Residents of several areas in Bengaluru have expressed concerns over the rampant garbage burning in the city, which has apparently impacted their routines adversely. The residents complained that the smoke that engulfs the vicinity has caused an increase in respiratory diseases. Moreover, the pungent smell from the site has compelled them to hole up in their houses. Despite repeated complaints to the officials, the issue has persisted. The residents alleged that notifying the officials of the civic body, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), only results in provisionary relief, and that the state of affairs continues to remain the same, or even worsens.
Shalini Batra, a resident of Bellandur, pointed out that the burning of garbage in the area is a daily affair. She told TNM that the garbage is burnt near the Bellandur lake. “Ever since we shifted to the locality, we have been witnessing the burning of garbage near the Bellandur lake every day. When we approached the lake marshals, they said it does not fall under their ambit since the land is off-limits.Lake marshals are doing their duty within lake buffer zone with all diligence and sincerity. Now BBMP needs to plan how to handle frequent dumping and burning outside Marshall's purview, out of the buffer zone. Other residents from the nearby apartment buildings, too, have approached the officials but in vain. In a recent incident, fire from burning of garbage raged for nearly 12 hours.”
She added that the burning garbage has forced them to live with their windows and balconies closed at times. The balconies are filled with the ashes by the next morning, she added. The air quality has drastically dropped in the locality , she noted, adding that it has become a health hazard.
According to residents of Kambipura near the Vrishabhavathi river, some factories, too, discharge chemicals into the river, which has increased in the past month. “Besides, some people burn old plastics near the Vrishabhavathi river, mostly late in the evenings or at night so that the residents don’t go to the site. But, these fires sometimes last for more than 12-24 hours,” Baldeep, a resident of residential apartment in the area.
“In October 2020, the police had summoned the landowners and directed them to not allow anybody to burn garbage on their land. There were no activities after that, but it began once again this year,” said Baldeep. The residents, once again, approached the gram panchayat and BBMP authorities, but it did not yield any results. On March 29, another fire broke out at the location, said Baldeep.
In another incident on March 28, the garbage at a waste management plant at the Chikkanagamangala area in Bengaluru’s Electronic City, caught fire. It was, however, doused only on March 30. While the officials said it was due to the rise in temperature, residents alleged that the fire was a man-made disaster. “We do not know the specific cause [of the fire] yet. But there was a massive fire outside the plant and residents and villagers in the neighbouhood saw plumes of smoke from the plant for three to four days,” said Deepu Chandran, a resident of the locality.
He also said that as the fire raged, residents contacted Randeep, the Special Commissioner for Solid Waste Management, who allegedly told them that the waste left in the open had accidentally caught fire. “If the fire was caused accidentally, then why were the fire services not called in immediately instead of letting it rage for three or four days. They had been burning the wastes intentionally,” alleged Deepu, adding, “A fire in a waste plant is a severe issue. It can cause considerable problems for residents.”
He also alleged that the plant has been contaminating water in a nearby pond as well. Deepu added that the residents of the area now want the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board to take criminal action against the authorities of the solid waste management plant.
Work in progress, says BBMP
When TNM reached out to Randeep D, BBMP Commissioner for Solid Waste Management, he acknowledged the increasing menace of garbage burning. He said that a sizable amount of waste generators show unwillingness to segregate waste and resort to illegal means, wherein waste collectors dump the waste on private lands. The waste is then burnt.
“It is easier to catch a violator when they are seen dumping the waste. It is, however, difficult to point out the violator after the garbage has been burnt,” said Randeep. “Waste collectors and waste generators, at times, burn unsegregated waste on private lands. The landowners receive a part of the commission. A person may also light fire to the garbage if it has been lying unattended for a long time. The environment is conducive for the fire to spread,” said Randeep.
Speaking on the Chikkanagamangala fire at the waste processing plant, he maintained that it was an accident as many combustive elements are kept aside since they cannot be processed.
Elaborating on BBMP’s methods to curb the irregularities, he said, “At least 50% of the wards have garbage collection vehicles that are monitored through GPS. We are aiming to deploy more such vehicles this month. But, on a pilot basis, we have given QR codes to some houses to monitor the waste collection. It’s the public support we want in the proper implementation throughout the city.”
Solutions to manage the issue
Kathyayani Chamaraj, a civic activist, noted that the issue of garbage burning persists due to poor infrastructure and waste management in the city. “It took the BBMP 10 years to bring small changes, like having separate vehicles for segregated waste collection. According to a 2020 Karnataka High Court order, the waste collection vehicles have to be covered but they are not. Besides, there are not many places to process waste and it piles up. This forces the waste workers to burn the waste. Also, there should be a secondary waste collection method — public dustbins — in every ward across the city but even that is not in place. People have to throw waste on roads in case pourakarmikas don’t pick up garbage, since there are no public dustbins,” she said.
She added that the issues of solid waste management could be solved if the BBMP improved its infrastructure. Installing composters across the wards in Bengaluru could help in processing wet waste, leaving them with the collection of only dry waste. “The authorities should install composters or dust bins for the collection of waste. If the composters are installed, it will resolve the issue of wet waste at the source itself. If they use compartmentalised vehicles for the collection of dry and wet waste, it would also help a great deal in curbing the issue of garbage burning,” Kathyayani said.