Citizens should drive the city towards better waste disposal: Kalpana Kar

She is one of the waste evangelists in the city. Kalpana Kar talks to Citizen Matters on the reality of waste disposal in Bengaluru, and the changes that can be brought in.

There comes a time in your life when it doesn’t matter what comfort zone you are in, you just want to move on and do something in life — something for the society; something to better the lives of others; something that everyone cannot do.

This doesn’t happen to all, but Kalpana Kar saw it happen to her. Once she left her corporate comforts behind, incorporating professionalism in local governance became her new passion in life.

Kalpana began her corporate career in TATA administrative services. She worked in Tata Unisys and Titan Industries. She also helped her husband in the expansion of his company, Microland, one of the leading technology companies in India. She was also an active member of Bangalore Agenda Task Force (BATF).

Kalpana Kar. Pic: Nikita Malusare

Four years ago, in 2009, when the city sank in the flood of garbage, 15 individuals from 11 organisations formed Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT). Kalpana Kar was among them. SWMRT has been actively involved in the planning of Kasa Mukta, the pilot project for garbage-free Bangalore.

Her calm face does not give you even the slightest hint on what she is working on. She runs around trying to bridge the huge gap between the three stubborn, egoist elements in the city  – the citizens, the garbage collection system and the government. While the rest of the city is sceptical about waste and the work done by BBMP, she is optimistic about the target of garbage free city.

In a tete-e-tete with Citizen Matters, Kalpana Kar talks about the garbage challenge. Excerpts:

Can you tell us how has your experience been, in solid waste management?

Managing solid waste has lots of challenges. A road or a drain can be repaired easily, but solid waste management is an issue that troubles 24/7, 365 days. You clear it today, and tomorrow the waste will be back. It is not an issue that can be solved in just a day, it isn’t a clean up drive. You work with waste generators with different attitudes and behavior. You are dealing with different stakeholders, infrastructure, system and processes, budget and policy. There are so many dynamics in this, you need to co-ordinate with all of them. Dealing with them and creating a new system that works is far more complex.

Government has to come up with strategies that will empower the system to make necessary provisions that will smoothen the work of garbage collection and disposal. We are trying to work with the government and the BBMP through the expert committee to create a capacity within BBMP limits.

We have created a backend system that will help us measure and analyse the work that we do at the frontend as a pilot (she refers to Kasa Mukta pilot projects for 22 wards). This will help us understand whether the elements of the programme have worked or not. If not we will modify it or change it. All this takes time.That is why Kasa Mukta is taking time.

The Chief Minister was hopeful of achieving a garbage-free Bangalore within six months. Do you see the problem being solved anytime soon?

When we started Wake Up Clean Up initiative in February – March, the city had committed that it will follow segregation at source, which is relevant for both domestic and bulk waste generators.

Kasa Mukta promotes door-to-door collection of waste from domestic generator. It also explains what we need to do at the ward level, which is primarily the direct responsibility of BBMP. Kasa Mukta doesn’t address schools, colleges, corporates, it addresses only the households. It did not even focus on the bulk generators like the apartments.

Kasa Mukta also explains the responsibility of the individual as a generator and the responsibility of the Pourakarmika as the establishment. It explains how can we change the usual transaction between the two. Here we are trying to create a missing element that is the system. This system will not only collect segregated waste but also create the capacity to treat it.

This requires additional infrastructure, in terms of bins, vehicles, recycling units etc.It requires retraining at the household level and Pourakarmika level. It requires a penal structure for all the contractors, pourakarmikas and the citizens.

It requires us to ensure that the contractors do a 100% job. We are not even sure whether contractors cover 100% of their assigned area. To ensure 100% coverage, we are trying to make sure that first door-to-door collection is successfully achieved. At present, there is no system to pick waste from the bulk generator, but bulk generator issue can be tackled in the second cycle. Kasa Mukta separates bulk and domestic waste.

At this point of time, so far there is no destination for segregated waste. We know KCDC doesn’t have capacity, but we don’t know that Mandur doesn’t have capacity and we continue to send our waste there. All our vendors who are supposed to be taking and processing waste, but we know nobody is doing it.

We focused only on 22 wards so that we can measure and allocate the quantum of waste generated to a destination. It cannot become 3,000 tonnes in a day. It will take time for the segregated waste to grow to that quantum.

If it is East or South, waste goes to KCDC. If the waste is produced in Yelahanka, Rajarajeshwari Nagar, it will go to Terra Firma or Organic Waste India. This way we have built the capacity and are allocating the waste in every ward.

