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Rubbish mountain chokes IT capital

- People Living near dumps bar trucks, Garbage piles up
Garbage piles up on a central Bangalore street. Picture by Bangalore News Photos

Bangalore, Aug. 28: The Garden City has turned “garbage city” with two of its three landfills out of bounds because of villagers’ resistance and the third choked out of its capacity to take any more waste.

Refuse has been piling up from the streets to staircases, with collection and removal having stopped over a week ago because the garbage trucks have nowhere to go.

The monsoon has worsened the all-pervading stink of putrefying waste while cases of dengue and malaria have deepened residents’ concerns about rubbish lying open in the streets. The city of one crore generates some 4,500 tonnes of garbage every day.

“It’s impossible to step out of my home,” said Saraswati Pai at Domlur in east Bangalore.

“We haven’t seen the garbage van for days, and you can see the pile,” said Muniswamy, a watchman at a block of flats in the Old Airport area. The lift in the building reeks from the garbage piled under the staircase.

If Bangalore has been holding its breath for the authorities to act, all that a clueless BJP government has done so far is transfer civic commissioner Shankarlinge Gowda without explanation. But yesterday, Karnataka High Court rapped the administration and sought immediate action and a report by Wednesday.

The issue has now become political with the Congress holding a sit-in that caused a severe traffic logjam today. “They (the BJP) have no idea how to run the state and this once-beautiful city,” state Congress president G. Parameshwara said.

He said the party would observe a day’s “bandh” across the state if the situation does not improve within a week, for “this is a very serious issue in terms of health and hygiene”.

It all began with a strike by some 18,000 city sweepers from August 8 on the orders of their contractors in solidarity with some 150 engineers hauled up for alleged corruption. The engineers had been charge-sheeted by the Bangalore Metropolitan Task Force, a police wing that deals with civic graft.

The strike was called off after two days with the government accepting the protesters’ demand and removing inspector-general of police R.P. Sharma from the task force. The workers began cleaning up the heaps of trash but Sharma approached the Central Administrative Tribunal and got his transfer stayed till the next hearing on August 30.

A new problem hit the corporation, however, when residents around the city’s main dump yard in Mavallipura, a village on the outskirts, started a protest asking the corporation to find an alternative site.

When the garbage trucks rolled towards another existing dump and segregation unit at Mandur, residents of that area too refused to allow any more waste to be deposited there. Some protesters allegedly lit a fire yesterday that partially destroyed the waste segregation unit.

Since both areas are in BJP constituencies, the government is wary of taking on the agitators, who have blocked roads to prevent garbage trucks from reaching the landfill sites. The third dump yard, in Doddaballapura village, is overflowing and cannot take any more garbage.

State health minister Aravind Limbavali today said the government had identified a new landfill site in Chintamani village near Kolar, some 75km to the north of Bangalore. It’s anyone’s guess, though, whether residents of that area too would start agitating.

The crisis is the result of years of complacency and lack of planning. The existing landfills had been earmarked when Bangalore generated just 2,000 tonnes of garbage a day. They were sufficient for a city corporation area that was just 226sqkm then.

But the IT boom of the late 1990s helped stretch the city across more than 800sqkm and more than doubled the garbage it produced.

“We all knew that something like this would happen someday,” said the manager of a restaurant in Church Street who identified himself only as Aneez.

“What’s missing in the city today is urban planning —look at the pathetic state of the roads and the erratic power and water supply,” he added.