Saturday, October 27, 2012

India 25: Leave it To the New York Times and Garbage in Bangalore


 
Bangalore’s newspapers have been reporting and editorializing on the  city’s garbage problem for as long as I’ve been here but it took today’s New York Times to paint the big picture, proving again the value of outside journalism.   

I had read about local business leaders concerned that garbage could ruin the city’s reputation; about garbage contractors who had controlled the lucrative trade in the past and had no stake in solving the problem; of garbage workers striking for back pay; about protests by people living near fetid landfills; and of an ambitious drive to have everyone sort their garbage into dry and wet waste. But the NYT put the big picture together.

We learned from the Times that the gleaming, self-contained campuses of global IT companies that have sprung up here in the last 20 years paid garbage companies to haul away their waste—where they did not know or much care.  The head of Infosys—which has 150,000 employees—told the Times that at some point people in Bangalore will turn on them.  We can’t keep living in our green islands, one of the company’s co-chairmen said.

The city is down to its lasts landfill, the Time’s Gardiner Harris reports.  All the quarries have been filled and groundwater contamination has polluted 300 lakes.  The city never adopted modern garbage handling systems.  “Ubiquitous garbage shows the rupture of Indian governing and the dark side of rapid economic growth,” write Harris.  In Bangalore, the system may simply collapse.

Walking around my neighborhood today I could, again, within a couple blocks see women drop little plastic bags on a common pile.  Dogs root around here and in other neighborhoods, cows.  Then the piles disappear or move somewhere else but starts over again.  There has never been garbage piled in front of my gate but when someone left tree branches on the sidewalk it attracted household trash.  The picture below was shot three blocks away a couple of hours ago. The sign in the background says "Do not dump garbage here."
 
 

My guess is landowners don’t own the sidewalks so they’re not responsible.  There are no alleys or apparent places for garbage to be set out and, unlike Mumbai, I’ve never seen a garbage truck.    There is supposed to be door-to-door pick-up and this is becoming an upscale neighborhood but all I’ve seen are little handcarts, like one used by the rag picker on my block.

The city does have one idea that sounds hopeful:  pay the city’s 15,000 rag pickers 100 rupees a day to separate garbage.  I tried to talk to two rag pickers today about this prospect but neither spoke English. Later Sunday night, I go out for a walk and two boys come by, one pushing a bicycle on which is mounted a very large white plastic bag while the other scours the streets for anything of value, mostly plastic bottles.  Now what will they do with it?  Where are scavengers supposed to deliver sorted garbage—or any garbage?  And where will it go now that the city is down to its last landfill?

Ada County, Idaho, is embroiled in a big dispute over a private company’s contract to incinerate trash using as  an unproven technology.  If that’s the worst of our problems, we don’t know how lucky just to roll out a trash barrel or two to the curb and call it done.
The Times of India has been reporting on the health hazards of accumulated garbage.  There have been eight deaths from denge fever including the death of the country’s leading director of romantic movies; thousands of cases of malaria; and now an outbreak of avian flu (attributed to migratory birds) which is killing turkeys.

You'll be pleased to know that Camilla Parker has arrived in Bangalore for ayurvedic and holistic healing, complete with a staff of eight.  I think it's about time I leave. 

 

 

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