Grey smoke rises from a thicket of trees, choking Domlur, a residential neighbourhood in Bengaluru. For months, residents living near the Army Service Corps Centre in Domlur have been complaining to army officials and the Bengaluru Bruhat Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) about garbage burning in the army compound but their pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Despite the National Green Tribunal banning the burning of garbage in open spaces in 2013, its orders have not been strictly enforced.
Speaking to TNM, Vidya Gopal, a resident of Domlur, says, “The army has been burning its waste every day in the evening and sometimes, early morning. We have tried to explain to them that it is affecting us badly as all the smoke comes into our apartment complex and there is also a school next door. The area gets filled with smoke and there are lots of kids, infants and senior citizens living here. Even our joint meetings with BBMP and army officials have had no effect. We have tried everything but in vain. Senior army officials say that they will stop burning waste but it has never stopped and has been going on for months now. Earlier, I was pregnant and now, I have a one-month old baby, and through my pregnancy and even now, the burning continues. BBMP is now not even responding to our calls.”
Explaining the proximity of the army compound to the residential neighbourhood and the effect of the smoke, Vidya says, “There is just one site, one small piece of land, between our apartment and the army compound. It’s a densely populated area, with a lot of apartment complexes.”
Burning garbage in the open has in the past resulted in a smog-like situation in the neighbourhood, says Vidya, with residents complaining of respiratory ailments including asthma. Senior citizens and young kids, especially infants, are worst affected.
Despite TNM’s repeated efforts, BBMP officials refused to comment on the issue. When TNM contacted the Defence Public Relations Officer, he confirmed that there had been complaints of burning of garbage. He said, “The problem is resolved now. We looked into the matter and are not burning the garbage anymore.”
Resident, however, disputed the claim, arguing that the problem still persists. “They burned garbage today in the morning and I can still smell the smoke in my room,” Vidya observed.
The problem of burning of waste in open spaces continues unabated in other residential areas in Bengaluru as well. Chitra Seshadri, a resident of Indiranagar alleged, “Even pourakarmikas and BBMP contractors burn garbage and dry leaves in open spaces, so that they don’t have to carry them to far-flung dumping areas. BBMP has got no enforcement. There should be continuous patrolling and violators should be fined.”
Jhatkaa.org, Bengaluru-based multi-issue campaigning organisation, has taken several steps to raise awareness about the menace. Speaking to TNM, Avijit Michael, Executive Director of Jhatkaa.org, says, “The BBMP is not taking very strict actions against violators. The fines and penalties are not enforced at all. Under the Karnataka Municipal Corporations (Amendment) Act 2013, the amount of fine is very low – Rs. 100 for the first offence and Rs 200 for repeat offenders. The NGT order from last year introduced a fine of Rs 25,000 per instance of violation but we haven’t heard of BBMP taking any action. So, we have done two things. We sent legal notices to all the zonal commissioners of BBMP last month, asking them what actions they have taken. We have also sent RTI queries about the actions being taken by BBMP against open garbage burning, but have not received a response to them yet.”