Swachh Kolar: How Kolar became a waste-less, world-class model for city sustainability

Persistence and patience helped Kolar’s administration change the way its residents thought about waste; a model every city could replicate.


It’s hard to think of fitting opening lines for this story without littering them with adjectives. I am taking refuge in this hair-raising conversation from Interstellar to tell a tale of a tiny little spot on our own beloved Planet Earth.

Prof. Brand: There are so many reasons why our communications might not be getting through.

Murph: I know Professor. I’m not sure, what I’m more afraid of. Them never coming back or… coming back to find we’ve failed.

Prof. Brand: Then let’s succeed. So, back to the fourth iteration. Let’s run it through some new fields.

Murph: With respect Professor, we’ve tried that hundreds of times.

Prof. Brand: It only has to work once, Murph.

 

It all began here at the city corporation office.

It all began here at the city corporation office.

If it has to work only once, it has in Kolar. And, it has worked a treat!

Most often, the wretched state of affairs at all levels in Bengaluru gives plenty to think about, but little to hold on to. “Hope grows grey hairs” and optimists have to dig deep to stay afloat. If you tell waste management campaigns have succeeded in various apartments in the city and that all it needs is political will to replicate it, naysayers look at you as if you are cooking up some hyper-epic hokum and say: “It’s no big deal. It is easy to communicate with a small community. It has to work at the ward level, the city level, you see? That’s not easy!”

Almost all roads in Kolar, barring exceptions, look like this. You may get to see some scraps of plastic and chocolate wrappers here and there, but heaps are very rare, if not totally absent.

Almost all roads in Kolar, barring exceptions, look like this. You may get to see some scraps of plastic and chocolate wrappers here and there, but heaps are very rare, if not totally absent.

A trip to Kolar as part of the Solid Waste Management Round Table fact-finding mission yesterday debunked so many such myths about what cannot be done at the macro-level.

Yes, it didn’t come easy but certainly demanded massive efforts and monumental resolve from the district administration officials led by Assistant Engineer Kotreshappa Benni and Health Inspector K G Ramesh. These officials drew inspiration from their leader District Commissioner D K Ravi whose near-hypnotic conviction dealt with all kinds of bureaucratic challenges and public apathy. He wanted to put an end to the Kolar’s garbage crisis. That he did it with such vision and left behind a priceless legacy this nation can be proud of. That’s because this model is a shining reaffirmation of the optimistic premise that the government can be an agent of change. No wonder the people were saddened and protested when DC Ravi left Kolar district over a routine transfer.

Kolar’s initial struggle

Kotreshappa says just like Bengaluru, Kolar had also launched a manic hunt for landfills to dump its garbage five-six months ago. As a series of villages around Kolar refused to budge, garbage began piling up inside the city. Let by their DC, Kotreshappa teamed up with Ramesh, a health inspector par excellence. The district administration launched campaigns and held door-to-door campaigns on segregation at source and one-on-one meetings with every stakeholder: offices, restaurants, canteens, schools, hospitals, shop-owners, meat shops, hair-cutting salons, fruit and vegetable vendors, etc. The people held protests and refused to segregate.

Far from yielding, the officials went ahead with their campaign and refused to clear unsegregated garbage. More than the rotting mess, it was their unshakeable resolve that finally had the people falling in line. It took just weeks to change people’s attitude.

The transformation

‘I will fold my hands if you segregate your waste, I will serve you if you co-operate’

‘I will fold my hands if you segregate your waste, I will serve you if you co-operate’

Assistant Engineer Kotreshappa explains the process to the visiting team. Health Inspector K G Ramesh (in black jacket) looks on.

Assistant Engineer Kotreshappa explains the process to the visiting team. Health Inspector K G Ramesh (in black jacket) looks on.

Women come out of their houses to give waste to the pourakarmikas when they hear the whistle blow.

Women come out of their houses to give waste to the pourakarmikas when they hear the whistle blow.

Neatly segregated wet waste.

Neatly segregated wet waste.

Wet waste collected from many streets is waiting to be picked up by a truck at a collection point. What a sight!

Wet waste collected from many streets is waiting to be picked up by a truck at a collection point. What a sight!

The transformation is visible: All streams of wastes get processed: kitchen waste is composted, dry waste is recycled and sanitary waste is incinerated. All this isn’t as easy as stating it in a line. You can see even roadside vendors keeping their own bins and segregating religiously. Fruit and vegetable stalls look so obviously clean and well-kept.

The result is clean roads without heaps of garbage on the roadsides. You hardly get to see pigs and dogs rummaging through the contaminated waste. Pigs live in a piggery 5kms away. Cows and buffaloes can be seen here and there. No wonder Kolar has drawn attention from British and African delegations and appreciation from none other than Almitra Patel.

This change gives hope on many counts:

Shahzadi is nearing 75. She hears it right when the PK blows his whistle and walks out to give her segregated kitchen waste.

Shahzadi is nearing 75. She hears it right when the PK blows his whistle and walks out to give her segregated kitchen waste.

  • Garbage crisis (or any other) is all about people management. Waste is just an ingredient at your disposal.
  • It calls for systemic changes, not just cosmetic or a ham-handed and fragmented approach to an issue of this scale. When a system is set up efficiently, it becomes sustainable.
  • No matter how much of catalystic involvement comes from NGOs and activists, it is of no consequence unless the local administration realises this singularly important truth: In a democracy, the government has to take charge. When it does, nothing can stop it from achieving noble goals.
  • Leadership: Without leaders, the field is nothing but a ship with a mast but no sail. It drifts endlessly.

Remedy for Bengaluru is just 70 kms away.

Hmm… I am just doing my job!” Is that what this little two-year-old Noor Hazira saying?

“Hmm… I am just doing my job!” Is that what this little two-year-old Noor Hazira saying?

A problem is a problem only if we think so. Otherwise, each problem presents itself as an opportunity to scale new heights. In terms of population, Kolar city approximately equals two wards of Bengaluru which has a total of 198 wards. Our officials need not travel to foreign locales to study waste management because their solutions most often do not fit into the local context.

They just have to visit Kolar. Once.

This article is a part of the series Swach Kolar, republished from the Endlessly Green blog. Click here for the original article.


  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Savita Hiremath has been a journalist since 1997 and has worked with Deccan Herald, The Times of India, and The New Indian Express. She loves to write on women's and Dalits' issues, HIV/AIDS, and environment. more

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  ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Savita Hiremath has been a journalist since 1997 and has worked with Deccan Herald, The Times of India, and The New Indian Express. She loves to write on women's and Dalits' issues, HIV/AIDS, and environment. more

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