Of apathy and soapnuts: The ill-fated Bellandur Lake

Apathy from civic bodies, rampant dumping of chemical waste and encroachment bring about downfall of water body

The Bellandur Lake, once a pristine water body, now suffers under the disease of pollution and apathy from civic bodies.

The once pristine watering hole for various indigenous species, including birds and snakes, spread over an area of over 100 sq. km, Bellandur Lake has now turned into the poster child of disasters caused by unplanned urbanisation.

The lake is rife with filth and pollution, frothing and catching fire is a common occurrence and worse, it can actually last for well over a day.

Kolar lake, which was filled with water from the Bellandur and Varthur Lakes by the BWSSB inevitably ended up showing the same diseased symptoms as its sources. The situation went so south that the local aquatic life perished owing to the authorities' apathy and the subsequent denial in the matter only made things worse.

The Karnataka High Court was appalled by the situation at the Bellandur Lake, going so far as to ask the government if any other lake in the world caught fire.

Meanwhile, the K C Valley project, launched with much fanfare and claims that it could solve the Bellandur Lake crisis, took a nosedive as residents of Kolar, Chikkaballapur and rural Bengaluru got "treated" water that was polluted and unfit for consumption.

While facing a PIL in regards to the K C Valley situation, the government remained "defensive", with the BWSSB chairman saying they "saw the need" for tertiary treatment, though they continued with just secondary treatment.

For reference, wastewater treatment takes place in four steps:

Pretreatment: This step involves removing any and all particles that can be physically skimmed off. This includes macro debris such as tree limbs, garbage (such as plastic or tin cans), coffee grounds, grease, grit and other such foreign objects that could damage the clarifiers.

Primary: Once the pretreatment is complete, the water is pumped into a large tank called clarifiers, which have moving parts that continuously remove the solid waste that comes down as sediment. At the same time, the fats and grease that remain float to the top are skimmed off.

Secondary treatment: The aim of secondary treatment is to remove biological waste from the water. This includes human waste, food waste and the output from soaps and detergents. This involves filtering the water - usually with trickling filters, for best results - to remove the biomass and any remaining grease. Different plants may also make use of sludge - micro-organisms that consume organic matter and then clump together in a form that can be easily removed.

Tertiary treatment: Water that has gone through the other two processes still has some impurities, including phosphates and nitrates. A variety of methods, including filters, bacterial introduction and chemical oxidation are used to convert the phosphates and nitrates into easily removable compounds or gases.

The government's lacklustre approach is apparent in the July Budget where it earmarked funds for growing soapnut (reetha, a common ingredient in 'Ayurvedic' soaps and shampoos) to help tackle the worsening situation.

Naturally, experts and citizens were not convinced, with some suggesting that the budgetary allocation was a mere eyewash as the National Green Tribunal has the government under its scanner.

Another problem facing the lake is the illegal shanties in the peripheries. Following complaints of such structures, which mainly house migrant and daily wage labourers, all settlements were cleared to the cheer of civic activists.

However, no less than two weeks after the move, illegal structures returned to the area, sparking fears of more damage to the already sensitive lake even.

The BBMP and BDA did nothing but point fingers at each other, trying to absolve themselves of the responsibility. This, despite the fact that Mantri, one of the biggest real estate developers in the country, shut its construction project down after petitions were filed against the environmental clearance granted to it.

At the end of July, a young class IX student from Kolar sent out a simple message to the government by coming up with an ingenious solution to clean up the lakes of Bengaluru.

The solution involved a cost-effective multi-step process which used common items like banana peels and corn cob to remove undesirable elements from water. Is this too much to ask?

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Of apathy and soapnuts: The ill-fated Bellandur Lake

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