Gangs of Nagapura – the Untold Garbage Story

 

A recent article in The Deccan Herald stated “A member of expert committee submitted to the court that waste segregation at source could not be successfully implemented due to existing nexus between contractors and BBMP officials.” Bhaskar and I decided to get first hand information about this, from ground zero. This took us to Nagapura, ward 67. 

When we first landed in Nagapura ward, we saw something unusual and were unable to put our finger on the reason behind it. When we tried to explore, we slowly started to see the nexus between the Ward Corporator, the Garbage Contractor and the BBMP! Here is what we discovered – the untold garbage story of Nagapura.

Nagapura ward sent 232 tons of segregated wet waste to KCDC between April 1 to 22, 2014 – the highest from any residential ward in the city! Here, you will see roads with little or no littering and vacant sites that are visibly clean. The other things you will learn about Nagapura ward will surprise you even more:

A corporator and his team guarding blackspots at mid-night and beyond to find out who is littering and fine them. Some spots even have CCTV cameras installed.

A contractor who continues to work even after his tender has expired with the sole aim of preventing as much garbage as possible from going to the landfill.

 A DWCC which piles up mountains of Thermocole, and spends money from their pocket to transport it all the way to Hoskote, just so it doesn’t land up in the landfill, all the while knowing they will not get paid for it.

A health inspector and her team who track down whoever dumps garbage on the streets, by digging into the garbage and identifying a bill, a prescription or an envelope bearing the address to trace the home and fine the person who has dumped.

30 trucks of coconut leave piled up near the DWCC 30 trucks of coconut leaves piled up near the DWCC

A team that has diverted 30 trucks of coconut leaves this season from going to the landfill.

And one of the few wards where 80%-90% people hand over garbage (other wards are around 50% or lesser).

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The story of Nagapura ward is untold. Because these aren’t people claiming to be garbage champions and needing recognition for the work they do. These are people who consider it their responsibility to keep their ward clean, and do so without making a big deal about it.

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A corporator who can think big and yet work on the ground

 Mr. Harish.S, corporator of ward 67 and Ex-Deputy Mayor, is no ordinary politician. He is a civil engineer and someone who can think big and envision change on scale, and yet does not hesitate to step on the ground and get his hands dirty. Quite literally,

Corporator Harish monitoring loading of thermocole, at ward 67

Corporator Harish monitoring loading of thermocole, at ward 67

in this case. According to the Health Inspector of the ward, Ms. Manjula, the Corporator has personally visited each and every street in his ward, put his hand into other’s garbage, and taught them how to segregate. He has personally done workshops in schools in the ward to promote segregation. And as if this is not enough for a Corporator, he shows us photos on his phone of blackspots that he is personally tracking. He shows us ones that were cleared, and ones that are yet to be cleared.

It does not end at this. The corporator got the whole team to stay up all night and go around the ward to see what was happening and who is littering. They found that every morning, around 4am, a lady comes and collects wet waste from the blackspots; she was found to be taking it to a piggery. They found that waste from poultry shops in the neighboring wards are dumped in the drains of their ward at night. Their mid-night explorations and installation of CCTV cameras has led to many sly residents being fined, warned and eventually, preventing dumping on ground. It is no surprise then that this ward has the lowest number of blackspots that we have seen (8) and the corporator wants to make it zero.

The road sweeper that never hit the road

The road sweeper that never hit the road

In addition to work on ground, he also thinks about the problem as a whole and how it can be addressed. In the past, he really tried to push for weighing bridges to get a clear picture of how much garbage we actually generate; it was rejected. He got an automatic sweeping machine five years ago to ease the burden off PKs; but never got the permission to use it. He asked for additional manpower for his ward, and it never came through.

Yet, his is the only ward in Bangalore, sending around 16 tons (2 compactors) of segregated wet waste to KCDC every day. Though the number of residents who segregate remain very small, despite the best efforts from his end, he has managed to send segregated wet waste to KCDC. It is largely the Pourakarmikas who segregate in this ward. After collection, they find a spot to segregate the garbage, remove the items they can sell, and then load the wet waste to the compactor.

The effort to create change is not an easy one and all of us tend to feel tired after a certain point. But, it certainly restores faith in the system when we meet people such as Mr. Harish. He is a beautiful example of what good leadership can do. Single-handedly, he has motivated the entire team to work hard, across layers, be it the contractor, the Health Inspector or the Pourakarmika. The results speak for itself.

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A contractor who truly cares

The gang from right: Ms. Manjula (Health Inspector), Mr. Srinivas Gowda (centre), Mr. Gururaj, Area Supervisor (standing) and Mr. Raju, partner of the contractor,  at the DWCC

The gang from right: Ms. Manjula (Health Inspector), Mr. Srinivas Gowda (centre), Mr. Gururaj, Area Supervisor (standing) and Mr. Raju, partner of the contractor,
at the DWCC

Bhaskar and I first visited Nagapura ward sometime in October 2013 as part of the DWCC survey that we were then undertaking. At first glance, we saw a DWCC that was clean and largely empty, with no workers. Assuming that the centre is not functioning, we asked to speak with the person in charge. The name told was of the second “culprit” – Mr. Srinivas Gowda, the contractor for the ward. Surprised that a contractor was in charge of the DWCC, we waited for him to arrive while the guard told us fascinating stories about how much respect all the workers have for him, and how he goes out of his way to do good, both for the environment and for the Pourakarmikas. What we learnt when we met him was much more than what we had heard.

