The recent spell of heavy rains has brought both joy and unbearable misery to the 4.3 million people who live in one of the world's fastest growing cities. Bangalore, this week, regained its green top even as it started to decay below the surface.
The rainwater, that brought succour to a parched city, also flowed through faucets, down drainpipes and into gutters clogged with piles of putrefying garbage.
An excavator digs out waste including discarded plastic packaging clogging a canal in Bangalore.(Manjunath Kiran/AFP Photo)
12 thousand tons of filth lay mulching under the rain for four days. On June 1, residents of Mandur blocked the entry of the city's garbage trucks into their village.
Mandur is the site of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike's (BBMP) only "official" landfill where 4,000 tons of untreated garbage is dumped daily. This is the third wave of protests from residents. The first was in August 2012 which ended when the BBMP promised to adopt scientific segregation and disposal of waste.
When the civic agency failed to keep its word, the residents once again blocked garbage trucks on June 1, 2013. The government had cracked down on the protestors and imposed prohibitory orders under section 144 to let the trucks pass. Subsequent parleys led the BBMP to set a renewed deadline of May 31, 2014 for proper waste management.
This year's agitation began when the deadline announced last year expired. The four-day blockade, which saw AAP leaders jumping into the fray, was broken by imposing prohibitory orders once again.
The agitators watched as 350 garbage trucks rolled into their village on Thursday morning escorted by armed policemen. That evening, Mandur residents also mourned the death of Narayan Rao (75) - who spent the last year in hospital suffering from respiratory problems and had become a cause célèbre in the agitation.
The prohibitory orders were to expire on Saturday but with villagers are vowing to reimpose the blockade, ban orders have been extended to June 10. Freedom fighter and celebrity activist H S Doreswamy has threatened to join the agitation.
Inspired by Mandur, similar protests have erupted near dump yards in Towns and districts surrounding Bangalore - Chikkaballapur, Doddaballapur, Tumkur, Kolar, Mandya and Ramnagaram.
On Friday, hundreds of police constables posted at the Mandur dump site to prevent another agitation suffered in silence along with those they sought to contain. "I haven't eaten breakfast or lunch. The smell is unbearable," one constable told HT while another said, "It gets worse after sunset when the mosquitoes arrive."
Work has come to a stop at the main waste management unit run by Srinivasa Gaythri Resource Recovery Limited (SGRRL) at Mandur. The agency was hired by the BBMP in 2005 to produce electricity and compost from waste.
"We have not been paid for 11 months. The BBMP owes us Rs. 3 crore," said a company executive. However, a deeper look reveals that the company has not produced a single unit of power or kilo of compost even when payments were regular. The company has received large grants from the central government as well.
"Unless waste is segregated at source," says Ravikrishna Reddy of the AAP, "no amount of waste processing units can function properly." He alleges that garbage contractors and truck owners are preventing segregation at source because if wet waste is composted at source, they will have less garbage to collect and therefore less earning.
Wilma Rodriguez, who founded the waste management company Saahas, says that large corporations, apartments and tech parks contribute 40% of the city's daily waste. A tech park that employs 20,000 people generates around 4 tons of waste per day. "It will cost them just Rs. 1 lakh per month to process this waste," she says.
One of the strictures passed by the BBMP during last year's garbage crisis was that bulk generators of rubbish must process 90% of their refuse internally. That rule exists mostly in violation today.