Life in Bangalore: Garbage Crisis

The one thing I hate the most about living in Bangalore is – there is no other way to say this – the piles of shit I have to jiggy around everytime I decide to walk to my destination.

The reason we live where we live (meaning our area of Bangalore, not Bangalore itself) is that everything we need – grocery stores, medical stores, other convenience stores, even my son’s school, are all within walking distance. Given Bangalore’s terrible traffic situation, I thought it was best this way. Unfortunately, I failed to account for the absolutely horrific amounts of garbage strewn everywhere and the piles of feces, new ones of which unfailingly appear everyday.

My son’s school is literally within 500 steps of our apartment in a very busy residential/commercial locality (i.e., we don’t live out in the boonies) and I’m not exaggerating when I say that we have to gingerly navigate the streets for everyone of those steps for fear of our feet landing in one of those piles.

I don’t know if my memory of my earlier life in Bangalore has taken on a rosy hue (granted it was more than 10 years ago) or if Bangalore was just a cleaner place then. I just don’t remember seeing so much of the filth I am seeing now. Or maybe I am seeing Bangalore with new eyes. May be Bangalore was just as filthy then, but I was not bothered because I did not know any better.

I loathe to blame lack of infrastructure for the severe shortage of civic sense, but surely that is part of the problem. There is simply not sufficient infrastructure to support Bangalore’s burgeoning population, a sizeable portion of which settles down in slums and sidewalks upon arriving into the city. Early morning ablutions and life, for that matter, have to happen in full view of the rest of the city. There is no alternative.

In a radio interview, the former Deputy-Mayor of Bangalore described the problems the administration runs into when deciding where to place garbage dumpsters. Residents and shopkeepers protest the placement of the dumpsters – “not in front of my house”, “not in front of my shop”, “not on our street” are the constant refrains the administration encounters (reminds me of the NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) movement in the US).

The reason for this is obvious. The residents know two things: one, they themselves are not going to keep the area clean. Garbage will be thrown haphazardly, many a times the filth landing all around the dumpster rather than in it; second, the municipalities will not pick up garbage promptly according to schedule. It is allowed to fester for days and weeks before being picked up and even then, quite a bit of it is left behind because the garbage pick-up trucks are overflowing.

The other part of the problem, and arguably the larger component, is the attitude of Bangalore’s residents. Even when there is a trash can in plain sight (outside fast-food restaurants, for example), no one bothers to use it. Wrappers are strewn on the sidewalk, banana peels fly out of rolled-down widows of cars, straws are dropped nonchalantly on the streets as are plastic drinking cups, empty sites are promtply co-opted to be garbage dumping sites (“flip that garbage over the fence, no one is watching”).

It’s definitely not the case that Bangaloreans are not clean. Oh, no! They all keep their houses clean, the fronts of their houses clean, their backyards clean. But this attitude towards cleanliness just doesn’t translate to keeping the streets clean, keeping the community clean, not dumping garbage in the neighbor’s empty site, not dropping garbage on the streets wherever one feels like it. And here I’m talking about people with education and with good jobs. The ones that are supposed to know better.

Sometimes as I’m walking or riding around Bangalore, I look at the people – on the streets, on bikes, in buses, in carts – and I think where does one even start if a sizeable portion of them is to be educated on how to properly dispose garbage or not to defecate on the streets. When people are worried about basic things like where their next meal is going to come from, safe drinking water, and a roof over their heads, proper garbage disposal, I’m sure, does not even figure on their lists.

But the other portion of the population – the ones with the education, the jobs and the ones that don’t lack the basic amenities – surely, they have no excuse?

4 Comments so far

  1. Libran Lover (unregistered) on April 11th, 2006 @ 6:48 am

    I am quite surprised to read this. I was in Bangalore in May-June 2005, and I thought it was cleaner than I had ever seen it before in my entire life (I am born and brought up in Bangalore).

    You are either staying in or very close to a slum, or I think your problems are very localized. I don’t think this is the general problem of all of Bangalore, the way your blog sounds. You should try your best to get the attention of the authorities about your locality’s problem. Or perhaps try to get help from a newspaper. Newspapers love to print articles about neglect by the civic agencies, along with pictures. Especially, if a formal complaint and no response is involved. Sometimes, this produces prompt results.

    Hope it helps. Good luck.


  2. Buntee (unregistered) on April 11th, 2006 @ 11:03 am

    I agree with Libran. Not sure if this is the issue in every part of Bangalore may be more localized to where you are staying.

    Couple of things I feel could be done. These are simply spontaneous thoughts.

    Why people litter?
    Because they dont care. Because there aren’t enough bins around to throw the waste. I cant think of any other reason why people litter.

    Where is trash generated?
    At homes, outside shops/restaurants & on the roads.

    How to deal with it?
    Educate people. Then penalise them. We need a robust City Corporation-Local Area associations collaboration. Make a rule saying no littering & if done impose a fine. This probably exists but is not working effectively. This is where the resident associations could come in handy. The fine collected could be shared equally between the local area association & the corporation.

    There are not enough trash cans around to drop off the trash. There have been numerous occasions when I have carried the paper I am left with after eating my bhel for long distances till I find a bin or in worse cases I have in frustration dropped it off in some corner. There could be a simple funda arrived at for the placing of the bins. Every road should have a bin every 25 meters or so. These should be small ones & should look good. Out side every possible shop or eating joint where there is likely to be waste generated there should compulsorily be a bin. As of now there is no such thing. The door to door pick up of garbage is not happening completely, this could be revived. We could also privatise the garbage collection system I think that is happening in other cities like Chennai so Bangalore could also do that.

    We should have competitions in the city with respect to the cleanest area & so on. This will motivate the residents to atleast think twice before they do something. Also, I have wondered for a while now where the guys who sweep the roads disappear after their sweeping job in the morning. At a time when every body is working extra hours, shouldn’t they be doing so too? Why dont we see them all through the day on the road sweeping, cleaning?

    I think Bangaloreans have a lot of money. Fine them if they dont follow the rules. Use the money to improve things. Somehow the whole fining concept is not taken seriously at all.

  3. usha (unregistered) on April 11th, 2006 @ 4:10 pm

    I completely understand what Sujatha is talking about.
    Many new layouts are not covered by the garbage collection scheme of the corporation and ence have to contend with overflowing garpage piles for days on end.
    A lot of construction activity happens in these new areas and the construction workers geenrate a lot of garbage which is stren all over the place. And they do not have the basic toilet facilities in these areas and hence have to use the roads which adds to the problem.
    And yes, many people ina bid to keep their houses clean do not bat an eyelid before throwing the garbage on to the vacant site next door!

  4. sujatha (unregistered) on April 16th, 2006 @ 9:15 am

    Thanks all for your comments.

    LL, Some areas may be clean, but they are very few and far between. I guess it depends on where you travel. If it were just the problem with my locality, it would make sense to complain, but this is pervasive.

    Buntee, those are fine ideas – educating and fining the population. I do hope that the city moves in that direction. Although I do see some signs around the city educating people on how to segregate their garbage and where to deposit them, etc., illiteracy is a concern with a huge section of the population, especially the migrant labor.

    Usha, yes, the construction boom does add to the problem. Stones, mud, etc. are just left lying around and they end up clogging the drains.

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