At 76, he goes door to door, asking people to segregate waste

After living abroad for 30 years, Ramakanth came back to Bangalore, only to see the problems plaguing the city, garbage being the biggest.What did he do? Excerpts from the interview.

Some call him an advisor, while some others call him a gentleman who has solutions for all waste-related worries. At the age of 76, N S Ramakanth goes from house to house in Bengaluru, teaching not only residents and pourakarmikas but also the BBMP officials how to segregate waste and maintain it till it reaches recycling centres.

N S Ramakanth interacting with Anjum Parvez, KSRTC MD, during the installation of dust bins in Majestic. Pic courtesy: Soild Waste Management Round Table Facebook page

He is known for his infectious ways of talking to people and giving them ideas on zero waste. He is just a phone call away for any related information. He is also a member of the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT) that has been working with BBMP and High Court on solid waste management.

He pursued his engineering degree from Banaras university and worked overseas for 31 years in mining industry. But his heart always remained in the Garden City. At the age of 50, when he took a voluntary retirement and returned to the city, he was awestruck by what he saw in the city. Since then he has been closely associated with local governance and bringing a change in the society. He even contested corporation election from Vasanth Nagar and fought against powerful politician Katta Jagdish. He is like a solution bank for civic problems.

Citizen Matters caught up with N S Ramakanth on an evening at M G Road while he was busy monitoring zero waste management at a Fast food shop.

What prompted you to step into the field and work for segregation?

Segregation at source is a new Mantra that was injected by Solid Waste Management Round Table. My journey at the ground zero started when I came back to city after 31 years living in abroad. So much of change had taken place in Bangalore.

Then I stayed in Basaveshwara Nagar. I noticed my area had lot of mismanagement. We didn’t have good tar roads, no streetlights, no proper provision for garbage collection, nothing. Therefore I decided to organise people to fix this and formed a Resident Welfare Association. I headed the team. Since our layout was under BDA, I pushed BDA Commissioner and chief engineer to get the work done. Residents were very supportive.

After leaving all the presidentship and RWA, me along with other SWMRT team members we first started teaching centres for segregation run by  ITC, at  Malleshwaram and Shivajinagar. Why the collaboration with ITC? Because then BBMP didn’t believe in segregation and everything that we said.

Form this concept, SWMRT made a presentation to Lok adalat. We presented data on how much money, environment and land we can save if the waste is segregated and recycled in proper manner. We proved it by converting 35,000 families to segregation in about three years time.

Myself, Sandhya Narayan, Vani Murthy, Mariyam and Meenakshi Bharat – all worked together and showed the Lok Adalat the advantages of segregation of waste into wet and dry waste. Impressed with our presentation, Lok Adalat came out with an idea of Dry Waste Collection Centre and ordered that all the 198 wards must have DWCC. Bangalore produces 4,000 tons of waste. In that, if we take away segregated wet waste, what remains is 1000 tons of dry waste. This can go to DWCC for recycling. It also acts like a resource. This is what we proved.

We spend 150 to 200 crores just on transportation of waste to Mavallipura and Mandur. Yesterday I visited the landfill, along with Almitra Patel, Dr. Mallya (Land filling expert from Bombay) Joint Commissioner of SWM Yatish Kumar and Basavaiah C (ex-Managing Director Of Karnataka Compost Development Corporation). It was all stinking, there were flies all over, and the villagers lived a life of misery. The toxic leachate released from the garbage has contaminated their groundwater and nearby lakes. Instead of putting villagers’ life at risk we advised the Lok Adalat and also High Court the process of segregation and recycling.

Only some of the DWCCs out of the promised 105 wards work, why?

Lok Adalat has ordered to establish DWCCs in 198 wards, but they say they have started in 105 wards and I really don’t believe that. I haven’t inspected all the DWCCs. Presently wherever the garbage is being segregated, there are enough DWCCs for them.

Segregation is not full-fledgedly going on. Only 20 %people are doing it. In pockets, it is doing good. Now I am promoting ground zero level awareness, and I think it will be successful. I am trying to do something.

What problems do you face, in your endeavour?

Mainly BBMP officials, they don’t co-operate, they are not accountable and responsible for their work. I go to each zone and I tell you are responsible for segregation, if u don’t on dereliction of duty you will be warned. This is what I am trying to do, which is much against the culture of BBMP.

So, what is the response?

Commissioner and Joint Commissioner fully support me. Under the presence of Commissioner and Joint Commissioner I speak this mantra of accountability to the officials. They don’t even know spelling of accountability. I am teaching them from A to Y. It is a very big task, if I achieve it it will be great achievement for me.

Since 2009, what significant changes has SWMRT brought in the city?

We are trying to convince the High Court the process of zero waste management. Segregation is already mandatory. There is no second thought on that. Next they said we will fine people, unless you penalise people they don’t listen to you. One goes to Singapore and follows all rules, as soon as he steps into the Bangalore airport, they go back to their culture.

