Hundreds of crores of SWM budget lie unutilised, yet no sign of scientific landfills

Separate vehicles collect dry and wet waste in high-income areas, while only one vehicle collects all types of waste in low-income areas.

Bengaluru generates around 4,500 metric tonnes of municipal solid waste per day. To regulate this, the Solid Waste Management(SWM) rules, 2016 and the SWM bye-laws were passed, which notifies the best practices of waste management in a sustainable manner.

The SWM rules, 2016, are an outcome of several Public Interest litigations (WP 24739/2012 & WP 46523/2012) filed before the Karnataka High Court in 2012, where a range  of directions were issued that ordered the BBMP to stop landfilling, incineration waste as well as ensure source segregation.

However, the implementation of these orders is tardy to date. An unscientific landfill continues to function in Jakkur with no heed paid to the health and environmental consequences, and segregation of waste at source is yet to be successful in all wards.

However, it should be noted that segregation levels have been improving over time. As of 2020, as many as 35 wards had zero segregation. Ward 185, Yelachenahalli, is one such example. 

State of segregation in Yelachenahalli 

“The Yelachenahalli ward has the worst segregation levels in the Kanakapura road area,” says Abdul Aleem, President of Change Makers of Kanakapura Road (a consortium of 80+ RWAs on Kanakapura Road working together on urban issues). To improve this situation, Saahas Zero Waste, a non-profit organisation working in the field of waste management, has collaborated with BBMP to raise awareness among households that hand out mixed waste.

Sahaas volunteers conducting a waste management session in Yelachenahalli.
 Saahas volunteers conducting an awareness session at 8 am for the residents in Yelachenahalli. Pic: Kripa Krishna

An awareness campaign has led to improvements

The awareness campaign is conducted every day during the waste collection period, i.e. between 7 am and 10.30 am. Every household in the ward has been mapped and their waste collection behaviour (whether waste has been segregated and collected) is noted daily. Any household not segregating or handing out mixed waste is marked and an intervention takes place during that time. The NGO also visits schools in the area and conducts awareness sessions about waste segregation. The same is also being planned in community centres to engage residents. 

Yelachenahalli ward (185) SWM operations
Number of muster points1. Om Shakti temple point (near the Yelechenahalli lake)
2. JC Industry area
3. Ilyas Nagar
Number of Pourakarmikas48
Number of contract workers 46
Number of vehicles23
Number of compactors3
Quantity of wet waste/day8-10 tonnes
Quantity of dry waste/day1 tonne
Quantity of mixed waste/day7 tonnes

Data source: JHI

Despite this, the ward’s waste segregation levels are still not up to the mark. “The reason is the failure to send the collection vehicles on time, which discourages residents from segregating their waste,” says Gulab Pasha, an RWA member from the ward. He adds: “Small houses do not have the space to keep two separate bins and this too leads to mixing of waste.”

Additionally, Pasha highlights that since Saahas joined the morning collection round, in the past two months, waste management has been better. However, he points out that the residents are yet to be fully aware of the importance of segregation as a daily practice.

According to Pasha, the lack of proper awareness programmes by the government is one of the main causes of the state of segregation in the ward. Now, with the Saahas awareness campaign in place, both residents and the BBMP Junior Health Inspector (JHI) have noticed an improvement in the ward. 

Segregation levels in low income areas

However, the JHI has noticed a pattern in the ward. Low-income areas see lower segregation levels compared to the high-income areas. Separate vehicles for dry waste and wet waste are sent to high- income blocks, where segregation levels are better. In low-income areas, however, only one vehicle is sent to collect all three types of waste-wet, dry and sanitary. 

In the low-income blocks, the collection autos, which have only one compartment, divide waste using gunny bags. Three sacks, respectively, contain high-value plastic, low-value plastic and the waste that goes to the landfill.

Sanitary waste and mixed waste are thrown into one sack that goes to the landfill. Also, the volume of the dry waste sometimes exceeds the capacity of these bags, forcing the garbage collectors to shift some of the dry waste to the landfill sack.

Read more: Waste management in Bengaluru: Where do we stand in 2023?

The ward does not have a functioning dry waste collection centre. The collected dry waste is sent to centres in Anjanapura and Begur. While there are three dry waste collection trucks in the ward, they do not reach the low-income areas.

