When many Bengalureans were busy sleeping in or enjoying a lazy Sunday, at least a thousand men, women and children were gathered along the stretch between KEB Circle and at KCDC gate in Bengaluru.
Forming a giant human chain, the residents of Kudlu, Hosapalya, HSR Layout, Somasundarapalya, Parangipalya (KHHSP), and Garden Layout as well as adjoining areas demanded that the Karnataka Composting Development Corporation (KCDC) at the edge of the lake be shut.
The apolitical protest was organised by KHHSP Resident Welfare Association against what they call “blatant apathy” by the civic administration for more than three years. This was an extension of their earlier protest from March 2017, where they had sat outside the KCDC gate all night. But that too proved to be futile.
Residents allege that while they and their apartment complexes are composting their own waste, they are being made to suffer consequences of waste from other parts of the city being dumped and processed here.
Lalithamba Vishwanathaiah, treasurer of KHHSP RWA, who was leading the protests, told TNM, “Sometimes the stench is so bad that even it can be felt at Hosur flyover. Depending on the wind direction, even places which are two kilometres away are not spared.”
Documents accessed by TNM show that the air quality was non-conforming to standards of National Ambient Air Quality Standards (2009) for the last three years. Even the lake is polluted beyond permissible limits and residents allege that a part of it has been encroached by KCDC.
The lake had also caught fire in February 2017 which took over 12 hours to douse.
“It is not only the air pollution which we are worried about. The garbage is being dumped in the lake, even the refuse-derived fuel (RDF) is damaging the lake and contaminating the groundwater,” Lalithamba said.
”It is a biological bomb we are sitting on. RDF is highly flammable and none of the other waste treatment procedures are followed. The plant was set up in the ‘70s when this was outside the city and now it is forced to process more waste than it can which is causing all the problem.,” she added.
It is only when the plant was shut during the early 2000s that the BBMP had allowed apartments to come up in the area. However, since it was reopened in 2014, it has become a headache for residents, protesters claim.
Recently, many people also had to stop using the borewell water.
“We don’t have Cauvery water connections and we depended on borewells for our water. Now in the last couple of months, the groundwater has started becoming yellow in colour at times and we have no option other than to call tankers. Sometimes, the water is so bad that you cannot even use it for gardening,” Manoj Gupta, another protester told TNM.
Pereira, principal of Mount Mary School in the locality, rued that even children were suffering due to the smell.
Residents fear these issues could be a major health hazard in the making.
Dr Shanti, a general medicine practitioner who moves to the area about two years ago, said that the stench had made her asthma attacks more frequent. She has observed others in the area also showing increased symptoms of chronic lung diseases like obstructive pulmonary lung disease, bronchial asthma.
“Nasal stuffiness, throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, eye and skin irritation are very common. The high percentage of pollen and other allergens in the air cause allergies,” she told TNM.
Residents allege govt apathy, BBMP denies
Strangely, the BBMP Joint Commissioner of Solid Waste Management Sarfaraz Khan refuted the concerns of the residents and tried to play down the magnitude of the protests.
“70% of the problem is already solved. There is an agenda to stop the plant for no reason. There is no smell, this is an unnecessary protest. We have done more than what is required. The plant will not be closed. If they have a problem with the plant, then they should stop generating waste,” he argued.
“In a week’s time, shutters are going to come from China and then there won’t be any smell,” he added.
He also denied that the plant is forced to process more waste than its capacity, and added that crores of rupees have been spent for installing IISc-approved bio-filters to treat the waste.
A local citizen activist said that Sarfaraz Khan’s claims of there being no foul smell was a “plain white lie”. “Every other day we are facing the issue. It is most acute in the night and continues in the early morning. It intensifies during holidays and festivals.”
“When they came to know we are going ahead with this agitation last week, they started doing window dressing. They stopped processing, they started cleaning a bit, they tried to camouflage the smell using lemongrass oil. They are also not processing the waste properly and they are using the plant and the lake as a dumping yard,” the activist said.
“They also promised to remove 100 tons of RDF from the lake per day, but nothing has happened on ground. Even after last year’s fire when a major tragedy was just averted, they consider our lives worth peanuts,” he added angrily.