All these things can be planned out well, but it needs support from the citizens and the local officers. From the time we have launched Kasa Mukta, how many new officers we had? When we do the review half the team is indifferent. When the officers are given training and orientation, officers are moved.

These are the issues and challenges that are constantly grappling us. We need to work on these aspects. Government along with Expert Committee should try and measure the actual change in the dynamics.

How do you remain optimistic when there is so much of scepticism around you?

It is important not to lose faith. I believe that in a democracy it is important for us to be able to take an inclusive approach of all concerns. No sustainable solutions can come immediately, but there has to be the faith. What we are dealing with is, deficit of trust. You can build system and programs but how do we build trust?

We have to build that trust and tell people that every morning at 7 am that person will come to pick up the waste. There is scepticism from both the parties. Citizens are sceptical about the establishment and the establishment is equally sceptical about the citizens.

We are trying to create a dialogue which will be win-win for the city. We are all the stakeholders of a clean city. If the city becomes clean, we, the establishment, pourakarmikas, rag pickers, recycling unit – everybody wins. You can’t do that overnight. You have to keep talking positive.

That is where I think the press has a huge role to play. Media is waiting for a sensational story to re-affirm that it cannot be done. In partnership for change, the more you talk about positive successes, the press has to report it.

What are the success stories?

You have success in wards where citizens have got involved, apartments and big communities doing more than the call of duty, corporators willingly involved with the community etc.

For example, Look at Koramangala 3rd block. We have a contractor working in partnership with an NGO. It is a great support. So to say that all contractors don’t support is not right. But it can only work, when system works. Who is the system? You and me. We have to co-operate with each other,  trust each other and work together.

The experiment in these 22 wards now needs to be taken to another 93 wards which BBMP is managing on its own. So now the intent is to make the necessary corrections, empower the process with more people and scale it up to 93. 93 is pretty much half the city. 22 wards was just the 10 % of the city.

There have been huge disappointments too. The person in charge was changed, contractors had their own issues to solve with BBMP. There have been fights between the contractor and NGOs, fights between the contractor and zonal officers, citizens and the contractors.

Kasa Muktha has worked out well in Raja Rajeshwari Nagar, Kengeri, Koramangala and HSR Layout. As per our understanding, the following things worked there.

    • Intensive citizen involvement. It’s my area – I will keep it clean.
    • Searching for local solutions. DWCCs make sure that the waste gets picked up.

How do you engage citizens?

We need to take all interim measures till the system stabilises. What does it cost to get one of those garbage drums? Rs.35 only. If a contractor is incapable of doing it, then can’t five citizens come together and each pay Rs.35 each and get five drums? I am not trying to say that citizens should pay. What I am saying is that for the system to give Rs.35, it has to call for a tender.

Through citizen engagement and participation we need to create accountability of our area if we want it to be clean. We need to put our foot forward and empower pourakarmikas to do what is right. We have to work with them.

Citizens can question the zonal commissioner where the waste is going. We can ask the officers to make DWCC operational. We can ask what steps have been taken to ensure there are no black spots. Who is preventing the citizens from doing all these?

Citizens can send their complaints and feedbacks to zonal commissioner or the expert committee. We will try to come up with a solution. In the last mile of the Kasa Mukta, we will launch a third party monitoring system. We have got the software and platform ready.

We know that citizens need to get involved with other citizens, by volunteering, putting in their time and monitor their respective areas/streets collection point every day. If a volunteer inspects the collection every day, he or she will know who has segregated the waste and who has not. Monitoring waste from one street is not a big deal.

The likelihood of my knowing and speaking to the neighbour and understanding is far higher than the pourakarmika telling him. So it leads to consensus among citizens. Such a monitoring will help analyse the reason for the failure. It can be anything – lack of segregation, shortage of buckets – each area will have different reasons. Some streets may have as many commercial establishments as there are domestic houses.

Reasons can be many, but there can’t be one answer for all. My ward may be in Central Business District, your ward may be in the outskirts, somebody else’s will be right in the heart of commercial street. There needs to be micro-level understanding of what works in my area/ ward, and micro-engagement by the citizens. Simultaneously we need to understand that systems take time to change. Rome was not built overnight. Habits can’t be changed overnight.

So we got to build that bridge of trust such that we can keep doing what needs to be done. Do we want to win or do we want the establishment to win? I don’t’ lose anything. You asked me why do I stay positive, because I want to win and it has to win. We have to come on top of this. Our city has to win.  We need to stand up to do whatever it takes. Good will prevails.

