Life around the lake, a trail of health hazards

Life around the lake, a trail of health hazards

Life around the lake, a trail of health hazards

Bellandur lake, the city’s largest, has become a symbol for what ails Bengaluru: Unplanned development and official apathy. 

Reports of toxic foam and fires at the lake have become so commonplace that hardly any attention is paid to the woes of the local residents and commuters. However, the worsening condition of the lake has served to make life miserable for those who live in its surroundings. Some of them spoke to DH to share their woes.

A high concentration of effluents in the lake water causes it to foam often, with the froth spilling out on to the streets and causing inconvenience to commuters.

Santosh, a software engineer, rides past the lake daily to get to his workplace in Domlur. When exposed to the foam, the toxic chemicals make his eyes water and skin itch. “It is an unpleasant sight to encounter regularly when riding to work in the morning,” he complains.

According to Sheetal K, a mother of two, who resides in an apartment close to the lake, the pollution is causing serious health problems. “Even on an ordinary day, the stench from the lake is unbearable. Now, due to the fires, the toxic fumes are causing severe respiratory problems in my son who is asthmatic. How can one live like this?” she wonders.

The lake area has shrunk considerably due to encroachment. Unregulated and rampant dumping of garbage is slowly choking the lake. Odette Katrak, co-founder of Beautiful Bengaluru, says that the vacant private plots along the lake boundary serve as perfect dumping sites.

Many of them are not fenced and people unscrupulously dump malba (construction debris) and garbage in these plots in the night. Caretakers of the plots then set fire to the piles of garbage, instead of disposing it properly, she points out.

Fires in the lake are a regular occurrence and have not subsided after the major one on February 16. “One of these days, they may spiral out of control and cause damage to life and property. What action are the authorities taking to control illegal dumping of garbage on the lake bed?” she asks. 

Former Bellandur Gram Panchayat member K Jagannath has a different take on the issue. “The problems haunting Bellandur Lake are not new. It is now in the limelight after the issue has received a lot of publicity in the media,” he says.

Jagannath draws attention to the few families in the vicinity who make a living by harvesting the grass that grows on the lake bed and selling it as fodder.

He says it is a long-standing practice to set the stalks on fire during the summer to get a better yield. “The fires would not harm anybody earlier. Now, with all the garbage and sewage being dumped into the lake, the plastic catches fire along with the grass, releasing toxic fumes,” he explains.

The problem is compounded by the untreated sewage let into the lake from localities nearby. Not only industrial effluents, but also partially treated sewage from homes enter the lake. The BWSSB regulations mandate apartment complexes with more than 20 flats to set up sewage treatment plants (STPs) on their premises. While many high-rise apartments have complied with the rules, there are others who are yet to follow.

“The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) has given permission to build many highrise buildings despite paucity of space for STPs,” Jagannath says, holding the authorities accountable for the problem.

Sushant Lokhande, another resident of Bellandur, is of the opinion that builders should ensure that they do not encroach the lake and its surroundings. They should also not violate rules that require the construction of STPs. If Bellandur becomes a terrible place to live in, real estate values will plummet, causing losses to the builders, he feels.

Reviving Bellandur lake is clearly a complex task and requires both the government agencies and citizens to work together. Citizens’ groups and volunteers could keep a tab on those who dump garbage or set fires and promptly alert the authorities. Residents say the State should be more proactive and transparent in its rejuvenation effort.  

Resident, Bellandur
There was more water earlier, now there are weeds. There have been no efforts to clean up the Bellandur lake. It is a prime candidate for cleanup and conservation.

Environmental activist
A dedicated hotline number should be set up for the public to register complaints on violations. Swift and transparent action should be taken against the violators to set a precedence.

Former GP member
The government should spread awareness and arrange demonstrations on how to build small and low-cost STPs in homes. I would be willing to set one up for my house.