How Has Municipal Red-Tape Led to Waste Being Mismanaged in Bengaluru?

Bengaluru has been depending on ad-hoc service providers to meet its waste management requirements, which has allowed "garbage mafias" to flourish. 


Bengaluru, which is considered to be the Indian Silicon Valley, has been among the fastest growing cities of Asia since the 1970s (Directorate of Census Operations 2014), making it the third most populous city in India today. The city’s population has doubled from 4.13 million in 1991 to 8.42 million in 2011 (BBMP 2017). Over the years, the city has absorbed outlying villages and suburbs.[1]  However, from the shining towers of UB City to the recently renovated Church Street, citizens of Bengaluru seemed to be troubled by the same question: Why is our waste still here?  

As in other Indian cities, in Bengaluru, garbage collectors (called pourakarmikas) employed by the civic body sweep the streets and empty the bins placed on roads. This mixed garbage is transported to dumps outside the city in trucks owned and/or operated by the civic body. Landfills in nearby villages, particularly Mandur, became destinations for unsegregated rubbish, spreading disease and squalor (Economic Times 2012; Times of India 2014).  Villagers from these areas have staged protests in recent years (Deccan Herald 2014), refusing to absorb the filth of the city which pollutes their surroundings and harms their health. With waste management functions being compromised, the uncollected waste is a potential source of contaminated water bodies and polluted air.

The disruption in provision of basic urban services due to corruption and subverted policy implementation is a concern that is not uncommon in most cities in developing countries. We examined the legal requirements for contractual obligations relating to public expenditure on waste management in Bengaluru and found many discrepancies. These discrepancies amount to what we term as “non-programmatic policies” on solid waste management. Non-programmatic distributive strategies include policies which have poorly developed criteria of re-distribution (for example, how the tax money is being used) or the designed criteria have been subverted for private gains (Stokes et al 2013).  In this case, this article examines the process used to outsource the task of solid waste collection. 

The unit of analysis is the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) in the context of solid waste management. The empirical data has been collected from municipal databases maintained by the BBMP  and from residents of the city. We conducted five semi-structured interviews with active citizens and retired administrative service bureaucrats who had extensive knowledge of public service delivery and a specialisation in waste management, in order to triangulate the evidence collected through the secondary data and observations of municipal functioning. We also review high court orders and writ petitions filed for the cases  and newspaper reports that elaborate on the status of waste management in the city. 

Background on the Municipal Corporation

The BBMP was set up under the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act of 1976 to maintain city infrastructure and also provide services like solid waste management,[2] healthcare and education. It is administered by a city council of elected corporators representing different wards and  is headed by a deputed administrative Municipal Commissioner, and a selected Mayor. 

Seven city municipal councils, one town municipal council and 111 villages around the city were merged to constitute the BBMP in 2007. With 198 wards,[3] it is the fourth largest municipal corporation in India, responsible for a population of 6.8 million people, in an area of 741 km2 .

In keeping with the Karnataka Municipalities Accounting and Budgeting Rules, 2006, BBMP released a total budget of Rs. 9,327 crore, with revenue expenditure of  Rs. 9,325 crore and a surplus of  Rs. 1.34 crore for the financial year 2018-19 (BBMP 2018; Business Line 2018). Tax revenue is expected at Rs. 2,750 crore, non-tax revenue at  Rs. 2,500 crore, government grants of Rs. 3,660 crore which includes a mere Rs. 306 crore from central government grants. An amount of  Rs. 1,066 crore is earmarked for solid waste management (New Indian Express 2018).

