.

 And now the ultimate, a small pellet transforms itself into a wet tissue when you pour water on it.

This tendency of using tissue paper, bottled water and paper cups is not easy to change.
He says a few have adapted, using plastic cups instead of paper cups. Thick plastic glasses which can be recycled could also be used. Plastic cups can be recycled, if  segregated and kept clean . 

This is just one example and there are many! Organisers of conferences, events, weddings and other functions all have the 'Use and throw' mind set.. They and the caterers are not easy to convince. But excuses are plenty, cleaning is not up-to the standard, labor is not available and also water is scarce. All justifiable. So it is easier to ignore the advises given.  Convincing takes a lot of effort and NRI ‘s are more difficult to convince!

He has many suggestions to offer: Leftover food to be preserved separately which can be used to produce bio-gas or food for piggeries. Regards plantain leaves rolled along with paper, 90 % can be recycled if segregated ..
In his experience in any apartment complex say out of 600 flats 10% do not segregate.. so local volunteers are needed to monitor…  90% are  ladies and they are good.. working ladies devote week ends…
Hopes that BBMP will get stricter in enforcing segregation. He feels real commitments are needed. And there is a need for follow up  and even punish those who do not segregate. Inspectors should make surprise inspections..on individual houses as well…to fine (Rs.100)  if they do not segregate. 

 I also asked  NSR about the concrete dust bins which was a common sight in my younger days! And  about the small trolleys pushed by women I see in Kumara Park. He said that around the year 2000 dustbins were removed and a new system was intoduced in Bangalore. He said  the idea was inspired by the Singapore model. It was a brilliant idea but it seems it has gone the way of all good intentions in our city.

The idea of pourakarmikas while it appeals, it is almost Gandhian, the system is flawed. It is nice to imagine a dedicated person moving around the community collecting garbage, segregating and delivering to the collecting point and so on. But employing these small time contractors is not efficient. There is no supervision of their work and obviously no commitment. NSR also noted that the trolleys are not maintained well and once the bearings go, it is hard for the women to pull them with a load. 
I have seen a trolley with just a broom and a couple of plastic bags hanging on them. And I have seen trolleys full of garbage parked next to a garbage dump on the road. There is also the usual complaint about contractor not paying their workers.
Mid day and his trolley is empty!

 Around 50 workers participated in the protest and demanded that the system of paying wages through contractors should be done away with and instead the money reach them directly from BBMP. ...

It is not just the BBMP or the contractors, it is also us.I quote:
Though the bins were removed .., people still think of the area as a place to dump garbage. The look and feel of the area just adds to this assumption.
...... SM Krishna became Chief Minister, and declared that Bangalore will be like Singapore, and set up a new garbage collection system. He banned the street dustbin, and set up a door-to-door garbage collection system – using pushcarts and small three-wheeler autos. It was made illegal to dump garbage on street corners, people had to retain their daily garbage at home till the pickup person came to their home to collect. It was a total change in approach – a radical change of the way things had been for decades. It’s a good system, an ambitious system, but people are bad.” 

.....Old habits die hard. Rather than wait for collection, people come here and dump like they always used to – as this ‘point’ was the location of the old community dustbin. . – the fact that the physical bin is gone means nothing. People are used to walking around the corner and dumping at their convenience – they can’t be bothered waiting for the pickup person”.  The Ugly Indian

Read more at: http://bangalore.citizenmatters.in/articles/why-doesn-t-bengaluru-have-garbage-bins?utm_source=copy

So much for the Individual and his sense of responsibility and the most favored option of Reduce.    But I understand that some RWA's are well organised and many residential apartments do follow the rules and manage the garbage better. 

To my query about collection centers for dry waste, I was thinking of electronic and batteries and such.  He said there was one in KP East, Out of 198 wards in Bangalore, 170 have dry waste collection centers and about 50% are working, (He said he had been to Dubai recently and saw such centers at Petrol pumps)

Anyway once the garbage is collected from the individual, there are many ways it can be dealt with, but the least desirable option of landfill was the one BBMP chose.  I asked him about the big vans I had seen parked near some BBMP offices. Compactors as he called them were not used to collect garbage from house to house as we see in the developed countries, but they are used to transport garbage to the landfills.

And what he added made me feel good! He said villagers do not allow open lorries to pass through and hence BBMP have fifty compactors and the contractors have forty to transport garbage to these landfills.

