Case 1: Bellandur
In the last week of October, residents of Mantri Espana, an apartment close to Bellandur lake in Bengaluru, were appalled at the sight of thick smoke engulfing the skies from a private land adjacent to the lake. The smoke originated from an illegal garbage burning site on a private land. The situation continued for the next few days worsening to the extent that children in the neighbourhood faced breathing difficulties.
Garbage on fire in Bellandur yet again, after being doused once. Pic: A Bellandur resident
Following repeated complaints by residents of the area, officials from Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) inspected the spot. While the KSPCB issued a set of directions to the BBMP with a deadline of seven days, BBMP’s Joint Commissioner for Solid Waste Management Sarfaraz Khan gave a list of tasks to be done with fixed deadlines, to local BBMP officials to address the garbage dumping and burning issue.
As on November 3rd, i.e after one week of the inspection spree, things have not changed much for the residents of neighbourhood. The trench that BBMP had hastily dug on one side of the burning yard to avoid the movement of trucks carrying garbage, has been filled up with mud - what residents claim - to be by unknown persons. And a portion of burnt garbage too has been covered with mud.
There is no caution board at the dumping site as promised; no action taken against the private landowners who have been carelessly allowing garbage dumping and burning in their sites; no action initiated against waste generators and private contractors dumping/burning garbage at the site.
What is more appalling is, the residents have identified at least 20-30 garbage dump yards around the lake, after the waste burning issue broke last week. “In addition, a new waste segregation facility has come up on another side of the lake overnight. We now fear of burning and smoke resurfacing again in the neighbourhood,” says Seema Sharma, a resident of Bellandur.
Case 2: Thubarahalli
Thubarahalli in Varthur hobli too faced similar situation in the second and third week of October. Heaps of garbage were dumped and burnt on vacant sites adjacent to Varthur lake. Worried residents, first filed a complaint with I Change My city, and also reached out to BBMP through Twitter and Facebook. They filed a complaint with BBMP Sahaaya and also at the Varthur Police Station.
Smoke emanating from a garbage burning site in Varthur. Pic: Keerthi Gardenia resident
It has been over 10 days, but no action taken, says Gurusharan, a resident of Varthur. He says following their complaint with the police, no FIR was filed and the police pointed fingers at the BBMP as it is the authority to take action.
“The complaint lodged with BBMP Sahaaya was assigned to an officer who in turn assigned it to a local garbage supervisor. The supervisor inspected the spot but it wasn’t much useful. When we informed him that the trucks carrying waste to the site are BBMP labeled vehicles, he negated the possibility of BBMP trucks dumping the garbage. He asked us to send photos and videos of trucks carrying garbage and said that he will discuss the issue with the Health Inspector and visit the spot again along with the Inspector. Thereafter, nothing has been done and the burning continues,” Gurusharan says.
Case 3: Doddanekundi
At Doddanekundi, garbage burning has been happening in various spots. When the residents found the smoke unbearable, they filed a complaint with BBMP Sahaaya. When they failed to get a response, they teamed up and met the local corporator. While their united effort and running around helped them to douse fire in one or two spots, it went beyond their time and effort to control the fire erupting in several other spots.
As Clement Jayakumar, a resident of Doddanekundi puts it, “we, the residents can complain and put up a fight to stop the fire once or twice, but not everytime and everywhere when it happens. We can not really run behind officials and corporators, spend our days to get the fire doused. It’s a complex process. You see garbage fire, meet the Superintendent Engineer, he directs you to the Health Inspector, he sends you back to SE, then you approach Fire Services and they say they can come to the spot only if the fire outbreak impacts lives of people and property. So in their absence, you end up putting off the fire by pouring truck loads of water. This is how it works.”
A menace that strikes Bengaluru in winter
As winter has set in, instances of garbage fire have gone up across Bengaluru. Residents have been complaining of garbage fire, but their complaints to the BBMP have fallen on deaf ears. BTM Layout, Vijayanagar, Malleshwaram, NICE Road area near Electronic City and many other areas see regular burning of garbage. See the instances of garbage burning tweeted by our readers here.
In all the cases, the residents are unhappy with the way BBMP is handling the issue. They wonder why no attempt was made to nab the culprits and take strict action against them. Those who dump garbage and property owners who allow the garbage to be set ablaze in their property are the culprits. “Wonder why the BBMP cannot even put a simple sign board cautioning against dumping of garbage,” asks Seema Sharma.