Tendering Process of Waste Management

In some parts[4], garbage is directly collected by BBMP employees, who are called pourakarmikas.  In other parts, the actual tasks of garbage collection and street sweeping is contracted out. The contractors are selected through a bidding process. The bid for solid waste management, as floated by BBMP, are “for collection and transportation of municipal solid waste and street sweeping.” The process of bidding begins when the BBMP publishes a “request for proposal,” in which it instructs the bidders to provide details for the bid. It is usually a “single stage bidding” process wherein the bidder who offers the lowest service fee wins through an open, competitive process. The bidder is expected to assess investment costs independently before submitting the required documentation to enter the competition. The process takes place on a unified e-procurement platform.[5] Each bidder submits a sum of Rs.10 lakh as a bid security which is refundable. Post the submission of bids, they are evaluated by the BBMP. The criteria for selection includes the amount of the monthly payment the contractor receives for services rendered, which is referred to as the service fee. Selection also depends on the experience the entity has in the field of work, the number of vehicles the entity owns (such as auto tippers, luggage autos, compactors or tipper lorries), the number of operational staff employed by the entity for the past five years, the net worth of the entity and the average annual turnover (BBMP-RFP1 2015; BBMP-RFP2 2015). The weightage given to each criterion is undisclosed. 

Eligible bidders include a single entity, or a group of entities (referred to as a consortium), which may be a company registered under the Companies Act, 1956. The bidding process is overseen by a committee at BBMP and the selection takes place on the e-procurement platform. This platform is transparent to every bidder, but not to the end consumer of the public good (BBMP-RFP1 2015; BBMP-RFP2 2015). 

The “Request for Proposal”  (RFP) is in two volumes [6]. Volume 1 is more than 60 pages long, and consists of three schedules and seven appendices. These appendices contain minute details, listing even the type of gloves that the pourakarmikas need to use. Volume 2 consists of another 61 pages, with extra details on the observance of BBMP assets, and the penalties for damaging the same. 
With such exhaustive RFPs, contractual obligations, and such a detailed selection process, why does the city still face such a rampant solid waste management problem? 

Schedule C of the RFP describes the work as a daily door-to-door collection of wet waste from households at 7 am, and from commercial establishments at 1 pm. This is to be followed by the transportation of garbage from slums, all of which are then transferred to auto-tippers. It also prescribes secondary transportation to designated locations, and door-to-door collection of dry waste on alternate days using specific types of vehicles.  
This document is intended to allow the BBMP to monitor the manner in which the contract should be fulfilled by a bidder. In Volume 2 of the RFP, Section 10.1 outlines what a “default” in service provision would be. Section 10.3 details the conditions for termination by both parties. The document is comprehensive in discussing outcomes, from “failed to provide service in accordance with the implementation plan,” to terrorist attacks, and earthquakes. The implementation plan that the contractor is held accountable for is drafted and provided by the contractor. 

The contractor may use the draft services agreement attached to the bid document to provide his own implementation plan. It provides detailed clauses which discuss how the obligations of the contract have to be performed by the service provider. It covers an implementation plan, with timelines, maps, details of equipment, manpower and vehicles and maintenance plan, training of manpower, grievance redressal, and handling of emergency situations.
Given that there have been no bidders for the BBMP solid waste management contract, it is safe to assume that the expectations set for the implementation plan are too high for any bidder to ever meet the letter of the agreement. The city has not signed a bid for solid waste management tender since 2011. It has been more than seven years. There have been protests by activists who have managed intervention by a special court (Sri B R Ganesh v The State of Karnataka 2012).

Ad-hoc Service Providers

In order to meet the waste management needs of the city, the BBMP chooses interim contractors. These contractors are expected to lease out vehicles that they own. These vehicles include tipper autos, compactors, tractors and tipper lorries. Initially, the contractors also provided manpower, but due to gross mismanagement of their salaries and protests by the pourakarmikas, the BBMP began paying the workers directly (Hindu 2018). This ad-hoc contracting process shifted the responsibility of waste management entirely to the BBMP,  since the contractor is only responsible for the vehicles he has leased. It was also found that contractors do not receive payments for months on end, which increases their costs and makes functioning difficult. They also do not receive the electricity and fuel subsidies agreed upon in the contract unavailable to the public (Interviewee-2I 2017).

The BBMP’s response, when questioned, has always been that no bids are received for tenders issued and sometimes, courts stay the tendering process. Given that the High Court has ruled in favour of the public to ensure proper garbage disposal in Bengaluru (Sri B R Ganesh v The State of Karnataka 2012), therefore, it is unlikely to entertain casual or frivolous litigation to hamper the process of garbage disposal. 

