Swachh Kolar: District admin does fantastic work; the city is now a waste-less, world-class model

It all began here at the city corporation office.

It all began here at the district administration office.

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.


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!”

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.

Almost all roads in Kolar, barring exceptions, look like this. You may get to see scraps of plastic, chocolate wrappers 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.

Yes, it didn’t come easy but certainly demanded massive efforts and monumental resolve from the city municipal council (CMC) 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 CMC 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

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 whistle blows 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.

Click here to continue reading…

(Stay tuned for posts on ‘Clean Kolar’ series discussing the process, the whats and hows of waste management, composting, etc.)

6 thoughts on “Swachh Kolar: District admin does fantastic work; the city is now a waste-less, world-class model

  1. So the waste “handling” side has been managed and resolved superbly.

    Time to also focus on the waste “generation” side.
    Analyze the contents of the average household garbage bin and see the percentage of tetrapacks, polypacks, sachets, wrappers and other packaging material that can be neither recycled nor destroyed without harming the environment and that ends up in landfills.

    The packaging may be very cheap (which is why the manufacturer is using it to maximize his profits) but it’s cost to the environment is almost incalculable. The cost of a landfill should be calculated at the same rate as that of the most expensive land in the city from where the garbage that fills that landfill originates. Compute the actual cost to the environment and pin both the responsibility and the cost of dealing with this sort of garbage on the manufacturers. That should force them to change over to more environment friendly packaging.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mr Bharat,

      Thank you for your well-written comment. 🙂

      Yes, the extended producers’ responsibility (EPR) has to be implemented to reduce the packaging pollution. All the pressure is on the consumer and no law goes against the producer. For instance, the people are made to pay for plastic carry bags in stores/malls, which is okay because it puts pressure on the people to carry their own cloth bags. But why is there no pressure on the producers to sell cloth bags? I always carry my own cloth bags but on days when I forget genuinely, it hurts to pay for plastic.

      As you rightly said, we do not calculate the effect of non-biodegradable waste on the environment. Imagine the number of plastic bags it takes out of Bangalore just by replacing plastic bags with cloth bags?


  2. Landfill is not a solution and everyone knows that but the question is do they care. I am sure the Govt is not oblivious to what is happening in Kolar and it is crazy

    that they do not even want to try that model in Bangalore.


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