By Deepavali, Bengaluru's streets will be free of garbage. By November the city's roads will be free of potholes and by 2021, the city's lakes will be free of pollution. That is if you believe the deadlines set by the Karnataka High Court in the past month.
The High Court has pulled up civic bodies in Bengaluru on more than one occasion this month while hearing various cases related to the development of the city and each time, like a teacher telling students to do their homework, it has set a strict deadline.
On August 1, the High Court ordered the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to remove all illegal flex banners in the city on that day itself. After little progress was made to this end, the High Court reiterated its stance on August 10 ordering the removal of illegal flex banners before Independence Day.
On September 20, the same court while hearing the case on the number of potholes in the city's roads rapped the BBMP and ordered that all potholes be filled by the next day. The deadline has since been extended multiple times after it emerged that there were potholes even in the wards that the BBMP claimed were pothole free.
On October 29, the HC once again set a deadline, this time asking the BBMP to ensure that Bengaluru streets are garbage free by the end of the month. The deadline has since been extended to Deepavali.
It is not just the High Court that loves setting deadlines. A day later, the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) promised to give clean lakes to the city by September 2021 during the hearing on a complaint filed by United Bengaluru, a non-profit organisation.
But what is behind the love for deadlines and is the approach actually leading to results? It does not always appear to be the case.
In the case of the removal of the flex banners, the High Court's reminder to the BBMP to remove all banners by Independence Day saw a prompt response from the civic body. Working around the clock, officials took down hundreds of illegal flex banners that greeted you everywhere you turned in the city.
But not every case is as cut and dry as taking down illegal flex banners. Maintaining the condition of roads, the system of garbage collection and cleaning Bengaluru's lakes require far more than a 'Do it now' order and a deadline to go with it. It requires doggedness from the court to follow-up the case and an equal response from the civic bodies to fix the situation on-ground and lay down plans for the future.
For instance, in hearing the case regarding the condition of roads in the city, the HC commissioned a two-member team to inspect parts of Bengaluru that the BBMP claimed were pothole free.
At the hearing conducted on September 24, Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari was heavily critical of the BBMP. "Don't keep waiting for court orders. You (BBMP) have not been able to generate that faith. Talk of the BBMP and distrust, disbelief and dejection are the first things that come to mind. This is a result of years of inaction," observed the CJ while commissioning the inspection team.
But in spite of the stern words of the Chief Justice, the BBMP is yet to meet its own promises in filling up potholes. "The HC is trying to strong-arm the BBMP into eventually filling the potholes in the city. But so far, the deadlines and objectives laid down by the court have not been met by the BBMP. We are waiting and hoping to see if this will change soon," explains Anuradha SR, the advocate of the petitioner in the pothole case.
The situation is similar in the case of garbage being heard by the court. The deadline to clean Bengaluru's streets and dispose of garbage was initially set for October 31 but on Wednesday, Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari hearing the case agreed to extend the deadline until Deepavali.
Activists, however, believe that the menace of garbage in Bengaluru's streets will need follow-ups from both the court and the BBMP in ensuring that a system is in place. Unlike in the case of flex banners, removing garbage one day does not solve the problem. "They may remove the garbage one day but tomorrow again the garbage will come because they don't have the systems in place to hygienically take care of the garbage i.e. separate streams of waste collection, local processing sites, transport stations at collection points. The BBMP is saying it will tender for the acquisition of vehicles as it does not have vehicles yet either," says Kathyayini Chamaraj, a member of the non-profit organisation CIVIC.
She points out that a 2012 High Court order asking the BBMP to set up 198 local processing units for wet waste disposal is yet to be implemented. "The court did not follow up on this issue and only revived the order in 2017 when Justice Nagarathna reminded the BBMP of their responsibility. It has been one year since then and local processing units are yet to be set up in all wards", says Kathyayini.
The BWSSB, meanwhile, has come forward and set itself a September 2021 deadline to clean Bengaluru's lakes. It has claimed that the lakes in the city will be pollution-free. While the BWSSB has given itself plenty of time to achieve its goal, activists believe that their progress should be tracked regularly.