The National Green Tribunal recently found that not even 1 ml water in the infamous Bellandur lake of Bengaluru is clean. It has turned out to be the ‘largest septic tank’ and people have squarely blamed the government and civic agencies.
The Print asks: Frothing lakes of Bengaluru: Civic apathy or government mismanagement?
Fragmented governance and land mafia responsible for frothing lakes
Prof T V Ramachandra
Centre for Ecological Sciences, IISc
The frothing lakes of Bengaluru are a result of mismanagement by the government agencies and the political parties.
The city planners had earlier ensured that the rivers and lakes were interlinked with each other. Bangalore has 741 square kilometres of undulating terrain. But the internal network between water bodies had been created in such a way that the water from one flows into the other. In the 1800s we had close to 1452 water bodies in the city that took care of our drinking and irrigation requirements. But today, we just have 193 water bodies left and most of them are sewage and industrial waste fed.
This is largely because of the land mafia who have not only encroached and blocked rivers, but also built structures over dry river beds obstructing the interlinking. The study conducted by us shows that 94 per cent of the water bodies are sewage fed and 98 per cent have been encroached upon.
We should hold the land mafia responsible for the frothing lakes in the city as they are the ones who are taking advantage of the fragmented governance. They know that the government agencies will not act on corrupt practices and thus have encroached on ‘rajakaluves’ or stormwater drains which has led to the backflow of water.
We also found that most of the aquatic life that we tested had high levels of nutrients and metal contamination like calcium, copper and chromium. All these come from the heavy industries in the area and pose a huge health hazard. I would say that the people are victims here.
The Water Act of 1974 says that the person who is contaminating the lakes and water bodies should pay for it, why are they not being fined? In the last year the number of kidney problems amongst the residents in the area has increased. This only goes to show that very soon there would be a dialysis machine in every house in Bengaluru.
But I do admit that the present government is trying to get some work done. We have to wait and watch. The present chief minister H.D. Kumaraswamy spoke to me and said he was keen to see our lakes rejuvenated.
Easier to pass the buck when too many govt agencies are responsible
Member, Bellandur Lake Group
The Bangalore lakes which used to be a source of water for the city, have been suffering due to an onslaught of untreated sewage, solid waste, construction debris, and encroachment. The deterioration of the lakes started when its custody was transferred from the forest department to other agencies, without equipping these agencies with necessary expertise.
Too many government agencies were made responsible for looking after different aspects of the lake’s well-being. This made it easier for them to pass the buck from one to another.
Some Lokayukta and Upalokayukta officials were able to arrest the deterioration of lakes. But the change in the Lokayukta Act clipped the powers of this pioneering institution and made it less effective. Not implementing the Nagarpalika Bill led to urban local bodies being dependent on central and state funds for the rejuvenation of the lakes.
The phosphorus in detergents, triclosan in cleaning agents and lack of regular lake maintenance activities like de-silting led to more frothing. While the lakes recharge groundwater, the pollution levels in them have led to the groundwater getting polluted as well. Diverting public lands earmarked for sewage treatment plants to other purposes meant a shortage in the city’s sewage treatment capacity.
Dumping solid waste is as much a problem as sewage in polluting the lakes. Lack of independent verification of the effectiveness of these sewage treatment plants has led to unreliable data on their quality.
Repealing the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority with the less effective Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority will be the final nail in the coffin of Bangalore lakes. Civic apathy is also a reason why citizens don’t hold authorities accountable when roads flood due to the encroachment of lakes and rajakaluves.
Some of the lakes are better maintained thanks to citizens’ activism
Co-founder and Editor, Citizen Matters
Even if the lakes of Bengaluru have attracted attention, many of them continue to remain polluted, encroached and unhealthy. A few lakes have been rejuvenated by the government, but they are smaller, and many of them are better-maintained thanks to citizen activism.
Take for instance, Bengaluru’s biggest lake–the Bellandur Lake. The lake is murky, it froths and even starts burning at times. The reason behind this is not rocket science. This lake receives 40 per cent of the treated/untreated sewage from across the city brought by stormwater drains. Some of these areas from which the waste is generated were earlier part of separate municipalities and do not have an underground sewerage system at all.
For a city of almost 12 million, it is shocking that many areas are still unserved by proper underground sewerage. In many places, the pipelines are broken or incomplete; even where there is a network, the sewage treatment plants (STP) are not functional.
As there are only a few effluent treatment plants, industrial effluent generated by countless small-scale industries is also let into these STPs. Together, industrial and household sewage pollutes the lakes and the groundwater. All this did not happen overnight. By the 80s, it was clear that the city lakes were deteriorating. In 1986, the Lakshman Rau Committee reported the problems and some solutions for restoring the lakes. In 1998, the first PIL was filed against sewage influx into Bellandur Lake.
Twenty years on, if the problem has only worsened, it is truly the government’s fault. There are more than a dozen agencies responsible for the various lakes. But they have not been able to save the lakes because of these problems:
• Failure to manage sewage, not fixing wetlands, dysfunctional STPs and missing ETPs
• Lack of planning and permitting development in areas without providing basic infrastructure
• Allowing encroachments and buffer zone violations
• Not monitoring and enforcing rules
• Not fixing solid waste management
• And even more fundamentally, failure in getting data on exactly how much sewage is generated and treated in each locality
It is a tragedy that every government has failed Bangaloreans on this front.
Onus on govts, residents & builders to clear Bengaluru’s frothing lakes
Associate Editor, ThePrint
The foam and the stench around the Bellandur and Varthur lakes still haunts me. As part of my continuous reportage on the campaign to reclaim Bengaluru’s contaminated lakes, I have seen that most of the time, it is reduced to nothing but a blame game. On one hand, the civic agencies such as the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and the Lake Development Authority (LDA) have defended their actions by saying that they have tried to educate people to ensure that they do not dump garbage in the area surrounding the lakes. They also say that their drive to unblock the rajakaluves or stormwater drains in the past year has helped reduce the encroachments allowing the water from the lakes to flow easily. This they claim is an effective way to wash out contaminated water.
But come rains and Bellandur, Varthur and other lakes begin to foam and froth. It has created health problems for the residents and the contamination extends to the point of the lake catching fire. So the question is– what is the solution? Can it be cleaned? The answer is yes. What it needs is a lot more coordination and lot less blame work.
There have been panels that have been set up to ensure monitor the health of the lakes. The previous Congress government had set up the Koliwad Committee to monitor encroachments on the lakes. They also claimed that they brought new forms of technology to cleanse these lakes, but the end result remains: Lakes continue to froth.
The onus is on three groups, the government, the citizens and the builders. Citizen Actions Groups have ensured that the pressure is on the government to clean the lakes and penalise those who encroach lake beds. But these campaigns seem to be directed more towards the government agencies rather than the residents themselves.
The government, on the other hand, has been soft on the land and industrial mafia. People are pinning their hopes on the new government which has promised a change. The newly elected deputy chief minister who also holds the portfolio of Bengaluru urban development G Parameshwara has announced the setting up of sewage treatment plants in the lakes that have been affected. But what is required is the constant monitoring by agencies such as the LDA and the BBMP who have to ensure that the promises made by the political class do not just remain only on paper.
It may take a decade before you could actually see some clear water in the affected lakes.
Compiled by Rohini Swamy, Associate Editor at ThePrint.