Bengaluru’s trash is no man’s treasure

Many years after dumping of waste in landfills was stopped, residents who live around them continue to suffer from various health issues

November 10, 2022 11:30 pm | Updated November 11, 2022 09:23 am IST - Bengaluru

BBMP’s trucks dumping garbage in Mittaganahalli quarry pit in north Bengaluru.

BBMP’s trucks dumping garbage in Mittaganahalli quarry pit in north Bengaluru. | Photo Credit: K. MURALI KUMAR

“Seven years ago, 20 trucks full of garbage started to come to our village. We did not know at the time that this was the beginning of a dangerous threat to our lives. We only got to know after four years when our borewell water turned dark, and I had to undergo a surgery after an infection in my throat,” said Jayram Xavier, a 65-year-old resident of Bingipura village, who is staying near the abandoned landfill site in southern Bengaluru.

Mr. Xavier, who has been a resident of the locality for the last 40 years, said that after repeated protests, only four years ago, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) stopped dumping garbage. However, residents in the area continue to suffer.

The BBMP had to shut down the site following persistent protests from residents. After this, residents are asking the authorities to turn the abandoned landfill into a mini forest and rejuvenate the nearby lake so that the pollution created by the landfill will be controlled, but residents complain the authorities have not done anything so far.

It has been more than 20 years since the civic body drafted the first Solid Waste Management (SWM) rules in 2000, but the BBMP is yet to implement the rules, which includes avoiding landfill dumping. Instead, the BBMP continues to dump in landfills and is searching for new quarries to dump the city’s waste.

Health hazards

The journey towards the Mittaganahalli landfill, one of the city’s largest, where tonnes of solid waste gets dumped by the BBMP every day, starts with an unbearable stench. Those who live in the vicinity of this landfill in Bellahalli and Mittaganahalli villages are plagued by various health problems and infrastructural worries. If locals are to be believed, at least eight members have died in the last couple of months after developing ailments due to the polluted water and air.

The Bellahalli quarry was closed in 2019, but the closure provided no relief to the residents as the Mittaganahalli landfill, where the dumping began around three years ago, is at a distance where it can still cause them problems.

The residents in around 2,000 homes in this area previously only depended on borewell water for their drinking needs as the Cauvery water connection has still not reached there. Now, with the leachate seeping into the groundwater, they are forced to rely on water tankers and water cans. This has automatically led to a price rise with the water tankers charging up to ₹500 per load.

“We cannot estimate how many people have caught diseases in the last few years. At least one member of every family is seriously affected by this polluted air and water. Most of us face respiratory issues and digestive tract diseases. We cannot escape the stench in our homes or our roads as from morning till night, the tractors keep moving one after the other”, said Katappa, a long time resident of Bellahalli.

Migration to better areas

Going further towards the village of Mittaganahalli, one will be greeted by flocks of kites flying over the huge mounds of garbage and various crushing companies. With only 40 to 50 houses inside the village, the villagers said that most people have left their homes and migrated to better areas after the landfill became active. According to the villagers, at least 400 garbage trucks arrive at the landfill to dump the city’s waste. There is also a leachate collector next to the landfill where the plant which was supposed to treat it, but it does not function.

“Those who belong to the second generation have all mostly left this area. Those who have money manage to get quality food and buy water from outside. But what is the case with the poor? They cannot afford to buy water. The BBMP has installed a filter, but the purity is still not enough”, remarked Channakrishne Gowda.

A senior citizen, Mariyappa, said that many people find it difficult to breathe, irrespective of their ages. “After walking just a few metres, we feel very tired,” he said. The villagers’ cannot stand the stench. “It is unbearable, especially when it rains. It has been ages since we opened our windows. Who will care about our problems? The BBMP has given us road and street lights. But what will they do about the constant problem of this smell?,” another villager asked.

Abandoned landfills fare no better

Ravi Kumar, a resident near Bingipura landfill, said the authorities did not conduct a public consultation when they started to dump waste seven years ago. “We are not even treated like humans. They just dumped garbage, then started various issues which nobody cared about. Now, after stopping dumping garbage, we still have many issues, including the landfill rotting with leachate formation.”

The health problems near landfills are not limited to humans. Cattle and sheep and other animals and birds also bear the brunt of the pollution. “The sheep and cows get fever suddenly and they also get stomach problems and they feel bloated and sick. We are also tasked with keeping the dogs which come to eat the garbage away from our animals as they have turned quite ferocious,” said Lalitha, a shepherdess in Mittaganahalli.

Matrimonial alliances affected

Living near the closed Mavallipura landfill, Vijayamma is now relieved. “Over the last two years, they have stopped dumping waste here and they are also taking whatever they had dumped here to Bellahalli.

Vijayamma also mentioned another social problem faced by those who live near landfills. “No one wants their daughters to get married to men who live near landfills. We used to have a lot of trouble finding brides for our boys. There have also been instances when families would not want to marry girls from here for the same reason.”

BBMP spends ₹ 300 crores for landfills

In the 2022-23 budget, the BBMP allocated ₹1,469 crore for solid waste management, of which ₹300 crore are set aside for landfills despite there being severe opposition to them.

BBMP has allocated ₹100 crores for the design, establishment and operations of scientific landfills in the city. “Instead of allocating money to decentralised SWM facilities and wet waste processing plants, the palike is allocating funds to landfills, which are not scientific landfills. The city should have scientific landfills only and should avoid mixed waste entering the landfill,” Wilma Rodrigues, Founder and CEO, of Saahas Zero Waste, told The Hindu.

Landfills following rules: BBMP

The BBMP officials, meanwhile, say that the landfills are operated with the consent of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and following all the rules by conducting an environmental impact assessment report.

The BBMP has allocated ₹75 crores for scientific landfills at balance pits of Mittaganahalli and bunds development and ₹125 crores for village improvement works surrounding landfills, ₹20 crores for maintenance of landfills and 12 crores for tipping charges, officials said.

With reference to the closed landfills, the officials said in Bingipura, the Bengaluru district administration has planted saplings in the closed landfills. A BBMP official said, “In Mavallipura, we are transferring the garbage to Mittaganahalli to avoid bad odour in the nearby places.”

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