A Comptroller and Audit General (CAG) audit report for 2017 provides damning insights into the apathetic attitude of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) towards dealing with waste disposal in the state. In the 40 years of its existence, the KSPCB has not created a database of polluting sources and pollution loads for Karnataka, the CAG report points out. Not only did the KSPCB not monitor properly the quality of water in Bengaluru's lakes but also, it failed to shut down sewage-spewing industrial units near the Bellandur and Varthur Lakes, as ordered by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). The audit report describes KSPCB's dismal efforts to monitor water quality in 189 lakes as "piecemeal." It points out that of the 162 industrial areas in Karnataka, consisting of 18,578 units, only 7,451 units are covered by common effluent treatment plant facilities. The KSPCB's performance in improving air quality is no better. It has reduced the number of inspections by 44%; this, when air pollution by industrial units and vehicles has grown dramatically in recent years.
If the KSPCB is indifferent towards the pollution of water bodies in the state, it seems clueless about the disposal of deadly biomedical waste from hospitals. Studies show that many hospitals, diagnostic centres and clinics in Karnataka are not segregating their waste, which means that biomedical waste, body parts, etc., are being dumped along with general waste. When this waste is not disposed of scientifically, it contaminates water-bodies and the soil and enters the food chain. Besides, this leaves people like ragpickers, for instance, vulnerable to diseases which they contract when they touch blood-soaked bandages or injection needles with their bare hands. But the KSPCB seems unconcerned about any of this. It has not cracked down on hospitals which violate biomedical waste management guidelines. Indeed, as the CAG report points out, the KSPCB does not know where biomedical waste from around 3,473 medical facilities is being dumped.
This is a shocking state of affairs, and KSPCB and its chairman Lakshman must be held responsible for it. The pollution watchdog is simply standing by while human health and our environment are being systematically destroyed. Whenever residents raise concern over the toxicity of Bengaluru's waste, various government agencies react by blaming each other. It is true that BBMP, BWSSB and even residents are responsible for the shoddy state of waste disposal. But it is the KSPCB that is the primary body that is responsible for scientific waste management. It cannot absolve itself of responsibility for the messy state of affairs. The NGT guidelines need to be implemented in letter and spirit.