Bangalore’s international status as India’s first city-of-the-future — the site of a burgeoning IT industry, and a centre of cutting-edge technology and science — is, literally, sinking beneath a sea of garbage. If unregulated traffic and bad roads have tarnished its image, the inability of its civic authority to dispose of 4,500 tonnes of garbage generated daily by its 8.5 million residents only adds to the stink of its already compromised reputation. The crisis that hit the city a few weeks ago — when garbage contractors had nowhere to dump the lorry-loads they used to offload into a landfill on the outskirts of the city because angry village residents living nearby said No More — resulted in an invasion of trash onto pavements, streets and water bodies. Municipal garbage collectors stopped collecting waste, as there were no lorries to take the trash away. If this situation is now being managed with the same out-of-sight-is-out-of-mind approach, i.e., by the identification of new landfills on the outskirts of the city, the crisis, alas, has only been postponed. The new landfills will affect the health and living environments of new sections of people, who will doubtless follow the lead set by the residents of Mandur. The Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike set October 1 as a deadline for residents to segregate waste at source. The directive met with very partial success, with those who complied having to helplessly watch carefully segregated waste being re-aggregated in the trash lorries.
The long-term solution must find a place for garbage cleaners and recyclers. Many resourceful citizen groups have successfully experimented with waste management in their own localities. Wet waste must be composted, while paper, plastics, metals, and other recyclables sent to the vast network of unorganised but efficient recyclers that already exists. What remains — the harmless inerts that constitute 15 to 20 per cent of the total waste — should be sent to scientific landfills. In 2007, the State government erred disastrously in reducing the mandatory one kilometre buffer zone around landfills to just 50 metres. The privatisation of the waste-management system by the State government was an even bigger setback. Of 19,000 garbage cleaners, 15,000 are contract workers, poorly paid and pitifully ill-equipped. Of the 595 lorries that ferry trash, 490 belong to private contractors who routinely violate the terms of their contract under the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000. The garbage crisis has revealed the dark underbelly of Bangalore’s growth story, and is a negative lesson in at least one aspect of planned urbanisation, namely, of post-facto civic intervention.