Dams · Wetlands

Karnataka Wetlands Review 2017: Bellandur Lake Remains On Fire

Wetlands For A Sustainable Urban Future : Text from Face Book post by Vishwanath Srikantaiah on occasion of World Wetlands Day 2018. 

Much grief, energy and monies can be saved if we imagine our ‘tanks’ as wetlands rather than water bodies in the city of Bengaluru.

World wetlands day is celebrated on the 2nd of February every year. For this year 2018 the theme is “Wetlands for a sustainable urban future”.

A simple definition for a wetland is that it is an area that tends to be saturated with water either permanently or seasonally and harbours a distinct type set of plants. Wetlands behave differently from a water body like a lake and need to be managed, if at all, completely differently.

Wetlands harbour bio-diversity much more than only water, have the ability to absorb pollutants and nutrients better, can manage floods, recharge groundwater, moderate temperature and area huge asset for a city.

In the city of Bengaluru itself the Karnataka State Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA) has sent a proposal to the central government that 176 tanks within the city be declared as wetlands. This would potentially protect these tanks better from encroachment and solid waste dumping as well as the construction of roads within.

The polluted stretches of the Vrishabhavati and the Dakshina Pinakini could also be brought under wetlands protection.

Wetlands, in combination with waste-water treatment plants, are a good way of reviving the tanks in the city. The example of Jakkur and Rachenahalli are possible starting points for an integrated approach to manage water in the city with wetlands playing an important role. Here waste-water treated to secondary standards are then allowed in to the wetlands which remove nitrates and reduce Total Suspended Solids, thus allowing for it to fill the water body. In turn , the lakes allow for fishing and recharge the surrounding aquifers.

Wetlands provide for a range of services including livelihoods for the poorer sections of society. Even now a range of fodder collectors pick up grass and alligator weed ( called Hongonney in Kannada ) for feeding their cattle almost all across the city.

Remedied waste-water from the city can be further treated in the wetlands and used for agricultural purpose. The proposal and project to transfer treated waste-water to the districts of Kolar and Chikballapur can also benefit substantially if wetlands are integrated in to the design at the first receiving tanks. This would also enhance flora and faunal biodiversity in the tanks of these drought prone rural districts at the same time benefiting agriculture there.

Integrating wetlands into the master plan and the urban fabric of cities is the need of the hour and that would be water wisdom.

Survey of Bangalore Water Bodies: Polluted, but lakes support 333 types of biota As per a draft report by Environmental Management & Policy Research Institute (EMPRI) over 333 types of flora and fauna depend on the eco-system provided by the lake despite their severe pollution. The report, stated to be in the final stages of completion, was a two-year comprehensive inventory of 1,518 water bodies. For the first time ever, almost every water body in the city was studied comprehensively. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/lake-eco-system-comprises-flora-and-fauna-in-addition-to-water/article20606702.ece (The Hindu, 20 Nov. 2017)

The study also suggested that no Bengaluru lake could be classified under category A (Drinking) or category B (Bathing) the Water Quality Index (WQI), while about 85 per cent of water bodies come under the ‘severely polluted’ category with an astounding 98 per cent  of lakes falling under the ‘unsatisfactory’ category of WQI. Interestingly the study had inventoried 1,518 water bodies in the city, which included lakes (keres) of over 3 acres, gokattes (between 1 to 3 acres) and kuntes (less than 1 acre) to find only 681 actually existed. http://www.news18.com/news/india/water-in-bengaluru-lakes-not-fit-for-drinking-or-even-bathing-environment-research-body-1583457.html (News 18, 21 Nov. 2017)

BELLANDUR LAKE

Bellandur is largest lake located in the suburb of Bellandur, Bengaluru. With a catchment area of 148 sq km, the lake receives water from three chains of lakes upstream. The lake itself drains into the Varthur Lake, from where it flows down eventually into the Pinakini river basin. In fact, Bellandur Lake is believed to be originally a tributary of the Dakshina Pinakini river which is also known as the Ponnaiyar River.

