Why muck matters

From Jayanagar in south Bengaluru to Sanjaynagar in the north, workers are now busy removing footpath slabs and dredging up mud and muck from roadside drains – which is good, except that  the mounds of muck are then left  along the edges of the drains, only to be washed right back into the ditch as soon as it rains.

Tens of thousands of citizens watch this tamasha, but feel helpless about pulling up those responsible for such mindless waste of tax payers’ money. The BBMP declares that it is the local subcontractor who has to be contacted, the local subcontractor is never around and the gang of workers has no clue on where he can be found, they just dig and collect their day’s wages and push off.

In economic terms this “boosts Gross Domestic Product” because GDP  is computed by adding all the paid work put in during the year. Employ workers to paint a portion of the roads as ‘designated lanes’, then abandon the idea of designated lanes, GDP still goes up (and there are bills to show that the corporation’s annual budgetary allocation has been all spent on “public works” – remember the designated lane for autorickshaws along the road from the Corporation Circle to Majestic ? That’s been abandoned, and now they are planning ‘designated lanes’ for cyclists’.)

In the meantime, the city gets more messy and chaotic, and there is no money to ease the situation – the police department declares they are terribly understaffed, the corporators say they don’t have enough funds, and politicians blame each other.

At a meeting of  the Federation of RMV Residents’ Welfare Associations in north Bengaluru  last week, the discussion focused on the deteriorating problem of garbage clearance and solid waste management. Except for the areas around Vidhan Soudha, there isn’t a single road, main or minor, that isn’t dotted with ugly mounds of garbage, left there by the BBMP’s own sweepers, for contractors’ trucks to haul away, which is desultory and irregular, the participants noted. They even got three corporators, D Venkatesh  of Radhakrishna Temple ward, N M Krishnamurthy of Sanjayanagar Ward and  V Anand of Ganganagar Ward and  BBMP Health Inspector Prabhakar to attend the meeting and face questions from citizens.

The garbage contractor is unable (or unwilling) to do a satisfactory job of clearing. Different kinds of ‘rubbish’ (rubble, dry leaves, household waste) are the responsibility of different departments, the BBMP works independently of the water board which doesn’t coordinate with BESCOM, resulting in mixed muck, mosquitoes, rotting debris and unholy messes.

This is city maintenance turned farcical. Except that it is no farce when residents find the quality of their lives deteriorating. “It will take three months for the situation to improve, because we have to call for fresh tenders” one corporator said at this residents’ meeting last week. My hands are tied, conceded another.

Nonetheless, there were  some positive outcomes from the discussions, in that we learned about two citizens’ initiative for solid waste management, one  at Malleswaram Market  (Organic waste converter) and the other at RMV Extension, that could be replicated in other areas, with  multiple benefits – apart from the obvious reduction in the quantum of rubbish strewn around, these have generated revenue in terms of organic manure from the biodegradable waste, and also improved the living environment in these neighbourhoods.

Not in my backyard
Why not replicate the experiment, then? Participants as well as the corporators at the meeting both came up with reasons why replication is not that simple. You need a small plot of open land for converting the solid waste into manure, and most residents, even those who are in favour of “doing something about solid waste management”, do not want the plot to be next to their residences.

This despite assurances from Shalini Shenoy, who has been associated with a successful waste management initiative in RMV Extension, that the dump does not generate a stink (in any case, don’t the piles of rubbish now left by the roadside stink?)

People are also lazy about taking the trouble to separate degradable kitchen waste from  plastic, paper  and glass. Too much trouble? In many other countries, it is mandatory to segregate, but even “foreign-returned” citizens fight shy of making the effort to sort their rubbish? 

Affluent households generate more garbage per capita, than the poor. So why is it that even affluent residents balk at paying a few extra rupees monthly, to facilitate waste collection and composting projects?

The larger picture is that we need simultaneous action  on several fronts – stop throwing garbage indiscriminately around, prevent stray dogs  and cows from scrounging in dumps for morsels, form neighbourhood groups to work in conjunction with, not in confrontation with, elected  area corporators, and pull up those who don’t do their bit, whether it is residents or representatives. Perhaps, as a first step, residents associations from other  areas can visit the solid waste management project that residents are operating in Malleswaram and Sanjaynagar.

About Sakuntala Narasimhan 69 Articles
Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Jayanagar based writer, musician and consumer activist.

1 Comment

  1. Great article.
    * The doing and re-doing of public works due to the lack of coordination seems to be have been institutionalized. It is possible that there is active neglect and collusion in cases where a freshly tarred road is dug up by a different department.

    * For some reason, it has become acceptable in Bangalore to keep garbage strewn around in street corners for further collection and sorting. Bangalore should replicate the case of Hyderabad which is much better at this – they have steel garbage collection containers in every street. These dumpster containers are picked up every day by garbage trucks to transport to the dump.

    * Perhaps there can be an incentive for recycling. A regular (weekly) collection drive which pays a certain amount per kg for separated or sorted recyclable materials.

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