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Bangalore’s Toxic Legacy: Investigating Mavallipura’s Illegal Landfills”

A brief of a report prepared by Environment Support Group, Bangalore

4 August 2010

The illegal municipal solid waste management landfills at Mavallipura, apart from inflicting extensive damage on the local community, also point to a larger systemic failure in the management of our urban spaces. We may have turned our backs on the grave and urgent problem of waste disposal in our cities, but events that transpired at Mavallipura have demonstrated how far-reaching the consequences are of such irresponsible and unjust disposal of solid waste.

Over 3000 tonnes of waste is generated in Bangalore every day, a good proportion of which is unhealthily dumped in the peri-urban areas of the city, with farmlands and wetlands becoming prime targets. The leasing out of land for dumping wastes to local administration bodies also becomes an easy money-spinner for certain land-owners and the dumping goes on unmindful of the shameless abuse of natural resources and inevitable impacts on the health of local communities.

1st, an Illegal Landfill on Forest Land of Mavallipura:

The sufferings of the people of Mavallipura, a village about 20 km. north of Bangalore, began in 2003 when a local landowner H. Bailappa agreed to lease his land to the erstwhile Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (now known as Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) – Greater Bangalore Municipal Corporation) to dump solid waste from the city on what he claimed was his farmland. With absolutely no safeguards whatsoever, the landfill began contaminating the area. Unable to bear the stench and pollution, and their air, soil and water became super-polluted, villagers launched a systematic protest against the landfill under the leadership of Dalit Sangarsh Samithi (S). Many documents came tumbling out as a consequence of these protests and shockingly revealed that Bailappa had fraudulently claimed forest land to be his own and practised the most callous dumping of wastes. An embarrassed BBMP quickly cancelled the agreement and the Forest Department waking up to this serious violation of the Forest Conservation Act moved in to claim its land largely by burning off the massive mountains of wastes. A key regulatory agency, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), finally woke up to this illegal practice and initiated criminal action against Bailappa, inexplicably exempting BBMP of any wrongdoing.

2nd Landfill in Mavallipura, illegally operated by Ramky:

One would hope this incident would have ensured a more careful approach to siting landfills in future. Quite in contrast to this expectation, BBMP concluded a new Agreement with Ramky Infrastructure Ltd. (RIL) to set up what they claimed would be a scientific landfill for an operational period of 30 years. The site for this landfill was 100 acres of Mavallipura’s common grazing pastures, right next to Bailappa’s now abandoned landfill. Unsurprisingly, local communities knew very little about such agreements that converted their farmlands, forest land and now common grazing pastures into massive, messy, unhealthy and highly polluting waste dumps.

Ramky undertook an Environmental Impact Assessment for its facility in such a desultory manner that it made a mockery of all the environmental standards and safeguards mandated by law. In what appears to be a strong collusion of interests, the EIA Report was prepared by M/s Ramky Testing and Consultancy Services, a subsidiary of RIL. Needless to state, when the subsidiary of an operator is undertaking an impact assessment, it is unlikely that the study will be objective.

On the basis of this Agreement and the EIA, Ramky began receiving wastes in January 2007. This landfill is so poorly managed that it does not even conform to the prescriptions in the terribly weak EIA report or the Concession Agreement. Both these documents claim that the site would involve a leachate treatment facility and that the landfill will conform to all norms and standards. In actuality none of these facilities exist – the leachate treatment system is ignominiously missing in operation and all that exists is a perfunctory leachate collection pond that presently has only plastic sheet along its margins to prevent contamination of soil and surface and groundwater aquifers. Recently, these receptacles became full to the brim causing the leachates to breach their ponds and the toxic waters entered Mavallipura lake.

There is no record to prove that Ramky received waste from early 2007 with the consent of KSPCB as required per the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act or the Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules. For its part, KSPCB has remained a silent witness to this gross violation of law, and merely resorted to issuing notices on Ramky and BBMP whenever there have been acute pollution events and not following up such threats with punitive and corrective action. This callous disregard for implementing environment regulatory norms that are backed by powers of criminal prosecution has been sustained despite protests from the people of Mavallipura and other villagers who are demanding that the toxic landfills be shut down, the area decontaminated and affected communities compensated.

