STP, retrospective burden
For decades, raw sewage flowed directly into the stormwater drains, heavily polluting the city’s lakes. BWSSB set up Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) to stop this flow, but failed spectacularly. So how does forcing every old and new apartment with over 20 units to set up STPs trigger a dramatic shift?
Pushed to a corner by the new rule, penalised for not complying, residents of existing apartments are in an agitated mood. Terming the rule impractical, costly and patently unfair, they want it to be withdrawn. Is there a way out?
In January, the Department of Forest, Ecology and Environment had made it mandatory for sewage water to be reused at source. BWSSB was tasked with implementing this order, both with prospective and retrospective effect.
Struggling to cope with its own inefficient STPs, the Board issued a notification on September 21, directing apartment owners to instal either a STP or grey water treatment plant within three months. Penalties would be up to 25% of the water, sanitary charges, rising to 60% after six months.
The new rule has opened the floodgates of protest. Those living in apartments that are decades old wonder where they would suddenly find space for an STP, raise the huge funds required for the project and prepare for the steep running and maintenance costs.
“A treatment plant will cost about Rs. 24 lakh to build, a very expensive proposition. Older communities have many senior citizens, who cannot afford that kind of additional expense,” reasons Pradeep Thaker, president of the Regent Place Home Owners Association in Tubarahalli. His apartment has 35 units.
The retrospective imposition of the rule has raised serious questions of space. Contends Srikanth Narasimhan, an apartment owner: “It is just not practical. Where do apartments, built 20 or 30 years back have the space? Even if they have, how economically viable will it be if the cost is to be shared by just 20 units?”
A recent study by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) has established that apartment STPs are viable only if the number of units is 150 or more. “The running cost is phenomenally high. Below 150 units, the cost grows exponentially, and for 20 units, it will be astronomical,” notes Nagesh Aras, environmentalist and an apartment resident in Bellandur.
Issues of space
Dry waste collection and visitors’ parking often take up most of the additional space available in older apartment complexes. But there are also cases where bye-laws are violated by builders, reducing the space even further. Residents already pay a hefty amount every month for maintenance, cleaning and other associated tasks.
“By installing an STP, you are looking at an additional expense of Rs. 3,000 to Rs. 4,000 every month. There are also annual costs for maintenance, wear and tear of generators and transformers. There is no value addition to the apartment owner,” explains Mahalakshmi Parthasarathy from the Citizen Action Forum.
The zero discharge rule built into the STP notification implies that the entire treated water should be consumed and nothing can be discharged into the stormwater drains.
Zero discharge policy
Aras dubs this policy ‘draconian.’ “This is to avoid the responsibility to provide a pipeline network. Experts have debunked the theory and proved that a typical apartment must discharge about 50% of the treated sewage on a daily basis,” he explains.
But what is the BWSSB’s rationale behind the ‘zero-discharge’ policy? “The human excreta contain Nitrates and Phosphates, which cannot be treated in a typical STP, whether private or public. Thus the treated sewage still contains NP.” Only a tertiary treatment plant can remove the Phosphates and Nitrates that spark explosive growth of algae and water hyacinth, eventually killing a lake.
If treated water cannot be let out of the apartment boundary, storage becomes an issue. Mahalakshmi explains, “Of course, the treated water can be used in toilets, gardening and car-wash. But there are hardly any apartments with enough greenery. Where do you store the water that can run into lakhs of litres?”
Ownership of the STP is another issue. “This is a complete grey area. If something goes wrong, who should be liable? You need technical personnel round the clock. It is a full-time job. Currently, apartment owners themselves act as volunteers,” she notes.
At least on paper, this problem could be nipped in the bud if a proper monitoring process is in place. However, as Aras points out, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has no formal process to hand over the STP to the apartment owners’ association/residents welfare association (RWA) concerned.
“This,” says Aras, “allows the developers to just walk away from a dysfunctional STP. Years later, KSPCB inspectors discover fundamental issues related to faulty design and construction, for which the hapless RWAs have to pay.”