The story of a layout in Bengaluru becoming Swachh Ooru

Green activists strive to keep awareness high

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Health inspector seizing plastics at an eatery in HSR Layout. Pic: BBMP

At the stroke of midnight, when the whole world is asleep, one garbage “terrorist” in HSR Layout of South Bengaluru is rudely shaken to wake up to his responsibilities by a green volunteer.

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Striding up to a man who is emptying garbage into a parking lot in HSR Layout, Dr. Shanthi Tummala thunders that overturning his dustbins on a vacant site even at midnight is against the norms. “Don’t you know that you are violating the rules?” she asks. He knows, so it isn’t news to him. Yet he is doing it.

Dr Shanthi forces him to pick up his waste and take it back home.

She seems to have earned the rather enviable reputation of being a kind of ‘don’ in waste collection. As a member of the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT), Bellandur, and founder of HSR Citizens’ Forum, she inspires a group of volunteers deeply involved in the ‘exciting’ world of garbage. Thanks to the efforts of her civic group, among others, HSR is one colony that dutifully segregates and disposes of waste into pick-up tempos.

“Any volunteer who sees people dumping garbage, or even officials who see it and feel afraid to take the offender in custody, call up Dr Shanthi,” explains Lalitha Mondreti, a member of the SWMRT group. “People can call her in the middle of the night and feel assured that their requirements are taken care of.”

So separate, segregate ….

Initial efforts to clean the colony were rather weak, but they picked up after December, 2015, when the Karnataka High Court ordered the BBMP to adopt a ‘two bins, one bag‘ formula. Wet, dry and sanitary waste could be segregated at the source. For the past two years, this locality, at least, has been quite a stickler for rules.

Lalita Mondreti, who works with a number of organisations and voluntary groups across the city, is vocal about her appreciation. “This is definitely one of the best wards,” she says. But her own colony, Bellandur, is the worst, she is quick to clarify.

Dr Shanti Tummula, a volunteer belonging to HSR Citizens Forum, going door to door spreading awareness on garbage segregation.

Muniraju, who was the Joint Commissioner of Bommanahalli when the project kicked off, is clear that 80 per cent of the 20,000 households in HSR layout seem to have fallen into line and have begun to segregate their waste. Even after a new man slipped into his post, the awareness and response has remained the same, adds Lalita Mondreti.

Watch the activities of the volunteers in a recent video created by Raisin George, a 31-year-old IT professional and film-maker, who calls his commitment to segregation and cleaning his “passion”.

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKaAMlXSt8M[/embedyt]

There is no profit involved. “I’ve always been involved in this process, and started as a member of another NGO, Janaagraha,” he explains. He has been pursuing the Swacch campaign for about two-and-a-half years now.  

At least, HSR Layout has been 100% successful in one activity, according to him. Sanitary waste is disposed off in bags separate from wet and dry waste bins. “Everyone is following the rules with regularity,” he emphasises. People who live in rented houses in the colony are anyway not even in the loop, but the regular residents are very conscious of their responsibilities. As health inspectors are doing the rounds regularly, the people are careful to separate the wastes, otherwise, they are fined immediately.

Role model for the city

HSR’s example shines more due to the lax practices in other areas. The residents are proud of their feat. “You find that there is just about 10% use of plastic in this area, compared to 90% in other parts of the city.” Yelahanka and Koramangala are also the “good” wards.

It is puzzling as to why citizens elsewhere refuse to segregate, but the answer is even more amusing: “It involves buying two dustbins instead of one!,” says one volunteer, scornfully. “If that sounds rather unbelievable, then wait for more. The routine segregation of organic as well as inorganic waste is thought to be very taxing!”

Really? Is it relaxing to clump both kinds of garbage in the same dustbin, and is the effort of separating them exhausting?

It would seem so. But here in HSR Layout, for once, workers as well as citizens are all pitching in. While the number of vehicles is proportionate to the number of households and streets, a route map makes everything trackable. With one volunteer for every street, the monitoring is pretty fierce, so you can actually call a vehicle by the name of the activist, such as “Shanthi’s vehicle” or ‘Padma’s vehicle”.

Health Inspectors examine the situation regularly. By reaching out to people through Facebook as well as other social media groups, the volunteers connect with related people to identify and sensitise the authorities on who is attending and who is not!

The Contractor for HSR Layout, H N Rupesh Kumar, provides four compactors, 300 service providers and 30 autos. However, he too adds to the chorus of appreciation for HSR Layout, agreeing that Bommasandra and Bommanahalli, nearby wards, are not on par with HSR Layout. The compliance rate must be just about 50% in those colonies, compared to the 90% in HSR Layout, he says. “It is a pleasure working here,” he responds.

With volunteers pushing, Bommanahalli MLA, Satish Reddy donated Rs 2 lakh to support the green endeavours. About 100 small composters to all the wards and also to 12 temples are due to his efforts. Lalitha Mondreti recalls how her group took an aggressive approach: “We rounded up the and questioned him: ‘Modi has spoken about Swacch Bharat, but what are you doing?’”

Awareness achieves neatness in segregation

What is exceptional about this ward that makes it stand out as among the most committed? Is it because the area has more educated citizens, or did people suddenly wake up one day and get hit by the the value of volunteering?

“Actually, it appears to be a combination of various factors,” explains Mondreti. She reflects that while it is definitely due to the collective efforts of volunteers, officials, MLA and Joint Commissioner, the amazing synchronisation of stars has been a lucky hit. In which other area would an MLA of the ward or even the contractor win some laurels?

Which are the bad areas? “Bellandur, where I live,” says Lalita, with a wicked giggle. It has been very difficult getting the authorities to clean up the area or making the people play ball with them. In spite of spending Rs 45 lakh, they just do not seem to get it, she says.

Awareness is all that makes the difference. “It is a difference between Namma HSR Ooru and the rest of the Ooru,” emphasises a nearby volunteer, with pride.

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About Revathi Siva Kumar 36 Articles
Revathi Siva Kumar is a freelance writer based out of Bangalore.