Currently, large part of Bengaluru’s treated and untreated sewage is released into Bellandur Lake, severely polluting it. The pollution has increased over the years damaging aquatic and wildlife in and around the lake. Residential and commercial activities in the region have increased the silt deposition thus hampering ground water recharge. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bellandur_Lake

The lake has been in the news for the last two years for spill over of froth and toxic fumes. First, in May 2013, the foam covering the water surface caught fire and kept burning for hours. Since then the lake fire has become a regular incident and the year 2017 saw no improvement in the situation.

Bellandur lake catches fire again in Feb 2017 In Feb. 2017, thick smoke enveloped Bellandur lake after a fire broke out when garbage strewn around it was reportedly set ablaze. The incident triggered panic among motorists on the busy Sarjapur main road. In 2015, foam from the lake spilled over on to roads and other spaces surrounding the lake. At the time, authorities insisted that the foam was from the detergents households discharged into the lake. https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/bengaluru-s-bellandur-lake-catches-fire-thick-smoke-engulfs-the-area/story-S7GIl2anilYFCZMUEWurnM.html (Hindustan Times, 17 Feb. 2017)

The cause for the fire, one of the worst in recent months, remained a mystery. While residents blamed reckless garbage burning, officials believed that it was sparked by “chemically active sludge”. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/Officials-suspect-Bellandur-fire-was-result-of-chemical-reaction-in-sludge/article17321344.ece (The Hindu, 17 Feb. 2017)

Meanwhile, the first status report filed before the Karnataka High Court (HC) on Bellandur Lake found that the lake was highly polluted due to sewage flow into the lake from surrounding areas. Incidentally, it came just one day after the fire incident.   https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/first-status-report-confirms-bellandur-lake-highly-polluted/articleshow/57212883.cms (The Times of India, 18 Feb. 2017)

Further examining the causes of Bellandur lake fire, Pavan Srinath, head of policy research at the Takshashila Institution, blamed acute under-governance as the real reason behind incident.  The Greater Bangalore City Corporation (BBMP) is notionally in charge of most city lakes, but has neither the capacity nor the resources and the desire to do anything about them. City sewerage is managed by a water agency (BWSSB) that reports not to the city, but directly to the state government. Land use is notionally governed by an absent Bangalore Development Authority (BDA). An independent pollution control board is toothless and sightless.  21st century government needed networked thinking and networked action and it is evident that challenges like burning Bellandur needed many players to act in a concerted manner. Old paradigms of centralisation are bound to fail. https://www.ndtv.com/opinion/not-my-baby-the-story-of-bengalurus-burning-lake-1660507 (NDTV, 17 Feb. 2017)

An editorial in The Hindu, termed the lake fire incident as a warning sign of crashing urban environments under the weight of official indifference. It further revealed that the Bengaluru city has lost an estimated 79 per cent of water bodies and 80 per cent of its tree cover from the baseline year of 1973. Successive governments in the State have ignored the rampant encroachment of lake beds and catchment areas for commercial exploitation, and the pollution caused by sewage, industrial effluents and garbage.

Describing the neglect of wetlands as deliberate, it revealed that govt was being warned repeatedly that its inaction had been turning Bengaluru into an unliveable mess. The collapse of environmental management because of multiple, disjointed agencies was achieving little collectively and legal protections remained unimplemented posing a serious threat to wetlands, environment and public health. http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/smoke-on-the-water/article17329970.ece (The Hindu, 20 Feb. 2017)

On Feb. 21, 2017, taking suo motu cognizance of the fire event, the NGT issued notices to the State Govt and its agencies seeking their replies on action taken to rejuvenate water bodies in two weeks. Prior to the hearing, Mahendra Jain, additional chief secretary to the State Govt’s urban development department, submitted a report on the status of lakes in Bengaluru. http://www.deccanherald.com/content/597825/explain-bellandur-lake-fire-ngt.html (Deccan Herald, 23 Feb. 2017)

Concerned citizens have too tried to keep the lake clean but their efforts have proved futile as it continues to get an ‘uninterrupted supply of chemically laced sewage water’. Repeated requests by residents to the concerned govt authorities to save the lake have fallen on deaf ears.