I believe that people are by and large good. They want to do what is right and want a clean area. They want to know how they can participate. How many people five years ago were found so engaged in local governance? There are many more today than then.

What do you think should the corporates be doing? Are they doing anything in the field of waste segregation?

There is a gap in the level of maturity of the market place. We need to have more alternatives. If today the company wants to process its own waste we need to have the technology. 123 corporate companies have signed on the dotted lines that they want to make their campus zero waste. Wake Up Clean Up have partnered with Confederation of Indian Industry for the same. We are doing a ward-based round table program. But the problem is the lack of market maturity for many players to actually take it forward.

Today everyone is looking at the pourakarmikas to pick up waste because there is no other alternative. Therefore we need to have vendor empanelment. We need to have more options and choices for the corporates on the waste management front.

There is need for development of professionalism around waste. Today it is contractor oriented. We are not the only city that generates waste. Outside India it is a professional business. So we need to bring in some element of professionalism into waste.  At the end it is also a service that needs to be provided. When a big company is set up like IT park  etc. You have people facility manager companies approaching you to manage all your maintenance of the infrastructure. They empty your dustbin, clean your windows, why are they not responsible for waste as well?  All over the world over, there is a system of two bins and thats all it is.

What’s your take on processing mixed waste ? Do you think Waste to Energy is a viable option in our city?

Waste to energy can be formed from different technologies. You have pyrolysis, incineration and bio-methanisation. The only waste to energy technology that works is Bio-methanisation. This needs to be recommended, as all others have failed in India.  The success of the 16 units that are commissioned in the city depends on the segregated waste. Bio-methanisation doesn’t work with mixed waste. There is no other answer.

Why do you think people are reluctant to touch their own waste? What should change in people in order to set it right?

It is a cultural issue. After a bath one will not touch the garbage or the food that you just ate. It suddenly becomes untouchable. You buy an onion. Half goes in your  stomach and the other half goes as waste and it becomes untouchable. These are cultural issues, it requires awareness. Teaching them at the school level and making it a habit will help bring a change in the future.

Are you planning to take teachings of Kasa Mukta, especially segregation at source at school level?

It is certainly on the cards. As of now we are trying to set the small boxes of the big picture right. We are trying to convince the government that segregation is the answer and not the landfill. We don’t need 2,000 acres of land. What we need is implementation and segregation at source.

What about processing the collected garbage? Do you think the companies that manage waste are doing a good job?

No one is doing what they need to do. All composting, bio-methane units can only be deployed if waste is segregated. If mixed waste is sent to compost yard, you will get another landfill.

At present what we are doing is what we are not supposed to do. Segregating mixed waste is enormously expensive. Can one un-curdle milk from curd? Same thing happens with waste. Decomposition is an organic process. Once the waste gets mixed it turns toxic, so how can you compost after that. How can you hold the facility responsible when you are sending them mixed garbage?

Do you see any sustainable solution to Bangalore’s garbage crisis anytime soon?

Yes, of course. It is segregate at source. However segregation not only involves segregation of waste, but also the generator, the service provider, the contractor and the service provider. Segregate the  the issues around it. We will get a sustainable solution if we segregate generators. This is because different generators produce different kinds of waste. If we can segregate the waste, the issues and economics of waste, we will be able to get sustainable solution. We also need to engage with BBMP officials and hold them accountable.

High Court has already passed an order on the same lines, to form a new separate  and dedicated solid waste management cell in every zone, what happened to that?

They are doing it. There are other challenges in it like they don’t have so many vacancies or people. So it is happening, but as I said, Rome was not built in a day. You have to keep hanging there, with faith. Chug along everyday with what needs to be done. Better it millimeter by millimeter and finally we will achieve it.

Related Articles

Three reasons why Kasa Mukta failed
Hotel waste to be used in biogas production
Waste to power by gasification: Bangalore can emulate Pune model


  1. Natarajan Iyer says:

    There is an age old saying ” Charity begins at Home ”
    Forget garbage clearance, at Microland, owned by her husband Mr.Pradeep Kar, the number of employees who have remained there for a long time, recruit high-end serious-business minded professionals, thoroughly disturb them, dirty their pain-stakingly created resume’, damage their careers and ensure that they leave within a few months. These few employees who may be termed the deadly politicians, have claimed the career of many excellent professionals and raped the peace of mind of their families.
    All done misusing the financial clout of Microland.
    Let them do the cleaning there first and then deliver a sermon to the Public.

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