Serious Violations of siting norms by the landfills:

There are many more alarming factors to location of these landfills. The Mavallipura landfills are merely 2.5 km. away from the flow of River Arkavathi and comprehensively violate an order of the Karnataka Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment that protects the 1453 sq km watershed of Tippagondanahalli Reservoir across Arkavathi – a major drinking water source for Bangalore – from polluting facilities. Studies by KSPCB reveal that the leachates released from Bailappa’s and Ramky’s dumps have contaminated surface and ground water significantly, particularly Mavallipura tank which is part of a chain of lakes that ultimately discharge into the Tippagondanahalli Reservoir.

Another shocking feature of these landfills is that they are located merely 5.6 kms from the critical defence facility: Yelahanka Air Force Base. Air crashes occurred here in recent years, killing Air Force pilots. When ESG enquired with Air Force officials about the cause of these crashes under the Right to Information Act, the information was denied on grounds of protecting defense secrecy and national security. However, defence authorities have consistently raised their concern against continuing with these landfills, stating that they present a clear and present danger to air security due to the large number of scavenging birds that are attracted to the garbage. The Air Force has also refused to consent to these landfills, despite several appeals by the Karnataka Government. It is also important to note that two more airports are proximal to these landfills: the civilian Jakkur Flying School and Bangalore International Airport. Not only is such siting in clear violation of applicable standards, but is also an alarming indicator of the cavalier approach adopted in protecting defence and civilian air safety.

What ESG’s Independent Study reveals:

In this context, ESG’s comprehensive water analysis in and around the landfills, first in 2006 and then again in 2009, reveals that toxic leachates from the landfills have severely contaminated local water sources, especially drinking water sources of Mavallipura. Yet people continue to consume this water without any alternative.

Shockingly, the studies have revealed that heavy metals are being released by the landfills into the water sources – quite uncharacteristic of municipal garbage, indicating thereby the strong possibility that these landfills have been receiving hazardous wastes as well. The 2009 results reveal that the condition is far worse than it was in 2006, thus pointing the source of contamination to be the Ramky facility which became operable in 2007.

With water contamination widespread, diarrhoea is very common. This has resulted in people becoming increasingly vulnerable to a variety of infections and children appear generally malnourished. The most alarming indicator of the high rate of human toxicity is that the village has discovered a sudden spike in the rate of cancers, kidney failures and heart diseases. Also prevalent is a sudden fall in immunity levels of small children. Livestock is also highly vulnerable to the impacts of pollution, causing serious economic losses to communities. With flies, mosquitoes, rats and dogs swarming this place, life for this idyllic village has become a veritable hell. The stench from the waste is horrendous, and the swarms of flies make eating inside mosquito nets essential.

As a result, people are dying in Mavallipura today. In the span of five days, last month Mavallipura lost a 15 year old boy Akshay Kumar to dengue, while Rajanna, a 60+ man, lost his short battle with cancer rather quickly.

What now?

The question that now remains is if the siting norms are so comprehensively violated and the scale of pollution is so extensive, why are regulatory authorities hesitating to take action per law and relieve the unfortunate communities of Mavallipura and surrounding villages from their misery of living with Bangalore’s waste.

Clearly, the Mavallipura landfills are appalling indicators of the callous disregard that BBMP has for public health and environmental laws and standards of India. It is also demonstrative of their active contempt of the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India which has taken extraordinary efforts and gone into thorough detail directing municipal authorities to arrest such environmental pollution. This situation is also sure evidence of the careless disregard by the municipal authorities, landfill operators and regulatory agencies of the Fundamental Right of the communities of Mavallipura and surrounding villages to live a life of dignity, and in a clean environment.

While it is easy to blame BBMP and the landfill operators, the responsibility also lies with all who generate waste. There is no excuse for the inertia and resistance shown by people and authorities alike in fundamentally changing the way we treat and dispose our household wastes. There is an overwhelming need now for people to start segregating their wastes at source, recovering recyclables and composting organic wastes locally, and and only dispose non-recyclable waste in a safe and dignified manner. On its part, municipal authorities are obligated to support these simple, cost effective and intelligent systems, and not resort to dumping waste callously near vulnerable communities.

This situation is a grim reminder of the consequences of disregarding our collective civic responsibility and neglect of public health and the environment. A larger disaster is waiting to happen if we ignore this warning now.


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