And the garbage is being processed and it is thanks to a court order. He said two firms Terra Firma and MSPG  handle 1000 and 500 tons each, Mavalipura about 100-150 tons. These units have to be operated in an isolated place and there are 90 compost plants for Biogas. Dobbespet has one, 50 kms from Bangalore. As you convey garbage further away you pay the contractors for transport.

 However it is good to know that since the infamous days since Bangalore was named a garbage city, there is an attempt to find ways to solve the problems. While the authorities continue to make do with stop- gap solutions. Thanks to a PIL filed by an NGO and seriousness with which the case is taken, there is hope.

I quote from SWMRT:
In July 2012 a PIL was filed by Kavitha Shankar against the Government and the respective departments for failure to comply with the laws under the Environment Protection Act, therefore the case of SWM for the city was moved from the Lok Adalat to the High Court. SWMRT has since then been the core supporters to the petitioner in regards to research, technical knowledge and solutions to frame relevant submissions to the High Court. 

He says there are laws, and all we need is to enforce and implement them. The last one year after the court heard the PIL they have a hearing each month. NSR is very hopeful that all this will change as per court order the decision is now  to decentralize as per committee recommendations. Government will allot land to set up processing centers. He said the aim is to see that Dry waste does not go out! Out of 4000 tons 1000 tons should not go out to landfills. Hopefully the 3 R's  Reuse-Recover-Recycle are applied at these processing centers. That again is a big subject. 

Here is a report which is worth reading to understand the complexities involved. The enormity of the job ahead..

City Statistics
 Area: 800 sq km Population(2008): 78 lakhs Households: 25 lakhs Commercial Properties: 3.5 lakhs No of Zones: 8 No of Wards: 198
  Primary Collection (Door to Door collection) ... is performed using pushcarts and auto tippers There are around 11000 pushcarts; 650 auto tippers for Door to Door collection of waste. 
There are about 600 MSW transportation vehicles including Compactors, Tipper Lorries, Dumper placers; Mechanical Sweepers... The waste collected from the households is brought to a common point ie.,... from where the waste is shifted to the treatment sites through compactors; tipper lorries. Segregation at source 10%; ...hence unsegregated waste reaches the processing plants. 

NSR has many wishes which need to be fulfilled:

It should not depend on individuals as then enforcing becomes a problem, it should be a system
Engineers should be made accountable. Unfortunately they have many responsibilities,
 hence SWM is a part-time responsibility, which makes it easy to give excuses and becoming accountable.. DMA is much better, environment officers looking after SWM
Also there is a shortage of 80 engineers.

Citizens are ready –implementing agencies are still not receptive- a change is required
Still things are changing slowly. Thermacol is recycled – Tender coconut is recycled- sugar cane husk is also used. One unit in freedom park

He is also hopeful that the push by PM Narendra Modi for a Swatcha Bharat will help in changing the mind set of the people all across.

Below is a video which covers the subject well. And you see Ramakanth being interviewed!

And finally a TOI report sums it up! Read on if you want to be depressed!
Bangalore city planners don't want a solution to garbage problem

BANGALORE: The city's infamous garbage is raising a stink again. Mandur, one of the city's biggest landfills, has shut the door hard on Bangalore - it's anger evident in Sunday's episode where the residents shooed away the city's development minister and mayor.

Bangalore, the city presided over by three MPs, 29 city MLAs, 198 corporators and a battery of officers in the BBMP, also has a minister to exclusively handle its issues. Yet, the waste problem springs up every quarter.

Why has IT City failed to resolve the garbage crisis? The problem lies in the mindset of the city's planners. Segregation has never been an alternative, rather, it's always been a 'throw-it-in-the- neighbour's yard' attitude.

Landfills cannot be a solid waste solution to a growing city like Bangalore, and Mandur is perhaps the best example to demonstrate this. Until 2005, Mandur village in Hoskote taluk, located around 25km away from Bangalore, was green and healthy. Then, the BBMP signed an agreement with the Mandur gram panchayat to allow garbage dumping in a quarry nearby. The agreement was signed only for a year, but nine years on, the dumping hasn't stopped.

With the agreement, Mandur swapped its famed grape farms, vegetables and seri-culture for a pervasive sickly stench, pollution and ill-health. The unscientific dumping has polluted water bodies, and spawned mosquitoes and stray dogs.

