Archive : July, 2012
“Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the Least Developed Countries?”
- Lawrence H. Summers, Chief Economist of the World Bank (excerpt from the ‘Toxic Memo’), 1991
The landfill at Mavallipura
The sky was overcast and huge piles of waste lay at the Mavallipura landfill, black and dreary, with signs of life being only that of stray dogs and flocks of birds scavenging the garbage. The occasional dead tree dotted the land here and there with white plastic bags stuck to its top like a feeble call for peace after a war that was already lost. Carcasses are a common sight at this landfill which once used to be the grazing land for the herds owned by the shepherds of nearby villages. Leachate ooze out of these mounds, finding its way to the ground water with every drop of rain that falls on it.Syringes and other lethal medical waste surface as the mounds of garbage shift shape with the rains.
A short walk from this landfill takes you to the Mavallipura village. A population of 1250 who have been suffering the consequences of the greed and nonchalance afforded by city dwellers living 20km away in Bangalore. Muniraju used to shepherd his 200 goats in and around the landfill which used to be Gomala land, an area set aside by the government for the grazing of cattle. The landfill, established in 2006, was neither scientific nor did it have the clearance from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) to start operations. Six years later, in June 2012, Muniraju passed away succumbing to kidney failure. Leaving a widowed wife, two young daughters (aged 18 and 17) and 35 goats for a livelihood. Chaya, the youngest of the two continue to take their goats to the landfill to graze every afternoon. “Where else can I go?” she asks.
Environment Support Group (an NGO based in Bangalore) and local residents claim that the Mavallipura landfill has been subject to unscientific dumping of waste, with no systems in place for leachate treatment, segregation of waste, or proper storage of the rejects. 1.53million tonnes of mixed waste including bio chemical waste, medical waste and e-waste lie in huge mounds across 48 acres of land. Pools of leachate gather around these mounds. As a result, we now have a countryside with heavy metal contamination (Cadmium) found in it’s ground water as per the reports of tests conducted by ESG and affirmed by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board.
Munichikayya, a resident of Mavallipura displays his skin disease. He works in the fields adjacent to the landfill.
S.N. Ravi (32) is a congenial character, loved by his mother and adored by his friends. “I had booked a Mandapa (wedding hall) for next month. But my wedding got cancelled,” Ravi says ruefully. His engagement was called off owing to his ‘condition’. He was undergoing dialysis every week and will probably have to, for the rest of his life. Increasing number of cases of skin diseases, diarrhea, jaundice, kidney failure and meningitis are not doing much to quell the concerns of the villagers. The Mavallipura lake, the village’s water source remain contaminated. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) provides daily 3ltrs of water per person which is hardly enough, according to Ramesh, a leader of the local political party. With pollution of the ground water fueled further by the rains that carry the toxins as it passes through the garbage, the villagers are left with little option other than to resort to packaged drinking water. Those who cannot afford it, continue to drink the contaminated tap water.
The Mavallipura landfill’s close proximity to the Yelahanka Air Force base (5km away) and to the Arkavati river (which is 2.5km away and is the primary water source for Bangalore city) should have been reason enough for it’s closure. But greed and corruption prevailed and Ramky Infrastructure Pvt Ltd., won the tender from BBMP to establish a landfill at Mavallipura in 2006.
The Mavallipura ‘lake’.
The death of Muniraju and the protests that followed has forced the KSPCB Chairman, Sadashivaiah to direct the BBMP Commissioner and Ramky to immediately stop receiving waste to the facility in Mavallipura. He has also instructed the operator Ramky, to process the accumulated waste completely for composting within 3 months in a scientific manner. “A river can be cleaned, but not the ocean. If the ground water has been contaminated, there is little we could do,” says Leo Saldanha, co-ordinator at ESG. For the villagers of Mavallipura, the damages are permamnent.
Bangalore creates an estimated 4500 tonnes of muncipal waste per day. These wastes are collected by the BBMP and sent to the four landfills in the outskirts of the city. According to the Muncipal Solid Waste Management Rules Yr 2000, organic and recyclable waste should not be taken to the landfills. But mixed waste end up in these landfills making retrieval and recycling of low value items like plastic bags, tissue papers, tetra packs etc difficult. This compounded with illegal toxic waste finding its way to the landfills and a lack of waste-treatment plants, lead to pollution of the ground water such as witnessed in the case of Mavallipura.
Recyclables from Kasa Rasa are unloaded at a scrap dealer’s site in Bommanahalli.
“Why should these poor villagers suffer the pollution caused by the garbage the city creates?” asks Wilma Rodrigues, a woman in her late 40s with a decade of work in Solid Waste Management in Bangalore to her credit. Her NGO, Saahas works in two folds – it manages segregated waste for some 18 enterprises including IT campuses, schools, apartment complexes etc., in Bangalore and also works to raise awareness through outreach programs in schools, colleges and offices. Wilma says the need of the hour is a focus on solid waste management rather than concentrated efforts only on disposal.
At a dry waste segregation facility in Ejipura, Bangalore city, two women work swiftly separating plastic, white paper, coloured paper, tissue, wrappers etc., from a pile of dry waste on the table. The facility, called Kasa Rasa, an initiative of Saahas is the nodal point where segregated dry waste from various institutions are brought together, further segregated to retrieve any recyclables and the absolute rejects are sent to the landfills. A section of the facility is dedicated for composting organic waste. The twenty-two year old Supervisor at Ejipura, Prabhakar, says that although the 1000 households in Ejipura have the option of giving them segregated waste, only 10-15 bother to do so. The rest simply leave their mixed wastes with the BBMP collectors. When asked whether he had talked to them to raise awareness, he says, “Madam, the truth is, as long as their backyard is clean, they just don’t care.”