This used to be a common sight in HSR: BBMP workers standing in knee-deep mixed waste and loading the autos even as they segregated and picked up anything recyclable. These workers’ hands and feet would often be cut by glass shards, infected by hazardous waste. This would force them to skip work often. Mounds of mixed waste filled the landfills day after day, contaminating the soil and affecting the lives of the people living nearby. Empathy towards these people brought together volunteers with a common purpose: to reduce our waste going for landfilling. Ward 174 (HSR) and Ward 173 (Jakkasandra) having active volunteer groups showed to the rest of Bangalore that with citizen participation, we can achieve the impossible.
HSR has long been the forerunner in solid waste management. Ward 174 is known all over Bengaluru for its segregation and proper handling of waste. This has been possible because of the ever-active civic volunteer groups, elected representatives, BBMP officials and contactors working towards a common goal: To make HSR Layout a model ward.
HSR Citizen Forum is a civic group, an NGO working towards keeping HSR clean and green for its residents. The volunteers have spent a lot of time explaining to the residents about segregation of domestic waste. The three-way segregation mandate from The Karnataka High Court in January 2016 gave a much-needed impetus and ammunition to talk to people and create awareness about the importance of waste segregation.
While domestic waste segregation was happening due to awareness creation, the volunteers also found that the street corners and collection points were still the dumping grounds for mixed waste. It did not take very long to figure out that some houses were not keeping any waste outside, due their apathy and laziness towards segregating waste. Evidently, these houses and commercial establishments took cover under the darkness of night to sneak out and dump waste in street corners.
Catching the culprits and educating and penalising them for this illegal dumping was the need of the hour. So some active volunteers of the Forum, under the leadership of Dr Shanthi Thummala, a member of SWMRT, started taking turns patrolling these black spots at night. They did this continuously for weeks, even during rains, to catch the people dumping their mixed waste in these black spots and transfer points. BBMP Health Inspector Vinod was relentless in his effort to keep this illegal dumping under control. He was very tough on the culprits and quickly imposed fine on the miscreants.
Visible changes started showing up in due course. People who frequented these black spots reduced in numbers. Perhaps they figured out that it was easier to segregate waste than carry it under the tight night vigil of the volunteers and officials. This change is perceptible as one walks on the lanes of HSR.
While HSR achieved the transformation enjoying the support from the committed health inspector, Jakkasandra ward (ward 173) volunteers had to find other ways to achieve this without the support of BBMP officials. Mohan Govindappa of this ward, committed to this cause along with a group of 15-20 dedicated volunteers, took help from the Madiwala police when the people caught for throwing mixed waste turned angry. The police were quick to reach and help the volunteers patrolling the troubled spots. The volunteers kept a tight vigil for four nights a week.
This went on week after week. They first tried to understand why people were bringing in mixed waste and asked them to segregate it and followed up to see if they changed their ways. According to Mohan, the volunteers’ relentless efforts and the citizens’ own realisation that clean ward translates to healthy living has helped sustain the cleanliness of the area. One difficult black spot in this ward which used to invite 1.5 tons of mixed waste every day, now hardly has 50 kgs of waste thrown out. Enthused by the transformation, the volunteer group is now thinking of reciprocating the Hoysala’s help by patrolling the area to reduce other crimes.
With or without BBMP support, citizens all across Bengaluru are striving to keep the city clean. All zones have night patrolling officials (health inspector and assistant engineer) who are supposed maintain night vigilance. Citizens should insist that the officials perform their duty to keep their wards clean. This is very important to see Bangalore city transform itself into evergreen Garden City.
By Jayanthi Srikanth and Dr Shanthi Thummala.