Almost a decade later, there are no solutions for the 1,800 tonnes of garbage that Bangalore generates because there's a ready made dump nearby. Every night, 200 trucks leave the city for Mandur, piled high with waste. Over the years, the mound has grown to a solid 25 lakh tonne garbage mountain.

As the garbage contractor-politician nexus grew stronger, successive BBMP commissioners were forced to toe the line of this strong lobby. When the crisis broke out in 2012, then BBMP commissioner Rajneesh Goyal initiated the campaign of waste segregation. But barely had the initiative taken wing, than he was shunted out. His successor reverted to the old method of dumping in landfills.

As for the 198 corporators, they are clueless about any solution to the city's stinking crisis

Finally I conclude with a few media reports!

Experts Welcome Focus on Solid Waste Management

BBMP Commissioner M Lakshminarayana said ..., `100 crore has been allotted to Bangalore for dealing with the garbage menace. The BBMP will use the amount to set up waste processing units, he said....the financial crisis faced by BBMP will be resolved soon. We can now set up processing units and other facilities for waste disposal,” .....

BBMP Solid Waste Management Expert Committee member N S Ramakanth said the announcement comes as a relief to BBMP, which is facing a financial crunch.
(My cynical mind hopes that it is used well without the leakages we see in most projects!)

A paper by the BBMP commitee 'A future with NO LANDFILLS'
The Expert Committee wishes to submit to the Honorable High Court of Karnataka a short note defining its vision of Zero Waste to landfills, designed to eliminate the practice of sending unlimited trash to landfills and incinerators. The crisis in Bangalore in August 2012, wherein the KSPCB ordered the Mavalipura Landfil to temporarily stop accepting waste to enable site cleanup. 

It is totally a listing the many 'Lacks' in the system. And the recommendations submitted to the High court by BBMP expert committee. One can only hope.

And an act of bravery: When a citizen contests BBMP Chief's claims in the court
Nalini Shekhar, Co- founder of Hasirudala, an NGO that has formalised waste pickers submitted to the court that some of their team members and a resident of an apartment had become the victims of goondaism, in five areas - Whitefield, Marathahalli, Bellandur, HSR Layout and Bannerghatta.

 Nalini told the court that they take two to three months to train the residents how to segregate the waste. She said, “Once we start operating the system, the contractor creates problem.” In one instance, the NGO’s waste collecting vehicle was hi-jacked. She also complained to have received life-threatening calls from the contractors and goondas. On approaching police, they refrained from filing the case, “as an MLA was involved in it,” added Nalini. 
The vehicle was released after negotiations with the contractor, she added.  She informed court that in the past, Hasirudala tried working together with the contractors but their methods of working wouldn't match, hence they could not work together. In this regard, the court asked the State Government Advocate Pratibha R to ask the government how to deal with the rowdy elements in the society.

Karnataka High Court reins Indian Environment Ministry's regressive reforms on waste management:

The segregation of solid waste was prescribed on the basis of the recommendations of the Expert Committee as well as in pursuance of the directions issued by the Supreme Court in more than one case. Accepting the said Rules, it is submitted the authorities throughout the country have spent considerable amount in educating the citizens of this country the need to segregate the waste at source. In Bangalore, sufficient money is spent by the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike by way of advertisements in Press, in electronic Media and even by holding public meetings. In fact, to store segregated waste, places are selected in each ward and provision is made for collection of dry waste and removal of dry waste once in three days and transportation of the same. At this juncture of time, without any reason, justification or complaint against this well established system, curiously, in the 2013 Rules, Schedule-II is deleted giving an impression that it is not obligatory any more to segregate the waste at source. It is a clear case of misreading the order. It is in that context, the court wanted to know the reasons.”

The High Court's 24th October order modifies the earlier order of 11th October and allows the Ministry to “...proceed to consider the objections and then prepare yet another draft rules and thereafter they shall place it before the court.” But it has directed that the Ministry “..shall not give effect to 2013 Rules in the light of the observations made above” and without “scrutiny” of the High Court. (Emphasis supplied.)

