Abitha Shetty (name changed), a resident of Bellandur, found her two children complaining of severe headaches all of a sudden. She had seen garbage being burnt near the school where her children study. Being conscious about air pollution, she decided to check out what is happening, as she couldn’t bear the possibility of the innocent kids suffering because of air pollution.
She, along with Lokesh, Deputy Environmental Officer, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), visited a spot in Choodasandra, near Chikkanayakanahalli, where she saw garbage being burnt regularly.
This article has been made possible thanks to support from Aruna Green Ventures.
Aruna Green Ventures is a Bengaluru-based company that provides waste management solutions.
The area near Sarjapur Road in the eastern part of Bengaluru has many schools: Prakriya International, Primus, Harvest, and other government and private schools/ playschools— total six of them. Garbage is burnt indiscriminately everywhere in this area.
People working nearby a garbage dump, with a sieving equipment. Pic: Abitha Shetty
At one of the sites, Abitha says they saw 10-12 people working, amid while the garbage was being burned a few meters away. Lokesh asked them what they were doing, to which they said it was a private land and they were from Terra Firma.
“We saw piles of mixed waste that were burning. Then we saw a sieving machine and below it was sieved blackish soil. This was being filled in bags. We also saw a large number of filled bags,” says Abitha.
Terra Firma is a private firm that is engaged in solid waste management. Citizen Matters could not verify whether the 'Terra Firma' mentioned by the workers on site and the Terra Firma engaged in solid waste management are the same, as the official who inspected the spot said he cannot verify it because he does not have anything to prove it.
Now, here comes the shocker: The labels on the bags claimed it was Vermi Compost, and attributed it to KCDC in the batch number section.
A bag where it clearly mentions 'Vermi Compost' and shows the name of KCDC, with batch number. Pic: Abitha Shetty
The label reads:
Batch no. KCDC/VC/05/2015
Date of MFR: May 2015
M.R.P Rs 3850/-
Only for Dept Sale
In Kannada, one can see the text 'Ere Huluvina Appata Savayava Gobbara' meaning pure organic manure produced by earth worms.
Bags of 'vermicompost' ready to be dispatched. Pic:Abitha Shetty
Bags filled with burnt and sieved garbage. You can also see the burning garbage. Pic: Abitha Shetty
What is wrong with bags being labelled Vermicompost?
Vermicompost is produced by feeding organic material to earthworms, or nightcrawlers. There are many types of earthworms and composting worms that do composting, which are used for fertilising soil, and to produce compost commercially too.
In the incident described above, the black ash produced by burning unsegregated mixed waste which might contain plastic, glass and other materials, was filled into the bags that were labelled ‘Vermicompost,’ pure organic manure prepared by earth worms.
Vermicompost is considered to be the best among all composts used by farmers. It also costs higher than any other compost. The farmers who would buy these bags of fertilisers thinking that it is vermicompost, will not get the output expected out of vermicompost, and will end up wasting their money.
Moreover, the names that make appearance in this episode, the KCDC, or Karnataka Composting Development Corporation, and Terra Firma, an authorised waste processing firm for BBMP, just reveal the tip of the iceberg, of the bigger rot that lies underneath.
Piles of garbage getting burnt in Choodasandra, Bengaluru, next to the sieving equipment. You can also see the sieved fine garbage Pic: Abitha Shetty
Terra Firma contracted by KCDC for supplying vermicompost?
Citizen Matters contacted the KCDC and found out that the KCDC indeed had an agreement with Terra Firma to supply vermicompost, and the Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of the vermicompost the KCDC sells is Rs 3850 per bag. Details of the agreement are yet to be revealed. The above-said activity takes place not inside the KCDC plant premises, but elsewhere.
Terra Firma officials refused to take the responsibility of the issue and said that the firm does not burn garbage or compost it inside the city. “Our waste processing units are located in Doddaballapura and Bannerghatta Road, where we do the composting,” said R Ganesh, the Managing Director of Terra Firma.
However, he disclosed that Terra Firm does accept vermicompost from other firms in the city, which in turn is given to KCDC. Terra Firma admitted to having supplied vermicompost to KCDC in the past, but refused to shared the details.
KCDC: Not a seal of authenticity anymore?
KCDC, or Karnataka Composting Development Corporation, is a firm that was started by the Government of Karnataka in 1975, with a tri-party agreement between The Agro Industries Corporation, the Karnataka Cooperative Marketing Federation and the Bangalore City Corporation. Now Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP)has been advised by the High Court of Karnataka to oversee the functioning of KCDC.
Many think that Karnataka Composting Development Corporation, being the government organisation that it is, is a stamp of authenticity on compost, and hence the quality of the compost produced there is not questioned by peple usually. However, this incident puts a big question mark on the authenticity of the compost sold by KCDC.
Here are many other open-ended questions Citizen Matters is trying to answer:
- If the firm involved in this episode is indeed Terra Firma, it is an authorised garbage contractor for BBMP. Sources say that many vendors empanelled by the BBMP for bulk waste management show the agreement between them and Terra Firma when asked about the final destination of waste. These empanelled waste managers charge the apartments Rs 100 and more per month, for managing the waste responsibly. Apart from this, BBMP pays Terra Firma or any other firm engaged in waste processing for the waste collected from old residential areas. After collecting all that fee, why is the firm—be it Terra Firma, or any other firm or a local contractor—burning the waste?
- Burning of garbage is a health hazard. This causes air pollution. The area surrounding this particular site has six-seven schools (including government schools and play schools). Burning garbage in densely populated areas is illegal, and unethical too. Isn’t this firm/ contractor aware of this?
- Karnataka Compost Development Corporation (KCDC) is considered to be a stamp of genuineness. KCDC does vermicomposting, along with aerobic composting. Nobody would expect such a quality of compost from KCDC. By selling garbage burnt by third parties as vermicompost, KCDC is just spoiling its own name. Why is the KCDC doing it?
- Burning the garbage is illegal. Selling it as vermicompost is criminal. If a government organisation helps a private firm to get rid of its responsibility with illegal, criminal means, who else can the public trust? Isn’t the KCDC covering up for such firms wrong?
- Vermicompost is considered to be the golden standard of compost. It costs from Rs 39/- to as high as Rs 80 per kg for vermicompost. Selling garbage ash as vermicompost and making money out of it is not expected out of KCDC. Who is involved in all these?
- Packaging burnt garbage as vermicompost and selling it, that too to farmers who grow food, is wrong. The plastic and toxins that are burnt will enter our food chain when they are fed to plants as fertilisers. This burnt material would be a toxic mix and can harm farmers and affect soil fertility. It will also come back and hit the cities a second time with toxic food. Aren’t the government organisations selling this as vermicompost aware of this? Why aren’t any quality checks done?
A machine sieving the soot of burnt garbage in a vacant site near Kasavanahalli, Bengaluru. Pic: Abitha Shetty
Deccan Herald reported a major fire at the Terra Firma landfill site in Doddaballapur, in March 2015. Villagers had then accused the firm of setting garbage on fire deliberately.
Citizen Matters is waiting for more inputs on the story, and will keep you updated.
This is a Citizen Matters exclusive story, collated with inputs from a resident of Bellandur and Akshatha M, Staff Journalist, Citizen Matters.