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Why Bengaluru may never top India’s cleanest cities list

LiveMint logoLiveMint 05-05-2017 Sharan Poovanna

Bengaluru: Bengaluru, which features as a top start-up and information technology (IT) hub, was placed at 210 out of 434 cities for cleanliness in the Swachh Survekshan survey released by the government on Thursday, making a strong case against a city that is historically known for its gardens, lakes and comforting weather.

Bengaluru has become a victim of its own success with unplanned growth that has left the city sunk in a pile of rubbish with tons of uncleared garbage, inadequate public and civic infrastructure, toxic and foam spewing lakes, dipping air quality and clogged drainage systems, only some of the reasons urban experts, old-time Bengalureans and citizen groups cite to reason why the IT capital of India may never make it to the top of the cleanest cities list any time soon.

The common argument tilts towards the sheer size of the city, population and density that is stretching already inadequate infrastructure, making it harder to keep clean when compared to its smaller and less developed counterparts.

So how did the other big cities fare in comparison to Bengaluru?

Most parts of Delhi (except North Delhi) and Mumbai were placed much higher than Bengaluru, while Chennai was placed 24 places below. Indore, Bhopal and Visakhapatnam were the top three of the cleanest cities in the country in the Swachh Survekshan list, under the Swachh Bharat campaign.

Around 150 kilometres from Bengaluru is a much smaller city of Mysore, ranked number five this year after it slipped four places from the top of last year’s list. “It’s funny that Mysore reminds us of old Bangalore (Bengaluru),” said an IT professional who volunteers with a citizen’s civic group.

Though promotional videos and pictures of the Vidhana Soudha, Cubbon Park, Electronic city and the international airport look impressive online, ground realities are quite the opposite for a city literally drowning in its own filth.

“There are over 1,500-2,000 black spots in the city which sport piles of uncleared garbage,” said V. Ravichandar, urban expert and member of the Bangalore Agenda Task Force, a group that works with citizens, firms and administrative agencies to address civic issues in Bengaluru.

“Garbage has become Bengaluru’s nemesis with both civic and citizens failing the city for decades now,” said Ravichandar. Bengaluru produces 3,500 metric tonnes of garbage, of which only 1,700 tonnes are segregated and only four functioning waste to compost plants are operational in the state, leaving a significant chunk uncollected or sent to landfills in the outskirts of the city, according to urban development department.

The protests by villagers around such landfills left thousands of tons of garbage lying uncollected for days in 2012, making international headlines and earning the city the moniker “garbage city”.

The city, which contributes a majority of the country’s software exports of over $100 billion, accounts for over half of the state’s gross domestic product and consumes the biggest chunk of infrastructure spends. But it has been unable to cope with its own growth.

Bengaluru, which even found a mention in American president Barack Obama’s 2010 speech, is still not open defecation free.

Nithya Ramakrishnan, founder of Whitefield Rising, a citizen’s platform that brings locals together to get the attention of civic bodies towards teething issues, said the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the city’s civic body, has come out with workable initiatives like garbage segregation, but laments the will to execute some of these much-needed measures.

Garbage ranks top on Bengaluru’s challenges followed closely by outlet of sewage from homes and establishments.

Over 80% of the 1,400 mld (million litres per day) of water consumed in Bengaluru each day is released into storm water drains, which was originally designed to channel rain water into lakes—which for centuries was the only dependable source for irrigation and drinking water for a city that has no river in over a 100km radius.

Combined with industrial effluents, the sewage water makes it way to lakes, raising a stink.

According to a 2017 Indian Institute of Science study, Bengaluru has seen a 1003% increase in concretisation of paved surfaces, 88% decline in vegetation, 79% decline in wetlands resulting in higher air pollutants, increased temperature and sharp decline in groundwater table.

Water treatment plants have grown in importance—albeit unutilised—for a city whose taps are expected to run dry in mid June due to deficient rains and resulting drought.

A senior BBMP official, requesting anonymity, said the city’s condition is so bad that it would require almost 10 years of work each year to bring the infrastructure on par with growth within the next decade.

BBMP added over 500 sq.km to its jurisdiction in 2006 taking the total area under it to a staggering 824 sq.km. Bengaluru, with nearly 10 million population and growing, has over 65 lakh vehicles and adds almost 1,500 new ones to its already clogged up streets every day, according to the state transport department.

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