The BBMP official justified this practice by saying there is a low supply of high-value plastics in these areas and that the lanes are too narrow for the vehicle to pass through. Due to this, low-income blocks in the ward are sent one auto/tipper per block that collects all three kinds of waste. 

This justification provided by the official only highlights the systemic discrimination in terms of service provisions to low-income areas. It is crucial to make provisions to fit the requirements of the low-income areas instead of completely depriving the households of dry waste collection services.

One of the possible solutions for households in the narrow lane is for the DWCC (dry waste collection centre) to arrange smaller dry waste vehicles (tri-cycles, e-vans, etc.). Currently, this practice of using one vehicle for all types of waste is one of the noticeable reasons why waste management is seen to be inadequate in this ward.

Also, even when households segregate their waste, a lot of the wet waste is handed out in plastic covers. These covers then become non-recyclable due to the wet waste residue, ending up in the landfill. 

The process of segregation

The SWM workers try to segregate mixed waste in the vehicle. Each vehicle is accompanied by two workers, one that drives and another that stands in the compartment and segregates the waste. The workers that segregate the waste often don’t have safety equipment like gloves or shoes.

SWM worker standing inside the tipper without protective gear to collect and segregate waste. Pic: Kripa Krishna

When we brought this to the notice of the JHI, he remarked that the workers prefer not to wear them. While his comment should be noted with caution, the government should be held accountable to ensure the safety of the workers. Working conditions for the SWM workers would be significantly better if they were not subject to collecting both dry and  wet waste (or mixed waste) all together. 

Does the 2023-24 budget consider these failures?

The budget estimate for SWM 2022-23 was Rs. 1621.7 crore and for 2023-24, the estimates are Rs. 1643. 72 crore, out of which Rs. 700 crore is the grant-in-aid towards the Bangalore Solid Waste Management Limited (BSWML), a government-owned company. 

In the last financial year (2022-23), BBMP spent only a fraction of the allocated budget on SWM operations. Out of the Rs. 415 lakh allocated to push carts and bins last year, only Rs. 5 lakh was spent.

Further, from the Rs 190.7 crore allocated to repairs and maintenance of SWM vehicles, plants, machinery and landfill maintenance, only around Rs 49.34 crore has been spent. Considering the inadequate service provisions seen in ward 185, this meagre spending has affected proper functioning of the SWM process. 

Read more: One truck to transport both wet and dry waste: Why this is a problem

Considering that the Jakkur landfill receives around 2,400 tonnes of waste from the city every day, it is surprising that no amount was spent on establishing scientific landfills despite Rs. 100 crore being allocated for that purpose in the 2022-23 budget. 

In 2023-24, the grant received by the BSWML is supposed to be spent on the following: 

  • Push carts and bins, repair and maintenance of vehicles 
  • Repair and maintenance of plant and machinery
  • Maintenance of landfills/waste dumping wards/quarries
  • Hire charges for SWM vehicles; operating costs
  • Outsourced SWM expenses, including Zonta, TPS, and dry waste 
  • Tipping charges
  • Decentralised composting expenses; design, establishment, and operation of scientific landfills
  • Scientific landfill at balance pits in Mittiganahalli and bunds development
  • Village improvement works surrounding BBMP scientific landfills and SWM infrastructure

 We could not find details on how BSWML intends to utilise the grant. Their website is yet to be functional. The lack of transparency in spending is concerning. Considering the status of the Jakkur landfill, which is well beyond its capacity, an action plan ought to be put in place that can put an end to  unscientific landfills. 

Holding accountability

The main objective of BBMP should be to stop unscientific landfills through proper segregation of waste at the source and ensure better enforcement of their own SWM rules and bye-laws. More transparency in their  spending is crucial to ensure that SWM processes are functioning efficiently.

Maintenance of vehicles, provision of dedicated equipment for pourakarmikas and SWM workers, distribution of push carts and bins, and implementation of awareness programs represent just a subset of critical areas that need to be prioritised. While the substantial budget allocation for SWM shows that SWM is a priority for BBMP, the intent fails to manifest in ground implementation. 

(We tried to get in touch with DWCC, but there was no response. This story will be updated if they choose to comment.)

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