Civic agencies of Bengaluru generally suffer from not only inefficiency and incompetence at various levels, but indulge in an autocratic style of functioning, which is abhorrent in a democracy. Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is no exception. Bengaluru Development Minister K J George had assured the Legislative Council some time ago that the government's proposal to make to make it mandatory for residential apartments with 50 or more flats to have their own Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) will be implemented only prospectively; and yet, the BWSSB has gone about issuing notices to even decades-old residential complexes to install STPs before December 31 or face penal action. It has warned residents of not only cutting off water and electricity connections, but initiating criminal proceedings.
No rule can be applied with retrospective effect. If the sewage problem in Bengaluru has acquired gargantuan proportions, threatening the survival of its water bodies, the fault lies squarely with the BWSSB, not with citizens. After the National Green Tribunal pulled up the water board and other government agencies over high levels of pollution that led to foaming and fire in Bellandur lake, the board is trying to find a scapegoat to cover up its appalling failure. While BWSSB has a statutory obligation to deal with the sewage generated in the city, it wants to shift the responsibility on to citizens. Thousands of residents of many old apartment complexes formed human chains and held demonstrations across the city last week to protest against the water board's unilateral decision. They contend that setting up and maintaining individual STPs in apartments is not only expensive, but infeasible because in many cases, they don't have the space or the infrastructure required. They also argue that they already have underground drainage as mandated, and have been paying much higher water charges than individual houses. BWSSB has also been collecting sanitary charges for years, which should have gone towards improving the drainage system.
If BWSSB is sincere about solving the problem of water pollution, it should go after the chemical, leather and dye industries which are the main culprits. The government itself has gone on record before the NGT that the apartments contribute less than 3% of the city's sewage and that it has set up treatment plants to deal with about half of the 1,400 MLD of sewage generated in Bengaluru. The BWSSB says it is setting up nine more STPs and would be able to process another 1,000 MLD of sewage. If that's the case, it only needs to add one or two more STPs to solve the problem entirely. It should do that, instead of harassing apartment residents.