CAG report shows how Karnataka's solid waste management is in disarray

Faultlines at urban bodies: Lack of segregation, no identification of dump sites, absence of GPS

By Himanshu Upadhyaya
Last Updated: Tuesday 01 January 2019
Two pigs standing in garbage by a road in Bengaluru, Karnataka.
Two pigs standing in garbage by a road in Bengaluru, Karnataka. Credit: Getty Images Two pigs standing in garbage by a road in Bengaluru, Karnataka. Credit: Getty Images

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) has come out with a very indicting performance audit report on solid waste management (SWM) in 35 urban local bodies (ULB) in Karnataka. The report, which looks at SWM during 2012-13 to 2016-17, was tabled in the state legislative assembly on December 17.

Close on the heels of this performance audit, a hurriedly planned meeting to frame an updated Solid Waste Management Policy (2018) came under sharp criticism by activists and Pourakarmikas (waste collectors). The Department of Municipal Administration had to call it off last Wednesday. Protesters objected to the very short notice given for the consultation and the draft being circulated on the day of the meeting.

CAG auditors had observed that Karnataka has the most outdated SWM policy, dating back to 2004 and it should have been revised to be in tune with SWM Rules, 2016. Five years ago, another performance audit of SWM in Bengaluru severely criticised the city corporation stating: “Efficiency in collection of waste was poor and no efforts had been made to promote waste segregation. Lack of scientific processing facilities at landfill sites and non-compliance with the rules resulted in open dumping of mixed wastes had led to environmental pollution near landfill sites.” You can read that audit report here

This report coming five years later shows how Karnataka’s municipal administration department utterly failed in learning from the previous audit and putting its house in order. CAG auditors observed that test-checked ULBs failed in conducting any realistic assessment of waste generation and rather adopted per capita estimates that were shrouded under questionable assumptions. While even the 14-year-old SWM policy of the state prescribed preparation of action plans and strategy documents, when asked by CAG auditors, it was found that none of the test checked ULBs prepared short-term or long-term plans.

Though requisite committees were formed at the state-, the district- and ULB-level committees were not formed in any of the test-checked districts. Audit scrutiny revealed that dedicated SWM cells were absent in all checked ULBs and there were shortages of manpower in all cadres (Environmental Engineer: 32 per cent, Health Inspectors: 70 per cent and Pourkarmikas: 65 per cent). Of the 35 ULBs checked, 32 were yet to identify sites for disposal of construction and demolition waste. Consequently, construction debris was dumped along roads and near water bodies and low-lying areas.  

Segregation of waste at different levels was either absent or partial in all test-checked ULBs. The state/district/ULBs also failed to notify the classification of items as domestic hazardous waste. Similarly, auditors observed during joint inspection visits, occupational waste (cut Beedi leaves and ash) was mixed with regular SWM during collection. This led to a curious situation where the need to segregate those items received no publicity and mixed waste reached landfills, posing health hazards. 

The CAG audit found that test-checked ULBs were able to process only 26 per cent of the waste collected. CAG auditors severely indicted ULBs for shortage of primary collection vehicles to the extent of 57 per cent. CAG auditors pointed out that open vehicles and vehicles without necessary partition were being used for transportation of waste. The absence of a functional Global Positioning System-based vehicle-tracking system resulted in unauthorised dumping of waste near the bank of River Kabini in Nanjangud.

CAG auditors also raised an alarm and showed how the State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) failed in discharging its duty, stating: “ULBs were operating disposal facilities without valid authorisation from KSPCB and necessary environmental clearance. The required buffer zones around landfill sites were not maintained. Activities that do not conform to the provisions of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)/SWM Rules were taken up in landfill sites. There was evidence of unscientific dumping and burning of mixed waste in the landfills.”

This performance audit goes on to prove that the municipal department and ULBs have gone around with business as usual despite significant civic activism and litigations on the issue. Audit also came across instances of failure by ULBs in collecting and channelising e-waste to authorised dismantlers/recyclers and found the e-waste mixed with MSW.

They found that the absence of proper segregation of waste led to mixing of MSW with plastic waste, bio-medical waste and slaughterhouse waste. Also, healthcare institutions continued to function without proper authorisation and resorted to unauthorised disposal of bio-medical waste.

Environmental activists need to prepare for another round of protracted campaign to drive home the message emerging from this environmental audit by India’s constitutional auditor that tells us about the harsh ground realities around the execution of environmental regulations in Karnataka.

(The author is faculty at Azim Premji University, Bangalore)

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