ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Lives of Waste and Pollution


A crisis of waste and pollution has profoundly altered the landscape of India’s towns and cities. Every urban  agglomeration now features rising hillocks of garbage and streams refashioned to carry sewage. These landmarks multiply on a miniature scale: across neighbourhoods, vacant plots heave with rubbish and debris; local ponds teem with trash and sludge. Less visible but nonetheless ubiquitous is air pollution from the gases and dust that cloak most cities in a toxic haze for the greater part of the year.

The signs of crisis are hard to miss, harder still to ignore. Even the affluent in their gated communities who can insulate themselves from most threats to their quality of life cannot escape the exudations of unruly muck. In “world-class” Bengaluru, on the outskirts of Whitefield, the city’s information technology (IT) hub, lies Varthur Lake. Walk to its edge and you will see pieces of plastic and styrofoam bobbing about in oily black ooze. In the distance, foul-smelling white froth shimmers on the lake’s surface. Discharges of untreated sewage have caused weeds to choke the water. Rotting fish carcasses dot the muddy path. This new ecology has no place for the fisherfolks who once netted a livelihood from these waters, nor for the Dalit cultivators who tilled the fertile foreshores in the dry season to supplement their earnings. This landscape mocks at the adequacy of sanitation infrastructures and makes evident the limits of municipal capacities. Even as city governments strive for a place on the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’s cleanest city rankings, they acknowledge that theirs is an impossible race: as the Red Queen said to Alice, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”

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Updated On : 6th Dec, 2019
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