Deterring Bidders

Given this scenario, one must ask, what use is the RPF if it prohibits contractors from taking up the job. If the lengthy, cumbersome bidding process acts as a barrier for service providers who wish to enter the market, then the eligibility criteria developed by the BBMP, does not permit potential bidders to even begin the process. 
Potential bidders include non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Saahas, Haasiru Dala and Wet Waste which focus on garbage segregation and pay workers minimum wages. They meet legal health and safety requirements, and either recycle the collected waste or turn it into compost.  They also have the required work experience and research to develop more efficient plans for collecting and transporting the waste to the segregation centres.
However, they do not have the required financial turnover or the amount to deposit as safety to register for the bids. These barriers to entry also leave out the self-help groups (SHGs) which consist of former pourakarmikas who have worked in the field of waste management for the past 15 to 20 years. SHGs of women workers were promoted, assisted and monitored by government departments that collect garbage from houses themselves and respond to training and public complaints. Like the NGOs, they do not have the financial means to contest in the bidding process but have the necessary skills for waste management. Barriers to entry are exacerbated by  mandatory documents for bidding, which include PAN card, service tax registration, license (as required under the Contract Labour [Regulation and Abolition] Act, 1970), Provident Fund and Employees’ State Insurance registration and returns (Clause 2.11.2 of the RFP) and digital signature (since e-procurement was the only permitted financial bid process), apart from additional documents, if any, to certify the legal status of bidders who were not individuals. Audited balance sheets, and profit and loss accounts, as well as annual reports for three years,  were sought under Clause 2.11.2(vii) of the RFP.  
Eligibility parameters laid down under Clause 3.3 of the 2015 contract discuss the technical and financial capacity that a service provider needs to have to be considered. According to the clause, the eligible experience would consist of at least 18 months of demonstrated technical capacity in the last five years, in three areas, that is,  door-to-door collection of municipal solid waste, and transportation to designated locations, regular sweeping of streets, and secondary transportation of garbage. 

A minimum quantity of work that needs to be done in each ward has been provided, though how this has been calculated is not mentioned in the document. The bidder should also own a specified number of autos, and compactors, and manage a minimum number of solid waste management workers.  In addition, the bidder is expected to provide a statement and an urban local body certificate as prescribed in Appendix IV of the RFP. 

Since both NGOs and SHGs do not own the prescribed number of vehicles,  and they do not have experience managing a large number of workers, the requirements listed in the RPF effectively rules them out of the bidding process. The financial capacity conditions in the same clause of the RFP (and Appendix V) prescribe a minimum turnover (certified by an auditor) and working capital requirements (supported by a letter of credit from a bank) as well. 

Monitoring Service Providers

How does the BBMP monitor the services of the (interim) contractor? An easy, and efficient way to do it would be to involve community watch groups so that they can file a complaint if and when their waste is not collected. The BBMP waste management cell can then call upon the contractor to fulfil the obligations. For this to happen, the community should be educated about the “implementation plan” that the contractors have submitted for their locality. Only then can they verify whether or not the contract obligations are being fulfilled. As of now, mobile applications such as Clean Bengaluru, and BBMP Sahaaya might be one way in which the community can be involved. Also, "SWM (Solid Waste Management) Manuals" are published by the BBMP to educate citizens. However, it is clearly not enough. If the citizens are not educating themselves using the manuals, there needs to be a more proactive approach. Having a paid monitoring cell at the BBMP to ensure that the waste has been collected seems like an uncalled for expense, especially when citizens are more than willing to complain about a service that they have not received, or is unsatisfactory. 
However, there is a need to institute a more formal method in monitoring waste management services.  Educating neighbourhood associations about what is expected of waste collectors might be a better alternative. 

Absent Tenders

What kind of incentives did the contracts promote? The inevitable result of impossible bid conditions is repeated failure of bids. This has created space for the garbage mafia who are encouraged by the repeated failure of the BBMP. A study conducted in 2017 by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment found that there exists a nexus between contractors, corporators and BBMP employees (Times of India 2017). The mafia is infamous for mustering employee attendance rolls and creating new dumping sites for unsegregated waste. The Government of Karnataka, when questioned about the increasing amounts of unprocessed waste polluting the city, linked the issue with the garbage mafia (Deccan Herald 2018).
The close connections that exist today between the administration, elected representatives, and temporary garbage collectors, create a clear incentive structure that maintains the status quo. The vacuum created by scuttling bids has been filled by temporary orders issued by the BBMP for the supply of workers and vehicles. 