In 2010, the BBMP adopted a Lake Rejuvenation Programme but it didn’t yield any result as the sewage treatment plants and small industries that dispel their wastes into the lake, have still not been stopped and so the lake’s main problems still continue. To make the matter worse, builders and housing societies in the area use the land around the lake as a dumping ground. http://www.newsmobile.in/articles/2017/04/17/bengalurus-bellandur-lake-spilling-toxic-waste-in-the-environment-yet-again/ (News Mobile, 17 April 2017)

Frothing Bellandur Lake (Image Source: News Mobile) 

In March 2017, the state govt invited experts from the UK and Israel to help resolve environmental issues, but ongoing toxic spill has put a question mark on such efforts. http://www.dnaindia.com/scitech/report-karnataka-s-bellandur-lake-gives-back-what-it-gets-2405231 (DNA, 17 April 2017)

In May 2017, parts of Bellandur lake again caught fire, engulfing the surrounding areas in smoke. A thick plume of smoke was seen rising in the air from one side of the lake on May 8 evening. The lake had hit national headlines in Feb. 2017 after it had caught fire. The NGT too had stepped in asking the Karnataka govt to shut down industrial units in its vicinity as toxic effluents from these plants were being discharged into the lake. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/bellandur-lake-in-bengaluru-catches-fire-again-plume-of-smoke-engulfs-area/story-MEZCcC5kRcAAylXbJOPVAJ.html (Hindustan Times, 8 May 2017)

The lake catches fire again in Jan. 2018 The largest of the 262 lakes Bellandur receives about 40 per cent of the city’s sewage. The Environment Ministry had said in 2016 that everyday about 1,280 million litres of sewage is generated in Bengaluru, while the city’s infrastructure has the capacity to handle only 721 million litres of sewage. Since 137 out of 500 sewage treatment plants are defunct, only 600 million litres sewage is treated and the rest goes to the lakes. The central govt had in April 2016 said that it would invest Rs. 800 crore to rejuvenate the lakes in Bengaluru, especially the Bellandur Lake. https://www.ndtv.com/bangalore-news/at-bengalurus-bellandur-lake-massive-fire-rages-for-7-hours-1802343 (NDTV, 19 January 2018)

“Methane build-up in the lake through decades of sludge accumulation could be aggravating the blaze,” said K. Yellappa Reddy, environmentalist and a retired forest officer. “For the past half a century, sewage has been accumulating, and has resulted in more than 20 feet of sludge. Buildup of methane is bound to happen, and this can help spread the fire,” he said. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/over-5000-army-personnel-pressed-into-action/article22478118.ece (The Hindu, 20 January 2018)

The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board, which is installing sewage treatment plants (STPs) to stop waste from entering the lake, will be able to complete these projects only by 2020. “Desilting or cleaning work at the lake can be taken up only after 2020, when sewage flow stops. Otherwise, it would be a waste of money as the revival would cost us around Rs 500 crore. The same has been informed to the Tribunal,” said a senior BDA official. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/could-be-arson-says-inspection-team/articleshow/62576864.cms (The Times of India, 20 January 2018)

The sixth fire on Bellandur Lake has led NGT to ask Karnataka govt to submit a time bound action plan by Jan 29. BDA also has claimed that it was accidental or incidental, but it was contradicted by the petitioners. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-andhrapradesh/submit-time-bound-action-plan-on-bellandur-lake-ngt/article22516573.ece (The Hindu, 25 January 2018)

Other Lakes Frothing & Catching Fires

After Bellandur, Varthur & Subramanyapura lakes started frothing In May 2017, after week long rainfall, Varthur Lake started foaming again. With toxic foam spilling over to the Whitefield Main Road, commuters had a tough time negotiating traffic. The unbearable stench emanating from the lake only added to the woes of commuters and residents. While Bellandur and Varthur lakes have been in the news for foaming, and even catching fire, Subramanyapura Lake near Uttarahalli another of the city’s water bodies joined the list of Bengaluru’s polluted lakes.

