City lakes: Get cracking, now

City lakes: Get cracking, now

Fuelled by sustained citizen’s activism, Bengaluru’s long-decaying lakes have finally caught the Centre’s attention. The Union Environment Ministry’s move to bring in an overarching law to preserve lakes is laudable, but action on the ground demands a collective, well-coordinated and planned effort. Dramatic overflow of foam in Varthur and Bellandur lakes are just symptoms of a larger malaise: The deliberate inflow of untreated sewage into the lakes and the elaborate canal network that feed them. Unless this critical issue is addressed with robust citizen involvement and multi-agency support, half measures are destined to fail.

The Centre’s action plan, articulated recently by Union Minister Prakash Javadekar when he was minister in charge, does talk about 24/7 monitoring of existing and future Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs). But its glaring silence on public participation ignores a fatal flaw: Top down diktats have failed repeatedly. Poor enforcement of existing laws has seriously dented the canal network designed to take storm water to the lakes along the four valleys. More laws are clearly not the answer. The thrust should be on punitive action against encroachments regardless of their connections. A convenient ‘prospective’ reading of the National Green Tribunal’s recent order mandating a 75m buffer zone around lakes has let off past violators. Demolishing the existing encroachments with fanfare would have sent a clear message: Zero tolerance. Sadly for the city, this did not happen. Despite rules, the STPs are a rarity in both commercial and residential complexes in close proximity to the water bodies. Official inaction in the face of clinching evidence of waste water being directly let into the lakes is alarming. This apathy is clearly out of sync with declarations of intent by both the Central and state governments. The ministry went on record stating that half of the city’s sewage goes untreated into lakes. But capacity building, by the Centre’s own admission, will take three years.

Faced with a not-so-distant prospect of being declared a ‘dead city,’ Bengaluru can ill afford any delay. Required is a resolution to totally rejuvenate the dying water bodies by not letting even treated water. That should be a sound start since the efficiency of even the functional STPs is far from perfect. A lake by lake restoration plan with a stipulated timeframe should work provided it follows a pattern that starts with lakes upstream. If Bellandur alone takes in 40% of the city’s sewage, the lakes and canals that feed the city’s biggest water body should be tackled first. There are no easy solutions. But neither is sitting on concrete plans such the decade-old remodelling of the storm water drains an option. If the intent is to get cracking, it is now.  

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