Wanted: A burning desire to restore lakes in Bengaluru

One of the largest network of inter-connected lakes, Bellandur Lake is spread across 370.30 hectares while Varthur covers 180.30 hectares.

Published: 22nd January 2019 01:43 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd January 2019 08:05 AM   |  A+A-

Varthur lake.

A burning Varthur lake.

Express News Service

BENGALURU: The recurring episodes of fire in Bellandur and Varthur lakes in the Kormanagala-Challaghatta Valley are far from being resolved by authorities, with few measures in place to check the flow of untreated sewage, industrial effluents and garbage into the water bodies. The Justice Santosh Hegde Monitoring Committee, set up by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to monitor the implementation of its directions, has held its first meeting and will conduct a spot inspection of both the lakes. The committee will submit its report to the NGT on whether or not the authorities concerned are implementing its direction to rejuvenate the lakes.

Speaking to TNIE, Justice Hegde said, “The second meeting will be held on January 30. We will also do a spot inspection of Varthur and Bellandur lakes. There is no time frame for fulfilling the directions of the NGT. We are supposed do it in a year’s time.” “I will be submitting my report to the NGT and this will depend on the deliberations of the 30th meeting,” he added.

One of the largest network of inter-connected lakes, Bellandur Lake is spread across 370.30 hectares while Varthur covers 180.30 hectares. Once a pristine location, the lakes have now almost reached the stage of ‘dead lakes,’ which environmentalists say works to the benefit of vested interests who eye it for converting it into ‘prime real estate’ in the city. 

The reason for foaming and frothing of the waters and recurrent fire episodes are caused by trapped chemicals and effluents. The existing sewage treatment plants (STPs) cannot address the problem of treatment of chemical effluents, and therefore, the foaming and fires will continue till tertiary treatment is done before these are released into the lakes. Further, the Rajakaluves joining the two lakes are neither clean nor free of encroachments. 

Tertiary treatment need of the hour 
Lake and hydrology experts say only cosmetic treatment has been done so far to address the deteriorating conditions in water bodies. Ramprasad V of Friends of Lakes, an environment group in Bengaluru, adds, “Seventeen inlets into Bellandur pour treated water, which is hardly treated as it is full of chemicals and effluents. The chemical oxygen demand is pretty high as there is no process to remove the chemicals. Only after tertiary treatment can the lakes be revived to an acceptable grade.” The ‘treated water’ that now flows into Bellandur Lake is frothy, smelly and turbid — still full of detergents and chemicals. Also, functioning of STPs is doubtful, as sometimes they even go defunct, says Rajesh, a resident of Varthur who takes part in campaigns to clean up the lake. 

NGT intervention
The Panjwani Committee, which reviewed the situation in both the lakes, submitted its report to the NGT last year. The report stated that 183 MLD of untreated sewage was being discharged into the two lakes. The panel expressed dismay at the de-weeding operations done by BDA, and said the rate of growth of the weed was faster than its removal, as it covered two thirds of the Bellandur Lake. The BDA disposed off the hyacinth weed unscientifically and construction debris was used to bury it, the report said.  On December 8, NGT directed the state government to transfer `500 crore in an escrow account for rejuvenating both the lakes. It also directed the state government to furnish a performance guarantee of `100 crore to execute the action plan by June 30, 2019, and asked it to deposit `50 crore as interim environmental compensation with the Central Pollution Control Board. A penalty of `25crore was levied and deposited with CPCB. 

Measures initiated  
At the upstream of Bellandur Lake, STPs of 90 and 60 MLD (million litres/day) capacity have been set up by BWSSB, but now they have taken up a project to set up a major STP of 150 MLD capacity by 2020.  Officials say there are hundreds of high-rise apartment complexes surrounding the lake which do not have STPs or underground drains. They have been served notices by the KSPCB to set up STPs and UGDs. With recurring fires, in 2017-18, the BDA removed 19,822 tons of macrophytes but the problem remained unsolved.

Hegde Monitoring Committee
To implement the Panjawani Committee report, the NGT constituted a monitoring committee headed by former Lokayukta Justice Santosh Hegde. The court directed BBMP to transfer `10 crore to KSPCB for providing logistical support to the Justice Hegde Monitoring Committee.

March 19, 2017:
Fringes of Varthur Lake caught fire after miscreants burnt garbage in the inlet. 

Jan 19, 2018:
Bellandur Lake caught fire and four fire tenders were pressed into service to douse it.

Nov 17, 2018:
Fire broke out at Bellandur Lake; was extinguished by patrolling marshals with their bare hands. 

Nov 30, 2018:
Tension prevailed near Bellandur Lake as smoke billowed from near the water body, and fire and emergency personnel had to rush to the spot. 

Dec 30, 2018:
A huge fire broke out in the buffer zone of Bellandur. It was the 10th such incident that

Jan 20, 2019:
Fire broke out in the sludge area at Varthur Lake. It raged for three hours before it died 
out by itself. 

Measures needed 

  • Tertiary treatment of sewage water

  • Upgradation of STPs to resolve high Chemical Oxygen Demand

  • Garbage traps with CSR funds

  • Regular removal of waste from traps

  • BDA/BWSSB/BBMP/KSPCB take equal responsibility

  • Proper delegation of work

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