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This is the only DWCC we came across where the person in charge has actually paid a deposit for the centre. In all other DWCCs, the NGOs run the centre with little or no signing amount. Mr. Gowda, very simply reasons “The DWCC is not something I want to make money out of. My contract gives me what I need. I simply want to divert as much as possible from going to the landfill.” And it is with this thought that the centre operates in the most sensible manner, compared to other DWCCs.

  • The centre is opened up to the Pourakarmikas (PKs), and there are no other workers there, unlike other DWCCs. This means, the Pks are given a free hand to take whatever they want from the segregated garbage, sell it themselves and keep the money. This not only incentivises them to segregate, but it also ensures that they get a better rate, something the other DWCCs are struggling with, given the expenses of employing labors to do sorting, etc.

    The bathtubs used to grow veggies!

    The bathtubs used to grow veggies!

  • Items which most DWCCs reject and send to landfills such as mattress, chappals, shoes, tyres, bath tubs and other odd items are kept at the centre. These items are also given to the Pks, asking them to pay whatever they can, or find other buyers for it from their community who can reuse such items. The bath-tub was, very interestingly, used to grow vegetables, which again are given to the PKs!

  • Everything else that the PKs cannot sell is handled by the DWCC and given to organizations such as K.K. Plastics. The money obtained from the sale is distributed among all the workers, around 150 of them.

This simple idea of allowing the DWCCs to be centres for and run by the PKs creates ownership, results in better segregation and reduces the burden of having to run a parallel system.

The reason the contractor gives as to why the PKs work so hard in this ward is that he always makes sure that they receive their monthly payment (even if his bills are not cleared on time!). In addition, this is the only ward where we have seen workers wearing gloves. The workers were given gloves, masks, shoes, etc. multiple times, but very few actually wear them. All of them have their PFs and ESI cards, something we have found workers in other wards struggling to get.

From Mr. Srinivas Gowda, others could learn how to create a successful gang. He shows how a little effort in taking care of your workers can ensure much better results. And of course, his passion for saving the environment and its translation to work on ground is by far one of the most sincere ones that we have witnessed in recent times.

Lessons from the Gangs of Nagapura

The efforts put in Nagapura ward and the results it has yielded are very important learning lessons, for understanding Waste Management. This is one of the few wards in Bangalore where a successful Corporator-Contractor-BBMP partnership can be seen in action. So much effort has been put in across all the layers, right from the Corporator to the Pourakarmika, for many years. Which is why it has important lessons to understand the reality of Waste Management.

  •  Segregation at source is a challenge: No matter how much effort is put in with home visits, warnings and fines, very few people actually segregate at the end of the day. And no, it has nothing to do with the mafia! Planning an entire system on segregation is a recipe for disaster. A robust system is one which can be controlled. Whereas, segregation is highly dependent on people’s behavior which cannot be controlled beyond a certain point. How on earth can we build a robust system based on a population of ten million variables?!
  • A PK with segregated plastic

    A PK with segregated plastic

  • BBMP is not the problem: It has become the latest trend to blame BBMP, contractors and elected representatives for a failing waste management system. Having visited 50+ wards and closely interacting with BBMP workers from these wards, we can say with quite certainty that they are not the problem. The Health Inspectors, Area Supervisors and PKs are out on the streets from 5.30 am and work tirelessly till noon, collect from homes, clear garbage on ground, attend to complaints and in some cases do two rounds, just to make up for the shortage in manpower! In majority of cases wherever segregation is happening (other than apartments), it is through the garbage collectors, and not residents. We need to change the attitude of “taking on” the system, and learn to “work with” the system. It is the only way to create sustainable change.

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Unanswered questions

Inspite of the best efforts, the Gangs of Nagapura have many questions unanswered. They have not cracked it all. It is not their responsibility alone to find these answers. It is time we take a hard look at them:

  • The collection system that we have at present has many unclear and grey areas. For example, where should the waste from poultry, meat and fish outlets go?

  • What about dead animals? The load going to landfills will get rejected if there are dead animals, forcing BBMP to bury them in some village in the outskirts.

  • Similarly there is no land given to KEB to dispose trimmings from trees, so how should they handle it?

  • Evey time BWSSB cleans a drain, the onus of disposing the stinking mess rests on BBMP; how should they do it and where should they send it?

    Solutions to these cannot be arrived at by pointing fingers alone. There is so much work to be done on ensuring a more efficient collection mechanism. The story of the Nagapura Garbage Gang does not end here. We will continue to track their “nexus”..

Coming soon….Gangs of Nagapura Part II – the untold garbage story continues!!!

 

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