But to even impose rules, one’s house must be in order. It means even if you give segregated waste, I must have a place to collect the segregated waste, which they don’t have.

Presently, I am making pourakarmikas and Health Inspector to see to it that residents segregate  waste and next step will be to warn pourakarmikas and officials to accept the segregated waste only, then will ask them to warn them and then finally fine them. Directly if I fine them people will ask sir, I am segregating it but you are not keeping it segregated, what should I do.

In some pockets like RR Nagar, almost 6,000 houses are doing it all by citizen initiative. I started with only 250 houses, I help others by phone or meet them to advise them.  Volunteers of Mindtree Green Community ,help residents every weekend in understanding segregation, they are doing an excellent job.Presently, they are extending their support to shops also. Ms. Veena Rajappa is the GM of the Mindtree Green Community. From almost 5,000 houses they are collecting 9 tons of clean dry waste. which all goes to ITC for recycling.

It takes time to put everything in order. On the advice given by Expert Committee, HC ordered to establish a separate SWM cell for each zones which will be solely accountable for the management of garbage. We advised them to appoint an environmental engineer who can be directly held responsible for the waste.

Presently, if I question engineer for the mismanagement of the garbage, he will say, I went to prepare an estimate, or to the court or I was replying RTI.

So now we want to make them accountable and responsible only for SWM. We advised HC that each ward should have a health inspector, two wards minimum should have environment engineers, above him should be superintendent engineer who looks after the SWM.  Environment  engineer will prepare all the data and give it to superintendent engineer. At central office, there should be a Joint Commissioner for SWM, under him will be chief engineer, one for projects and the other for management of waste.

We have given them a proper chart of the organisation required. Court agreed and passed an order. Presently problem is that BBMP doesn’t have a good staff. All their engineers are from civil engineering background. For SWM we need environment engineers or people with Bachelor of Science in Public Health Diploma or Chemical engineer.

When will the organisation be re-structured?

Recruitment depends on BBMP and the Government. Administration Joint Commissioner Kaveramma is trying her best to recruit.

Why is it so hard to make people segregate garbage, also when rules are in place?

It is not hard, people argue that they don’t have time, we have to convince them the advantages of segregation, which is what I am doing. I go from house to house in every ward and make them aware about it. On weekends sometimes I tag along with Pourakarmikas and inspect the way they collect and the way residents give. I explain them the advantages of segregation and disadvantages on health and environment. This is the mantra health inspectors should repeat. I alone can’t go to all the 1 crore people and start it.

One of the major problems in segregation is the slums. They live in a cluster. There is no facility to collect from each house. So they end up throwing waste outside. Once it is thrown out, the waste gets mixed and it becomes difficult for segregation.

So I am coming up with a separate scheme that will cater to this problem. I have asked all the zones to give me the data on how many slums are there in each ward. Then myself and Dr. Almitra Patel will work on it. Some slums she will go as she has more experience than me. She will teach them how to segregate. wherever I can I will help her.

Why do you promote bio-methanisation?

I have been implementing it at my home, it is excellent. My wife is saving 60% LPG in the house. It can last for four  months. The plant provides you a direct gas pipe, a burner and a stove then it cost me Rs. 22,000. Now it will cost around Rs. 23,500.

Since we are only two people in the house we don’t have to cook much. I have trained my wife to manage the waste at home. Only one square metre area is required. My house has become a solid waste centre. The owner of the biogas plant sends his customer to my house to see how it works.

What care should one take while using a bio-methanisation plant?

All citric substances should be kept away like moosambi, lemon, tamarind, onion peel all these items are acidic. It shouldn’t be disposed in it.

In a composting plant within 15 days, one gets good slurry that can be used in gardening. My wife uses it to maintain her small garden of dhaniya, pudina, palak, dodapatre.

Now, even BBMP has come up with 16 plants of each 5 tonnes, already one at Yelahanka 1 tonne. It will be upgraded to 5 tonnes in three months. They are generating power out of waste. This power is used for street lights. If they plan to sell the gas, then people will fight for their rights. Therefore they are using the power for lights.

You experimented keeping large bins on streets to collect dry waste. Did it work?

I tried, but it didn’t work. I tried it at the bus stops. But people still end up throwing it outside the bin. It wasn’t successful.

If people want to start waste management in their own ward or area, how do they start? Who do they contact?

One can contact Arijit Mitra (He is the founder of the Greentech Life) provides smart bins in which one can put their wet waste for composting. All that you need to do it put your waste in it. You need to press it from top so that all moisture drains out. After a two or three days, one needs to turn the mixture and add culture (a solution) to avoid smell and leachate. This solution keeps flies and smell away. The culture just cost Rs.90. It gives you a good quality compost.

What is your dream?

Dream is finally a garbage-free city. In three years, I hope to see the SWM cell well-established and in working condition. I want to live till that day to see it becoming successful.

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No waste is wasted in her hands
So you segregate waste, what happens next?
Understanding how to segregate waste
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How to segregate waste in apartments?

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