Bengaluru dumping its garbage in nearby villages
Over seven years, open dumping has created mounds the size of hillocks in the Avalahalli forest area and gomala land near Mavallipura.
In Mavallipura, a tiny village 20 km north of Bengaluru’s centre, water purifiers were an alien concept till a few years ago. Despite its proximity to the bustling metropolis, the village remained largely unpolluted. “We would drink water from wells and borewells without filtering. The water was pure and we had a healthy life,” said Sangamesh R, a farmer. All that changed after 2005, with the city’s garbage being dumped in the open near the village.
Over seven years, open dumping created mounds the size of hillocks in the Avalahalli forest area and gomala land (public commons) near Mavallipura. It is believed that by 2012 – when dumping stopped – 10 lakh tonnes of waste had been dumped. Even now, a pond and an open well a few yards away from one of the landfills brim with black water. The leachate from the hillocks of waste seeps in and contaminates the groundwater. “The landfill was closed in 2012, but the after-effects are beyond repair. The number of cases of cancer, kidney failure, skin diseases are on the rise. Cattle also suffer,” said Mavallipura Ramesh, president of Shivakote gram panchayat. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) did nothing to control the damage. “All they did was instal water purification units in the villages. But they stopped maintaining the units. The panchayat spends from its pocket to maintain them,” Ramesh said.
A decade-long study by the Environment Support Group (ESG) in Mavallipura, released last year, revealed a high concentration of heavy metals in water sources and the serious health threat it posed. No one in the village dares to drink water from open wells or borewells for fear of contamination. Each of the 12 villages in Shivakote gram panchayat, including Mavallipura, has water purification units. Despite purification, the filtered water cannot be stored for more than two days, villagers said. “There are worms if it is kept for over two days,” said N Rajanna, a shopkeeper.
The city’s mounting garbage has also been dumped in empty lands to its east in Mandur, Seegehalli, and Bellahalli, all close to forest areas. At Mandur, about 30 km from the city centre, about 25 lakh to nnes of waste await to be cleared. The dump is located adjacent to the Mandur-Jyothipura reserved forest, within a fenced property guarded by a private security guard. Shivaprakash, a farmer, said the stench from the landfill has not stopped although dumping stopped five years ago. “When the Mandur landfill was running, there were times when we thought of selling our property and going away. Things are better now,” said Shivaprakash.
Naveen B P, associate professor at Amity University who has studied multiple landfills around Bengaluru, said the leachate from the Mandur landfill site has high contamination potential. But with the closure of the landfill, real estate has slowly picked up in the area, with some apartment complexes coming up.
The BBMP is now sending most of the mixed waste to a quarry in Bellahalli. Since September 2016, it has been sending about 300 truckloads of waste every. Locals are already feeling the effects. Rahim Khan, a shopkeeper in Fareed Layout, showed a layer of grease on the water collected in a small tank. “We have been drawing water from borewell. The past few months, we have been seeing this grease. We do not know the reason,” he said.
Though no study has been done on the impact of Bellahalli landfill on the environment, experts said fissures in the quarry pit could cause water contamination. The Bellahalli landfill is on the verge of closure as the quarry pit is almost full. But the BBMP is already developing another quarry pit in Mittaganahalli. “Bellahalli can receive waste for another 15 days. We are preparing pits in Mittaganahalli. The first pit can take waste for four months. A larger pit is being developed in the same area which can take waste for one year,” D Randeep, special commissioner (SWM), BBMP said.
The BBMP is planning landfills for future even though the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has directed it to eliminate landfills in accordance with the Solid Waste Management Rules 2016. The CPCB’s February order was followed by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) order to the BBMP to dispose of legacy waste (waste lying untouched for years) from existing landfills. This means waste from the landfills in Bagalur, Mandur and Mavallipura have to be cleared on priority. “The municipal body has no choice but to clear landfills by carrying out biomining and bioremediation. It has to submit an affidavit before the National Green Tribunal on the action plan and a timeline,” said Manoj Kumar, member-secretary, KSPCB.
Leo F Saldanha, coordinator of ESG, which researched the impact of landfills in Mavallipura, said the issue in waste management is with strategising. “The civic body develops a strategy every time a crisis occurs. They move from crisis to crisis with some technological intervention and technocratic administration, which will not help in the long run. We should take the impact of landfills very seriously as it is a disaster in the making. Waste segregation and decentralised waste management is the key,” he said.