More and more lakes in the city have started foaming and catching fire, showing the failure of the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority and KSPCB in safeguarding lakes from Urban and industrial pollution. All the lakes were being used to dump construction debris and solid waste. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/after-heavy-rain-varthur-lake-showers-citizens-with-filthy-foam/articleshow/58887567.cms (The Times of India, 29 May 2017)

Leachate let into Somasundarapalya lake again In Feb. 2017 residents of HSR Layout expressed surprise over Somasundarapalya lake frothing at the point where the drain of a compost plant touched its shores. To their horror, they realised that leachate from Karnataka Compost Development Corp plant was flowing into the lake from the drain, which had been closed barely a fortnight ago. As people began to protest, the drain from the plant to the lake was sealed again before more damage is done. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/Leachate-from-compost-plant-let-into-Somasundarapalya-lake-again/article17265070.ece (The Hindu, 7 Feb. 2017)

Other Karnataka Wetlands Developments in 2017

Govt fails to bring city’s water bodies under MoEF As per the report, in  Aug. 2013, the Centre issued a detailed advisory on ‘Conservation and restoration of water bodies in urban areas’, wherein it was stipulated that they should be classified under the separate land use category. This should be done in parallel with the other protected areas that are defined under the Environment Protection, and the Forest Protection Acts, to safeguard them from encroachment and destruction.

Moreover, in a communication dated Nov. 7, 2016 the water resources ministry had asked all state govts to take appropriate action with respect to the inclusion of water bodies in land records, besides ensuring they formed an integral part of the town planning process. However, the Karnataka urban development dept is not sure if such a communication has come through. Interesting though, clearly, none of the central or state agencies have shown any seriousness in this regard. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/3-years-after-Centres-directive-state-fails-to-bring-citys-water-bodies-under-MoEF/articleshow/56072088.cms (The Times of India, 20 Dec. 2016)

KLCDA declares 176 lakes in Bengaluru as wetlands In April, 2017 the process to protect city’s lakes from encroachment and misuse seems to have started when the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA) has sought for the declaration of 176 ‘live’ lakes in the city as ‘wetlands’. Once notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forest as wetlands, any changes in the land use of these lakes such as diversion of lake land for roads or layouts or any other purpose could only be done after the approval of the Union government. Officials and activists hoped that the added protection on land would stop the continued ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ encroachment of lakes. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-karnataka/klcda-seeks-declaration-of-176-live-lakes-in-bengaluru-as-wetlands/article18073636.ece (The Hindu, 17 April 2017)

Garbage, construction waste being dumped in lake areas In April 2017, in open violations of NGT order garbage and construction and demolition waste was found in Bellandur Amanikere lakes areas and water channels at Thubrahalli, Munnekolala villages blocking the natural flow of the lake waters. Disturbed by the violations, many lake activists asked the state govt to come out with an action plan instead of focusing on many activities and completing none properly. As per the activists, lack of proper documents was biggest problem leading to encroachments on lakes areas. https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/lake-activists-bellandur-amanikere-thubrahalli-village-bengaluru-lake-973743-2017-04-26 (India Today, 26 April 2017)

Garbage dumped near a lake
Garbage dump near a lake. (Image source: India Today)

Most lakes in Bengaluru have poor water quality As per Karnataka State Pollution Control Board’s report based on April 2016 – March 2017 period, not just the water in Bellandur lake but not none of the  lakes have a ‘satisfactory’ water quality index in Bengaluru city. Of the 51 lakes sampled in 11 did not have water. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/not-just-bellandur-most-lakes-in-bengaluru-have-poor-water-quality/article18573310.ece (The Hindu, 25 May 2017)

Some solace: Lalbagh lake is among the two waterbodies in Bengaluru that has been classified to have water under category ‘C’, according to the KSPCB. (Image Source: The Hindu) 

Dredging and Unseasonal rain affect bird habitat Heavy rain that lashed areas around Mysuru late till Oct-Nov had led to a decline in the number of migratory birds, which tended to roost in southern parts of Karnataka during winter. D. Rajkumar of Wildlife Conservation Foundation pointed out that dredging along the lake shores has also caused havoc to the bird habitat. http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/karnataka/unseasonal-rain-throws-winged-migration-out-of-gear/article22277476.ece (The Hindu 25 Dec. 2017)

Compiled by Bhim Singh Rawat (bhim.sandrp@gmail.com)

One thought on “Karnataka Wetlands Review 2017: Bellandur Lake Remains On Fire

  1. Dear Friends,

    What are we doing to our natural resources and our own habitat?

    Fodder collected from polluted lake areas being fed to dairy and meat animals and the vegetables grown using such polluted lake and groundwater!

    Udayashankar

    ________________________________

    Like

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