Karnataka High Court monitors state of Solid Waste Management in Bangalore

In July 2012, ‘landfills’ were shut down in Mavallipura, a village 30 kms. north of Bangalore, due to mobilisation by Dalit Sangarsh Samithi and ESG. These ‘landfills’ were essentially village grazing pastures and forest, and here the waste was being dumped, and for over a decade, resulting in a range a healthy and environmental problems. ESG has documented these impacts in two report: Bangalore’s Toxic Legacy, 2010 and Bangalore’s Toxic Legacy Intensifies, 2018.

The closure of Mavallipura landfills resulted in resistance of similarly impacted villagers in Mandur, a village north east of the city, and this landfill also had to be closed. The resultant impact was devastating on a metropolis with nowhere to dump its waste, resulting in streets overflowing with waste for several weeks.

As a consequence of this situation several Public Interest Litigations came to be filed before the Karnataka High Court, leading with WP 24739/2012 (Kavith Shankar vs. Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and ors.). ESG filed a comprehensive PIL (WP 46523/2012), and this is being heard along with other petitions since.

A range of directions have been issued by the Karnataka High Court. Primarily it has held that landfilling and incineration of waste, that required concentration of waste locally and their wasteful transportation out to villages to dump or burn, causing devastating health, environmental, and adverse financial impacts, had to end. The Court directed the BBMP to ensure that every Ward of Bangalore would segregate and manage waste at source, and only refuse could be transported out. The implementation of these orders has been tardy, as has been held by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, and also the High Court.

In the process of hearing these PILs, ESG brought to the attention of the Court that a regressive draft Municipal Solid Waste Management Rules, 2013, replacing the 2000 Rules, was being promoted by the Union Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, as an outcome of which landfills and Waste to Energy (burning waste) would become the norm. The Court stayed these 2013 Draft Rules and directed the Ministry to conduct nation-wide hearings, as an outcome of which a new set of Rules could be legislated. The Court also directed the Ministry to ensure the new Rules reflected the Court’s progressive directions. The outcome of this is the prevailing Solid Waste Management Rules, 2016.

Another significant result, again in response to prayers in ESG’s PIL, has been supportive directions of the Karnataka High Court (in 2013) to ensure Constitutionally mandated Ward Committees are set up to help address waste management on ground. This institutional arrangement was needed since the Constitutional 74th Amendment (Nagarpalika) Act, 1992 and conforming changes in the Karnataka Municipal Corporation Act, 1976, in complying with which the State Government has dithered. Finally, as an outcome of directions to the State by the Karnataka High Court, on ESG’s appeal, Ward Committees were finally set up and made operational from December 2018, an unprecedented and historic event in municipalism in India.

In recent months, the Karnataka High Court has held the Karnataka Government responsible for not formulating the State Solid Waste Management Policy as required per the 2016 Rules. In complying with these directions, the State Government came up with a weak and regressive policy, which was opposed by various groups. Consequently, the State Government set up an Advisory Committee to Draft the Solid Waste Management Policy, in which ESG has been a core participant. A comprehensive Draft Policy was proposed as an outcome of this process. However, for reasons unknown, the State Government has submitted an incoherent and incomplete Draft Policy for public review and this is being opposed. This situation has now been brought to the attention of the Karnataka High Court.

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