Clement Jayakumar from Doddanekundi Rising says the BBMP officials often ask the residents to keep a tab on such incidents. “But we cannot do vigilance day and night to see which truck enters the vacant site and dumps garbage,” he says.
He highlights the need for BBMP to address the issue in two ways. First, the BBMP should take stringent action against the law violators who dump garbage in the middle of the city and set it on fire. Heavy penalty should be imposed on them to prevent them and others from dumping garbage in future. Second, the city corporation should develop an emergency response mechanism to address complaints related to garbage fire.
“There is no system in place to douse the garbage fire. Often the citizens end up waiting for 2-3 days for the JCB and water tanker to arrive at the site to douse the fire and fill it with mud. This has to be made easier,” he notes.
‘Doing our best’
However, the BBMP officials say they are doing their best to address the issue. Muniveerappa, Joint Commissioner of Mahadevapura zone, says his people have dug up trench around the garbage dump near Bellandur lake so that no vehicle could carry waste to the site. “We have doused the fire and covered it with mud. Prahari vehicle too has been deployed to patrol near the lake at night,” he says.
When asked him if digging trenches would solve the problem, considering that one of the trenches in Bellandur was closed by unknown persons near the lake garbage burning spot, he said trench was the only solution to block the way.
Garbage burning in progress in Varthur, where a truck marked as BBMP dumping the garbage. Pic: Keerthi Gardenia resident
To a query on whether a case was registered and penalty imposed against culprits who were engaged in dumping and burning garbage, Muniveerappa asked how to prove that the same truck has dumped garbage. He said no notice has been issued so far.
On the other hand, Bommanahalli Joint Commissioner Muniraju sees filing a police complaint against the private property owner who allows garbage dumping in his site as a better solution.
“In Begur ward, we are convinced that the private landowner has worked in collusion with garbage mafia. On Friday, I have filed a complaint with the Electronic City police against the landowner for using the agricultural property for waste segregating and burning. Case has also been filed against the illegal Bangladesh migrants who engage waste sorting and burning,” he says.
He adds that notice has been issued to the landowner and a complaint has been written to the Tahsildar asking to take action against him for using agricultural property for non-agricultural purpose.
Who creates the mess?
People complain that trucks with BBMP label dump garbage in open sites. BBMP’s Joint Commissioner for Solid Waste Management, Sarfaraz Khan refutes this charge. “Even the trucks that do not belong to BBMP’s authorised contractors, carry the BBMP label to hoodwink people. Those trucks do not belong to BBMP” he says.
Khan says he is aware of the burning at Bellandur and Varthur and has directed the zonal officials to issue notices to the defaulters and file criminal cases against them. “We have also dug trenches to avoid the movement of trucks to the site,” he states.
When asked him who is responsible for this erratic burning of garbage, he pointed out at the bulk generators. “Despite publishing the list of BBMP empaneled garbage vendors in the BBMP website and directing bulk waste generators like apartments to mandatorily hand over garbage to these contractors, some bulk generators continue to give garbage to unauthorised contractors. They do so just to avoid paying the fee that BBMP contractors charge. And these unauthorised contractors see burning waste as an easy way of disposal,” he says.
The Joint Commissioner says with the limited staff, the BBMP cannot really inspect each apartment to find out who their waste vendors are. Hence, the problem.
While promising to take action against the culprits, he also requested the alert citizens to immediately inform him if they come across major garbage burning instances. “Citizens can Whatsapp me the photos and details of the garbage burning site,” he said. Contact number of Sarfaraz Khan is - 94481 11066.
Pollution control board inspection yields no results
In Bellandur garbage fire case, a team from Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) had visited the spot and issued a set of directives to the Mahadevapura Joint Commissioner.
In a letter dated October 26th, 2016, by KSPCB Regional Officer D P Mahendra has issued following guidelines to BBMP to comply: display a caution board in the burning premises with a message not to dump any waste, to identify owner of the land and issue him a notice under KMC Act, 1976, to identify private contractors who are dumping the solid waste and initiate suitable action, to lodge a police complaint against the defaulters etc.
The letter states “you (the JC Mahadevapura) are hereby informed to treat this matter as urgent and initiate action against the defaulters and submit compliance/action taken report to this office with 7 days from the date of issue of this letter.”
However, the BBMP has not followed the instructions yet. Strangely, when Citizen Matters asked KSPCB RO Mahendra (on November 3rd) what will KSPCB do as the BBMP has not yet complied with the set of directions, he said they still have the time. “It is seven days from the date of the KSPCB notice reaching BBMP, not from the date of issuing,” he said.
Also read: Garbage fire can cause cancer