swach bharat a
R Rajagopalan
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan and Municipal Challenges

Why proactive participation of citizens in the Clean India campaign can be a tough challenge

The Prime Minister is calling for active citizen participation in the development process to make it a people’s movement. The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, or the Clean India campaign promoting cleanliness, needs massive participation at individual, local community and municipal levels. Otherwise, it will sink without a trace like countless earlier campaigns.

If citizens have to work within the confines of government driven programmes, the chances of success are slim. Wherever possible, policies, funding and implementation should be designed to empower our citizens to take responsibility for such programmes in their own hands, rather than looking up to authorities.

Let us discuss a concrete example.

Of late, Bangalore has earned the epithet as ‘garbage city’. The current generation can scarcely believe that there were more than thousand lakes in Bangalore. Large sections now depend 100% on water tankers. Hundreds of non- government organizations (NGOs) and activists are fighting pitched battles to save the remaining lakes, its famous parks and for proper disposal of waste. But the alleged mafias behind land encroachment, water tankers and garbage transporters are frustrating many such initiatives.

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Residents of several apartment complexes do segregate their garbage as per guidelines. But the municipal transporter mixes the segregated garbage to charge more from the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) for taking it to the landfill. It is better to localize the disposal of garbage as much as possible. Some apartment complexes want to and indeed are processing their waste by installing Organic Waste Converters (OWCs) at considerable cost.

Most of the surviving lakes in Bangalore are polluted with sewage water. The developers of large apartment complexes are therefore required to get a ‘No Objection Certificate’ (NOC) from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB). Such NOCs presumably assure adequate water supply and sewage disposal arrangements. Often, BWSSB does not supply the promised quantity of water even after collecting all charges. Even if they do have water to supply, there are reports of a nexus between BWSSB and the water tanker mafia to create artificial shortages to boost demand for tankers. So, residential complexes drill their own bore wells, contributing to further groundwater depletion.

Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) have a vested interest in contributing to Garbage Disposal, Sewage Treatment and Water Supply through Rain Water Harvesting. This is where the local government policies kill any incipient citizen initiatives. Bangalore, for example, systematically discriminates against any potential action at the level of apartment complexes.

In contrast to independent residences, apartment complexes are called ‘bulk consumers’ and ‘bulk generators’. In private commerce, such bulk consumers will get concessional rates and better services. In fact, it costs less to serve them. BWSSB has to install just one meter and make one collection rather than dealing with hundreds of individual apartments. Bad debts are nil. However, BWSSB’s pricing policies are perverse!

BWSSB charges thrice the rate for water supplied to apartment complexes calling them ‘bulk consumers’- as of now Rs 19/kilolitre compared to Rs 6/kilolitre for independent houses. My RWA pays around Rs 4.5 lakh a month in water charges, instead of Rs 1.5 lakh. If we had not been an apartment complex, BWSSB would have to deal with 2000 independent houses! Our BWSSB water supply, on the average about 7-8 lakh litres/ day, fluctuates between 0 to 14 lakh litres on any particular day, forcing us to keep some 10 water tanker suppliers and the local BWSSB staff in good humour.

That is not all. BWSSB levies a sanitation charge which is 20% of the charges for the water. Therefore, apartment complexes land up paying thrice the rate for independent houses. But being tagged ‘bulk generators’ they are also required to set up their own Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) by the KSPCB and let out only treated water- an enormous additional burden on them. PSPCB also exacts a ‘water cess’ from them for using the water supplied by tankers.

Even if you dig your own bore wells and lucky enough to get adequate water, you cannot escape from such discriminatory treatment. BWSSB charges a bore well license fee of Rs 50/month/well, assuming that one cares to get official permission. However, if the bore well is dug by an apartment complex, then Rs 50/month/well is charged for each apartment! Thus my apartment complex is paying Rs 10000/ well/month compared to just Rs 50/well/month for an independent Bungalow!

door to door

BBMP charges a ‘Garbage Cess’ over and above the property tax- roughly some Rs 10-12 lakh per year from the 2000 apartments in my complex. In return, BBMP is supposed to ensure door-to-door collection of segregated garbage. BBMP indeed does so for independent residences, never mind the regularity. However, BBMP does not do any door to door collection in apartment complexes arbitrarily classified as ‘bulk generators’. The respective RWAs have to manage that. BBMP’s garbage transportation contractors demand extra illegal payments to move the collected garbage to the landfill, though BBMP also pays him.

In addition, now such RWAs are required to install OWMs. This implies that but for the disposal of inert and sanitary waste, RWAs are expected to be on their own. This is an ideal for citizen participation. But BBMP refuses to exempt such RWAs from the Garbage cess. This is sheer discrimination. If one lives in a huge independent Bungalow, one will get all these services from BBMP by just paying garbage cess. But if you are a resident in a flat, you get nothing!

The discrimination doesn’t end here. The Central Government’s service tax rules say that such apartment complexes are providing a ‘service’ and hence are liable to service tax of 12.36% on maintenance charges collected from residents! Never mind that they are serving themselves! The real icing on the cake is that if there is only one common meter for all apartments in a complex, even the water charges paid to BWSSB or private water tankers will attract service tax!

Honestly, can we expect an apartment dweller in India’s cities to participate in the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan?