Why HSR residents are fighting in court against KCDC compost plant

Years of follow ups have not been able to help the KCDC plant in HSR Layout function scientifically, and residents are bearing the brunt. A residents welfare association has recently filed a writ petition in the High Court demanding the closure of the plant.

This tweet from a resident asking the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) if they have planned to kill residents near the Karnataka Development Compost Corporation (KCDC), sums up the despair of the residents over the years who have been residing in the area.

A group of 23 petitioners including the Kudlu, Hosapalya, HSR Layout, SomasundaraPalya, Parangipalya( KHHSP) Residents Welfare Association (RWA), have filed a writ petition in the Karnataka High Court in November 2018 demanding the closure of KCDC citing it to be a major source of pollution.

The residents have run out of patience with the government. “Filing of the writ petition has been the last option for us after several failed attempts to dialogue with the government,” says Kamesh Rastogi, a member of the RWA.

The issues that citizens experience with KCDC 

In an interaction with Citizen Matters members from KHHSP RWA spoke about KCDC being a source of air and ground water pollution, and its impact on their health. Manu Ram, a member of the RWA said the “stench is unbearable and it persists within 1.5 kilometers of the plant based on the direction of the wind. At a given point, either all of them in the neighbourhood experience the stench or most of them experience it.” Lokesh Reddy spoke on how his eyes turn red every time he experiences the stench, and it causes bodily irritation in him.

Kamesh said that as per the Standard Operating Procedure, the Refuse Derived Fuel should be cleared within 15 days, but for the past few months it has not been cleared. The residents said the RDF releases toxic gases and there have been several instances in the past where it caught fire. Manu said that he is suffering from bronchitis and the doctors believe that it is because of the toxic air quality in the region.

Lokesh explained how the groundwater in his apartment turned yellow with contamination. He said: “I have to use the water supplied by the municipality instead. Several other apartments experience this issue and have to either use water supplied by the municipality or get the supply from private tanks.”

Kamesh says that through RTIs people were able to find out that several of the air and water pollution norms have been violated by KCDC. The residents are questioning the basis on which Karnataka State Pollution Control Board has been continuously providing license for KCDC to operate.

The residents have been prevented from entering the plant to examine its workings, for last six months. Currently they require the permission of the Joint Commissioner at the zonal level to do so, which they say isn’t easy to get.

Entrance of KCDC Pic: Arjun Rajan

Efforts by RWA to raise attention to the problem 

The Corporation restarted accepting and processing wet waste in 2013 (it had stopped taking in waste in 2008) as per the directions of the Karnataka High Court, which directed the Corporation to clear all its old waste piles and make itself available to organic waste processing.

The protests against the corporation started as early as in 2014 with residents complaining about the unbearable stench, the contamination of ground water, the noxious gases released due to the excess storage of RDF catching fire, and the stench of compost. People pointed to several health issues including skin related and respiratory ailments. BBMP argued that the plant was functioning well before the construction of apartments, and buyers were aware of the existence of KCDC.

KCDC and BBMP tried various methods including biofilter and sprays to contain the stench. BBMP had in early 2017 hired a Solid Waste Management consultant and her team to fix the issues at KCDC. While several changes were suggested and implemented, the KCDC chairman and staff weren’t happy with the changes. After the contract period of the external consultants, KCDC went back to its previous methods of waste processing.

Formation of Joint Action Team

The protests took a stronger turn in 2017 when the KHHSP RWA (formed in 2015) filed an online petition demanding the shift of the plant to a remote location. As a result of the online petition, Manivannan P, the then Secretary to the Government of Karnataka, Department of Information and Public Relations facilitated the formation of a Joint Action Team (JAT) to find a sustainable solution by January 2018. The JAT included citizens from the neighbourhood, Special Commissioner for Solid Waste Management , BBMP officials and officials from KCDC.

Several action points were made by the JAT ( a copy of the official correspondence was accessed by Citizen Matters) and includes bio filters functional 24×7, regular clearance of RDF, following all the SOPs in running the plant, receiving waste from only neighbouring regions, installation of an online odour monitoring device; provision of safety gears to the employees etc.

Kamesh Rastogi said that the JAT died down because there was no response from the officials, and several of them stopped attending the meetings. And very little has been done regarding the 10-15 action items mentioned. He said that the RWA was willing to work with the government to ensure that KCDC functions in a scientific manner but there was very little response and initiative from the government.

Continuation of protests and promises from political parties

In February 2018, residents took to the streets in hundreds demanding the closure of KCDC. Kamesh Rastogi said that candidates from both Congress and BJP political parties had promised before the elections, that they would ensure that KCDC is closed, but promptly forgot it later.

The residents feel that they have exhausted all options and that approaching the High Court was the only option left. Kamesh believes that the High Court will give directions that will allow the residents to have a satisfactory life.

‘Plant is functioning well’

The BBMP Joint Commissioner (Health/Solid Waste Management) told Citizen Matters that currently KCDC plant is taking in only 100 tonnes of waste per day and are running the plant as per the standard operating procedures. He said that the demand for shutting down KCDC is only by a small section of people and not everyone. “If people don’t want to have a processing waste centre, they need to stop generating waste,” he added, and asked the critics to visit the plant to know how well the plant is functioning.

On the question of the citizens currently not being able to enter the plant, he said that it was a High Court order applicable for everyone. They can write a letter and get the permission from the Zonal Joint commissioner. If they don’t get permission, then they can question us.”

Sandhya Narayanan, a member of Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT), who spoke to Citizen Matters said that while there are several issues with the functioning of KCDC, the solution doesn’t lie in its closure. She suggested that the BBMP invest more in the plant and ensure that it is functioning scientifically, while causing no inconvenience to the nearby residents.

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