While there are bids that are opened to NGOs and SHGs to collect garbage, no such bidding process exists for supplying workers and vehicles.  In the absence of bids, there is no way to know the market price for the service of garbage collection.  BBMP raises the rates paid to contractors periodically, but in the absence of a bidding process to test rates, they do not know if there might be a cheaper way to collect garbage. 

BBMP claims no bidders for the RFP, wherein the government rules, as always, provide for interim tenders, or emergency government purchases. Arrangements made with interim contractors are open-ended, which means the contracts run indefinitely. This gives the interim contractor, and others benefiting from this arrangement, an incentive to obstruct new RFPs and open bids through legal mechanisms (Interviewee-11 2018).

The process of interim contractor selection, and removal, happens behind closed doors. There is no information made available to the public that links the performance of contractors, and their continuance or removal. There are also no notices that are issued for specific violations, and contractors are not changed after a proper hearing. The orders issued to appoint interim contractors do not specify the standards of cleanliness to be maintained in the ward; they only mention the number of workers and vehicles that will be required. This means that no one is legally responsible for maintaining cleanliness in the city and that there is no contract for ensuring garbage disposal between the BBMP and its soi-disant “contractors.”
Thus, the only indicator that can be monitored is the number of workers and vehicles supplied every day. This gives inordinate importance to the procedure of mustering or counting workers and vehicles. The muster roll becomes the key document, but it is an “open secret” that the daily mustering is never done. The document, if maintained, is simply written up with counterfeit names and attendance records, whenever required, for production to supervisors and auditors. Contractors are not even expected to supply skilled workers and/or train them. Training, if and when provided, is by voluntary organisations, activists, and the BBMP. The contractors also have an opportunity to provide incorrect number of vehicles, as it would be very difficult for the BBMP to ensure that the number of vehicles mentioned in the contract are sent out for garbage collection. 

Monitoring costs of the the BBMP can be drastically reduced if the community is involved. This would require a formal training conducted for citizen volunteers in each ward. This training should not only be to understand waste segregation at source (already conducted by the BBMP), but should also enable citizens to understand the nature of the public good and the processes involved in providing it. This would reduce administrative costs of monitoring the good and ensure its timely service. 
A distributive strategy of a public good is said to be “programmatic” if the criteria for distribution of good, both on paper and in reality, is made transparent (Stokes et al 2013). A public policy which does not satisfy either of the mentioned conditions, that is, no transparent and public criteria of distribution, or if the private criteria are subverted for private gains, is said to be “non-programmatic” in nature. With regards to the tendering process, first the criteria for the bid needs to be re-examined to lower barriers to entry. Second, the weightage given for each of the criterion in the selection process has to be made public and the selection of the contractor has to be made more transparent. Once the contract is awarded, the citizens need to be informed of what constitutes non-delivery of services, and the process by which a complaint can be lodged for the same.  

Solid waste management by the BBMP began as a non-programmatic policy but due to inefficiencies in the delivery of the good, attempts have been made to make it programmatic. Involving citizens and other stakeholders such as NGOs and SHGs working in the sector will only strengthen the design and implementation of the policy. Constitution of expert committees such as the Solid Waste Management Round Table (SWMRT) is only the first step. Steps to follow should include using recommendations on a case-by-case basis to solve the issue at hand with simple solutions. The benefits of making waste management more programmatic will also reduce the control of clientelistic networks obstructing the delivery of the public good. 

Unless we are clear on the outcomes, undue focus on the process, especially when the process is not entirely transparent will result in the institutions being open to subversion. Subverted institutions often create perverse incentive structures that allow corruption and private gains, at the cost of public welfare. In this case, the nature of tenders floated is one such institution. Unless the BBMP starts focusing on the outcomes and re-evaluates the rules it has set up to get there, the perverse incentives will be exploited indefinitely. This is not to say that process monitoring is not important, but we should not lose the woods for the trees. 

Back to Top