Why this CAG report should jolt urban municipalities in Karnataka

Ineffective plastic ban, flawed collection and handling of e-waste, unauthorised slaughter houses -- these and more findings from the CAG's recent performance audit of solid waste management by urban local bodies in Karnataka paint a sad picture.

In the last week of 2018, a hurriedly planned public consultation arranged by the Department of Municipal Administration of Karnataka to frame an updated Solid Waste Management Policy for the state had to be called off, following sharp criticism by activists and pourakarmikas (waste collectors). Protesters objected to the very short notice given for the consultation and the draft being circulated on the day of the meeting.

For those wondering why the Department chose to act in such haste, it could be because of the negative observations of the constitutional auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), following a recent performance audit. The CAG has come out with a rather indicting performance audit report on the Solid Waste Management (SWM) by 35 urban local bodies (ULBs) in Karnataka.

The report, which looks at SWM in 35 ULBs during the period 2012-’13 to 2016-‘17 got tabled in the state assembly on 17th December.

CAG auditors observed that Karnataka state has the most outdated SWM policy that dates back to 2004 and the policy should have been revised to be in tune with SWM Rules, 2016. Five years ago, another performance audit of SWM in Bengaluru had severely criticized the city corporation stating:

Efficiency in collection of waste was poor and no efforts had been made to promote waste segregation. Lack of scientific processing facilities at landfill sites and non-compliance with the rules resulted in open dumping of mixed wastes had led to environmental pollution near landfill sites.

In the latest performance audit, the CAG of India has said that since the performance audit on SWM in BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike) had been released earlier, they kept BBMP out of the scope of their performance audit this time. The report also informs readers that the earlier audit findings were taken up for discussion by the Committee on Local Bodies and Panchayati Raj Institutions during April-May 2016 and the 19th report of the committee containing recommendations was placed in the Legislature on 18th July 2016.

However, taking a re-look at SWM in BBMP would have added value since it would have revealed if the city corporation has in fact improved its performance in this area over the last five years or not.

Ineffective ban on plastic

This report coming five years after shows how the Department of Municipal Administration in Karnataka utterly failed to learn lessons from the previous audit and put its house in order. While Karnataka Government banned manufacture, supply, sale and usage of plastic, it was observed by CAG auditors during joint physical verifications that banned plastic waste was collected at source from households, indicating that the ban was not implemented effectively.

CAG auditors also found that 28 test-checked ULBs had conducted 1889 raids and seized 86 tons of banned plastic. They also found that seized plastic was stored within the premises of ULBs, dry waste collection centres and at landfill sites and ULBs had failed to initiate action for disposal of banned plastic.

The state government in its reply to this audit observation (May 2018) has stated that “Despite the ban, quantum of plastic carry bags in MSW had not reduced”.

E-waste handling

The audit also came across instances of failure by ULBs in collecting and channelizing e-waste to authorized dismantlers/ recyclers and found the e-waste mixed with MSW. Out of 35 test checked ULBs, CAG auditors found only one municipal body – CMC, Hosapete – that had established e-waste collection centre. However this collection centre was non-functional since the ULB didn’t collect and channelize e-waste this site centre.

During joint physical verifications, CAG auditors found huge quantity of tube lights dumped within the premises of ULBs. The auditors state:

The quantum of tube lights dumped in Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation and City Corporation, Tumakuru indicated that tube lights have not been disposed (of) by ULBs for years. It is also recommended to amend the extant rules by incorporating provisions for ULBs so that such e-waste (like discarded tube lights and street lights) is managed/ disposed (of) effectively by ULBs.”

Audit scrutiny of records showed that two ULBs had auctioned and handed over e-waste to the local kabaddi walas and not to the authorized e-waste recyclers or dismantlers. Other test checked ULBs had not maintained the required records indicating the nature and quantity of e-waste generated, stored and disposed.

While Rule 9(4) of EWM Rules, 2016 prescribed filing of annual returns on electrical and electronic equipment to the concerned SPCB on or before June 30th following a fiscal year, audit scrutiny of records showed that none of the 35 test checked ULBs filed the annual returns for the year 2016-’17. The monitoring authority – the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) – had also not bothered to ensure necessary compliance.

Mixed waste

Auditors also found that absence of proper segregation of waste led to mixing of MSW with plastic waste, bio-medical waste and slaughterhouse waste. They also found that healthcare institutions continued to function without proper authorization and resorted to unauthorized disposal of bio-medical waste.

Mixed waste being dumped in Tumkur. Pic: CAG audit report

While many ULBs outsourced the disposal of bio-medical waste to Common Bio Medical Waste Treatment Facility (CBMWTF), agreements didn’t specify the periodicity of collection of BMW from government hospitals. Even where the agreements mentioned periodicity, compliance with Rule 6.5 of BMW Rules 1998 – which stipulates that untreated BMW shall not be kept stored for more than 48 hours – was not regular. Audit scrutiny revealed that the periodicity of BMW collection in government hospitals ranged from daily to once in a week. Variations spotted (details given in appendix 8.1 of the report) indicate laxity on part of these hospitals to enforce proper disposal of BMW.

Audit scrutiny also revealed that five slaughterhouses were functioning without obtaining consent (authorization) from KSPCB. Similarly while City Corporation, Mangaluru and Hubli-Dharwad Municipal Corporation had obtained Consent for Operation, it had lapsed on June 30 2014 and was not renewed.

In a shocking revelation, CAG auditors found a blatant violation of KSPCB guidelines for location of slaughterhouses (February 2014. The guidelines stipulate selection of slaughterhouse sites preferably at an aerial distance of 1 km from any SWM processing facility/ landfill site whereas they observed that the District Collector Raichur had approved (September 2014) construction of a slaughterhouse in the MSW landfill site of Town Municipal Corporation, Manvi.

During joint physical verification, CAG auditors observed that none of the slaughterhouses had Effluent Treatment Plants to discharge the effluent except the one in City Corporation, Mangaluru. They also observed that five slaughterhouses allowed the liquid waste generated to flow into drains in contravention of norms. They also found that the slaughterhouse waste got mixed with MSW during disposal in 13 ULBs.

Construction waste

While KSPCB has prepared guidelines for disposal of construction and demolition waste (February 2014), test checked ULBs and even the Public Works Department had not bothered to comply with the same. Auditors remarked:

Failure to identify the site for disposal of debris by test-checked ULBs and delay in according approval for C&D waste disposal sites, denied ULBs of separate disposal area for C&D waste. In the absence of debris disposal site, public were allowed to dump C&D waste in low-lying areas, roadsides and near water bodies.

In totality, the report throws light on the actual execution of environmental regulations in Karnataka. It indicates that environmental activists need to prepare for another protracted round of campaigns to drive home the message emerging from this environmental audit by the constitutional auditor in India.

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