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Can a Public Interest Litigation force public contractors in Bengaluru to stop burning garbage?

 

Bengaluru generates around 4000 tons of solid waste every day. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has chalked out plans to collect waste from houses, vegetable and fruit markets, construction sites and from bulk waste generators like apartments.

However, over the last few years, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has remained helpless in its bid to stop the increasing amounts of garbage being burnt in the city. 

The problem, which is slowly becoming widespread, also poses serious health concerns for the residents of the city, so much that a Public Interest Litigation is being filed at the Karnataka High Court over the issue. The PIL aims to bring the issue to a closure and stop the burning of garbage, especially dry leaves as it is a source of air pollution in the city. The NGT has decided that garbage burning is prohibited and has passed orders not only against BBMP but the Pollution Control Boards in every state in India. If there are any offenders, who go ahead and burn garbage, then fines and penalties will be levied on them", explains Azhar Meer, who is filing the petition on behalf of Jhatkaa.org, an organisation which has been campaigning against garbage burning for over two years now.

In spite of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) passing an order prohibiting open waste burning and in spite of penalties announced by the BBMP in November 2016 for anyone caught burning garbage, the problem continues unabated in several areas in the city. 

Bengaluru became one of the first cities in the country to introduce segregation of waste at the source in 2012 following an order by the Karnataka High Court. It meant that citizens were required to segregate wet and dry waste before they were collected.  However, in spite of progressive rules, effective waste management continued to be a problem in the city as garbage contractors were found piling up the garbage in pits instead of processing it. The problem was particularly severe in northern parts of Bengaluru after residents of Mavallipura and 12 other villages in the region demanded a CBI inquiry into the city's garbage contracting system.

The contractors handling waste soon began burning the excess waste. It was in 2016 that central government redrafted comprehensive rules for solid waste management in Indian cities introducing zero tolerance for garbage burning. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) too prohibited garbage burning in its 2016 order which was followed by the BBMP introducing fines for offenders found burning garbage. This was followed by a 2017 notification by the Karnataka government imposing penalties up to Rs. 25,000 to garbage contractors caught burning garbage. 

However, in spite of the rules and the threat of fines and jail term, garbage burning has continued unabated in the city. In fact, a crowd-sourced map by Jhatkaa.org has found that the menace of garbage burning is still occurring in at least 40 wards in the city. The organisation is inviting readers to report instances of garbage burning. 

Live map being maintained by Jhatkaa.org to track garbage burning in Bengaluru. You can report garbage burning in your area to Jhatkaa.org via WhatsApp on 888-498-3333.

The crowd-sourced evidence of garbage burning is being used to build a case against the BBMP to act over the issue. According to RTI replies received, there have been no fines imposed in Yelahanka and Byatarayanapura ever since penalties were introduced. Officials in Jayanagar and Rajarajeshwari Nagar declined to answer the RTI, referring it to a different department. 

The High Court has in the past asked the BBMP to create ward-level micro plans to ensure effective garbage management. The court ordered this after a quarry in Belahalli caught fire earlier this year after waste was dumped in it. However, in spite of repeated warnings, only 16 wards have identified a site to establish a local plant. 

By filing the PIL, Jhatkaa.org is hoping that the High Court intervenes to put a stop to burning of garbage in the city. In the past week, the High Court has rapped the BBMP over its inaction in filling potholes and maintaining storm-water drains, and it appears that it will be asked questions about the menace of garbage burning as well. "We hope that the burning of garbage by BBMP contractors at least will end with the issue now coming to the notice of the court. We have photographic evidence supporting our claim too," added Azhar.

Images: Hari Adivarekar/Jhatkaa.org

This article has been produced with Jhatkaa.org, as a part of their Stop Garbage Burning in Bangalore campaign.