news Friday, November 07, 2014 - 05:30
By M N Chakravarthy In Kannada language there is an expression, kasa dinda rasa – precious nectar can be extracted even from the waste.  There is wealth in waste, may be a bit too much of it, if you go by current mess the garbage disposal has created in Bengaluru. The real issue is not waste or its disposal or the health hazard. Its about business rivalry between garbage disposal contractor and a threat to that all inclusive, all pervasive organ of modern business_ the real estate! Lurking behind all these is that that omnipresent corruption of bureaucrats and politicians.  Decades ago I noticed a small news item about an old lonely Vietnamese woman whose house was raided by police. Her neighbour had complained that the stench from her house had become unbearable. The police found the tiny house was full of old newspapers, magazines and scrap materials. The old woman said she was hoarding it for nearly a year, that it was her only source of income and that she was waiting for the right price in the market for her product.  Land price has become a bit bullish here in Mavallipura and Mandur, villages where the entire city’s garbage is dumped. Mavallipura has said no to dumping since 2012 and the deadline to stop dumping garbage in Mandur is just about a month away.  The annual contract for garbage disposal was around Rs 90 crore per year in the eighties, about Rs 360 crore in 2013 and a little more than Rs 400 crore per annum this year. Those who were involved in 80s don’t want to miss the pie in the bounty as they feel it is easy money to make.  “Naturally,” said an ex- contractor. His version is that Bihar’s fodder scam (where bill was cleared for thousands of tonnes of non- existent animal fodder) came later. Here in BBMP(Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Paalike) there was a well-greased system going even before. The contractor said nearly 65 per cent of the contract went in bribes- from top to bottom. There is no way the contractor could survive after paying such hefty bribes but then the BBMP officials, being geniuses, came up with an indigenous method. Simply put, the system runs like this: Clear about, say, ten tonnes of garbage but bill for one hundred tonnes. Everyone was happy. Never mind how shabbily the garbage was disposed. The truck which had carried goods, sand, stone and bricks once was used, before sold as junk, to transport garbage. “Condemned lorry’ as it was called came, may be, once a fortnight or a week. Till then the garbage lay in the huge circular concrete bin, positioned in the corner of the street. The bin itself moved surreptiously by inches, depending on whether the owner of the house in the street corner liked to have garbage bin in front of his house or not. The bin finally stayed in front of a house of an unfortunate man who could not bribe enough the janitor to move the bin further away.  Arrival of the truck was evidently was a nuisance as it scattered all over more garbage than it carried. Once, few spirited youths thought they would teach the authorities a lesson or two and deflated the tyres of the truck. They hardly anticipated the impact of their adventure. What was till then a fortnightly or a weekly nuisance became a permanent one: The over loaded truck with garbage remained on that spot for a month. A spiritual leader, in his daily discourse, narrating the incident, commented: “Means to an end became an end itself.” The quantity of garbage was less and there was no shortage of open space in the outskirts. But City grew and grew and became two huge districts instead. The quantity of garbage grew multi fold. The earlier contractors did not want to miss the new inflated contract. One attraction was that the government failed to make the residents segregate the waste. Contractors refused to take the responsibility for themselves. They said they cannot manage both the additional labour cost to segregate and the mythical `65 per cent’ pay back for the authorities. Also conveniently forgetting the fact that part of the contract was not just transport garbage but to install the units which can convert the garbage into manure. The situation was getting hopeless and the government gave them more time to install the units. This made the contract-mere collection and transport garbage- very lucrative.  It is not exactly a BJP-Congress issue but the fact that BBMP is ruled by BJP and the state by the Congress made a difference. Those who contributed to BJP’s election fund did not want to miss an opportunity to recover their investment, especially when the size of contract growing four times.  A BBMP commissioner once quipped, in eighties, that he wanted to float global tenders for the garbage disposal and the make the use of covered truck mandatory. “It is either the black Reddy or red Reddy. I want to break the nexus,” he said contemptuously, the kind of contempt the garbage contractors attracted those days. That bureaucrat was ignorant that one person who began his career as garbage contractor became later the chief minster- H D Kumaraswamy.  He also was not aware how tenacious the contractors could be. Recently some of the stubborn contractors were blacklisted. But the High Court found as many 44 new contractors were none other than the wives, sons in law, daughters in law, niece and nephews of the blacklisted contractors.  The lobby that missed the contract avowed that the new contractors can’t function. And the real estate value of Mandur and Mavallipura , very close to Bengaloru City, was affected. Even the farmer and house owner find their property is attracting price that was never dreamt off but suddenly could not sell his property until the locality got rid of the stigma of garbage dump.  This not to say that health is not an issue. It would be cruel to ignore the dengue fever the unattended, untreated garbage has caused. But they are not in the forefront of protest and agitation. It is the crowd instigated by the old contractors and real estate lobby that is shouting for help. Dengue fever has been used as a camouflage their interests. And people who are shouting least are politicians and bureaucrats who in no way admit that their receipt of kick back from the contractors is the root cause of the problem M N Chakravarthy is a senior journalist based out of Bengaluru.
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