HC orders BBMP to start nine waste processing units soon

Bangalore, Sep 1, 2014, DHNS:

The Karnataka High Court on Monday directed the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to open garbage processing units at nine places across the City at the earliest. The bench also wanted the BBMP to rope in corporate houses to assist in the upkeep of the City. DH photo

The Karnataka High Court on Monday directed the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to open garbage processing units at nine places across the City at the earliest. .. also wanted the BBMP to rope in corporate houses ......
The commissioner also said ....(Plot) owned by the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), would be handed over to the BBMP .....

When told that this site has been encroached upon and several illegal structures have come up there, the court directed the BBMP and the BDA to clear the encroachment and then take possession of the property.

There you go! While it is frustrating to see way things are moving in Bengaluru, I was happy to see Pune aiming at zero-landfill. Pune is my second home town!

Mar 31, 2014 | From the print edition
Pune aims to become a zero-landfill city by 2015. With .. options like localised biogas plants and composting facilities, .... door-to-door waste collection and segregation, the target does not seem too ambitious. However, the city municipal corporation needs to ensure it does not fall into the trap of easy answers .....

Bengaluru, on the other hand, is forced by a high court order to do what Pune is already doing. But due to shoddy implementation, the city is still drowning in waste. 
Bengaluru is making the right moves in managing waste, but these are foiled by a nexus between contractors and politicians
Arnab Pratim Dutta reports from Pune and Aparna Pallavi from Bengaluru

Here is hoping that the great garbage saga ends with good news and Zero Landfill is a reality.

And  it is interesting to know what is happening else where. The review of the book is an eyeopener. 

Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash  – August 29, 2006 by Elizabeth Royte  (Author)

Out of sight, out of mind ... Into our trash cans go dead batteries, dirty diapers, bygone burritos, broken toys, tattered socks, eight-track cassettes, scratched CDs, banana peels.... But where do these things go next? In a country that consumes and then casts off more and more, what actually happens to the things we throw away? In Garbage Land, acclaimed science writer Elizabeth Royte leads us on the wild adventure that begins once our trash hits the bottom of the can. Along the way, we meet an odor chemist who explains why trash smells so bad; garbage fairies and recycling gurus; neighbors of massive waste dumps; CEOs making fortunes by encouraging waste or encouraging recycling-often both at the same time; scientists trying to revive our most polluted places; fertilizer fanatics and adventurers who kayak amid sewage; paper people, steel people, aluminum people, plastic people, and even a guy who swears by recycling human waste. With a wink and a nod and a tightly clasped nose, Royte takes us on a bizarre cultural tour through slime, stench, and heat-in other words, through the back end of our ever-more supersized lifestyles. By showing us what happens to the things we've "disposed of," Royte reminds us that our decisions about consumption and waste have a very real impact-and that unless we undertake radical change, the garbage we create will always be with us: in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we consume. Radiantly written and boldly reported, Garbage Land is a brilliant exploration into the soiled heart of the American trash can.


Raghunath said...

Impressive write up on garbage. I hope it does not join the subject.
I am intrigued bythe quote from Mr Lakshminarayana, BBMP Chairman stating that garbage is a problem. It is the normal result of human living and has to be addressed and not warded off as a problem to be circumvented. That attitude as well as the fiscal output from trash that is the crux of the matter. Surat got cleaned after the plague outbreak, should we await such an eventuality? It is sobering to remember that this part of Karnataka is the only living endemic area for plague.

Prasan Kumar said...

Hey Nidhi,
That was indeed a very good blog - informative and thought provoking.
As you say, there has been more verbiage on this issue !
Anyway, let's hope your wish for a clean 2015 Bengaluru comes true.
If not anything, even a good start to achieve that in future will be a big leap forward.

N L Sriram said...


Saw this article in today's paper, an interesting read, especially the comparison with China where the author is based.

"Challenging the humiliating, unhygienic practices of public defecation (as well as betel juice spitting and general garbage-dropping), is long-overdue in rural and urban India. One of the biggest killers in India in the world is not Ebola, Aids, or cancer: it’s diarrhoea linked to unclean practices. The medical journal, The Lancet, has revealed that every year, over one lakh children below the age of 11 months die of diarrhoea in India. Unlike the high profile diseases de nos jours, diarrhoea is not a subject that sits well at dinner parties."

Lalitha Srinivasan said...

Little drops make a puddle, Nidhi. Mumble and grumble.... It MAY make a difference
Wishing you and Tara a cleaner Bangalore and a healthy and happy New Year !

Lalitha Srinivasan

Mary Pablate said...


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