It took less than a month for the “garden city” of Bangalore to become a “garbage city”. Till last week, nearly 5,000 tonnes of waste generated daily by this IT hub was piling up on the streets because the surrounding villages blockaded Bangalore’s garbage trucks that were turning their backyards into landfills.
Some were imputing political and commercial motives to the agitation but the villagers stood their ground. They didn’t want their land and water contaminated by untreated toxic trash just because the city folks were too lazy and reckless to invest in scientific waste management.
Now, with its chief being replaced, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike has cleared several long-pending proposals, including the one to use garbage to generate power and crude oil, in a jiffy. Segregation of garbage at source has been mandatory across Bangalore from next month.
It could well be happening in any Indian city. Delhi, for one, is sitting on a ticking stink bomb. It has the world’s eleventh biggest garbage dumps, according to a report published in Bloomberg-Businessweek in 2009. Two years back, Delhi generated 6,500 tonnes (1,625 trucks) of garbage every day. This year, it will touch the 10,000 tonnes (2,500 trucks) mark.
Yet, Delhi could not add a single landfill site in 25 years. The existing landfills on city’s borders — Ghazipur in east, Bhalswa-Jehangirpuri in north and Okhla in south — are experiencing landslides due to vertical growth and will have to be sealed soon. Last year, the Delhi high court denied permission to start a facility in South Delhi’s Bhatti mines. Soon, we may not have any space to dump our garbage.
Waste-to-energy is the latest buzzword in the government. But experts insist that all municipal waste combustors, regardless of the technology used, release a number of pollutants extremely harmful for the people living in the vicinity. Meanwhile, mounds of trash and construction waste continue to be dumped illegally in city’s forest and water bodies. There is simply no mechanism in place for safe disposal of lead batteries, CFL bulbs or e-waste.
The NCR is the worst affected. In 2008, residents of Gurgaon’s upscale DLF City led massive protests against illegal dumping of garbage in a 60-acre open space behind their condominiums, renaming the area “Kachra Chowk” to shame the authorities. A solid waste treatment plant was soon commissioned. Ghaziabad’s trans-Hindon townships have no landfills and pavements have been turned into dumping sites with garbage choking storm water drains and sewers.
Last week, the Delhi government announced a ban on plastic bags including the black garbage bin liners. A sound environmental initiative, it should have come with a plan to reduce the quantity of waste going into the landfills. Recycling and composting of biodegradable garbage is the best way to do it but our civic bodies have no clear strategy yet.
In 2009, the MCD outsourced door-to-door garbage collection to a private company in some areas. But residents complain of irregular service and overflowing community bins are still a common sight. While some households take time to separate toxic and non-degradable waste, it all ends up in the same garbage dump. Thankfully, it is where some amount of segregation does take place informally without which Delhi’s soil and water systems would have become much more polluted.
I remember spotting a few cycle-borne foreign tourists on the Ghazipur flyover staring in disgust at the mountain of stinking waste. Their jaws fell when they spotted an army of tiny rag pickers atop the toxic mound collecting every possible bit for recycling. It may not be too late for the government to learn from these waste workers, safeguard them against health hazards and include them in an institutional framework of garbage management.