Bellandur: for state govt, time to collect wages of sin

Bellandur: for state govt, time to collect wages of sin

Bellandur: for state govt, time to collect wages of sin

The recent order of the National Green Tribunal on the Bellandur lake’s frothing and flaming has opened the Pandora’s Box for the Karnataka government.  Only, all that come out of the box are good for Bengalureans and nightmare to the real estate-friendly government. As you sow, so you reap.

The NGT in its landmark judgement said: “All industries in the 75 metre buffer zone should be closed till they stop polluting the lake; fine of Rs 5 lakh for dumping waste in the lake; the lake must be cleaned within ONE MONTH; no sewage water shall enter the lake; sewage generated by industries and apartments should be transported at their own cost to dumps identified by government; the whole process should be inspected by a team of the Additional Chief Secretary, Urban Development, heads of the Lake Conservation and Development Authority, the BDA, the BBMP and the Pollution Control Board; government should ensure that all industries and apartments in buffer zone should have sewage treatment plants IMMEDIATELY, Government should clean the lake in one month and for this purpose even the elaborate tender process can be bypassed.”

Besides the lake, all the Rajakaluves also will have buffer zone—50 m either side of primary drains, 35 m for secondary drains and 25 m for the tertiary drains. There are 850 km of such storm water drains in the BBMP area. Taking the median of 35 m, the buffer zone for the SWDs alone will be 60 sq km.

The NGT order is unprecedented and a god-send to the citizens. In spite of various past directions by the High Court and Supreme Court to protect the lakes, the government has done nothing.  Now, for once the NGT is pinning down the government by summoning the additional chief secretary to implement the court’s orders.

Karnataka HC’s monitoring committee report shelved: In 2010, the Karnataka HC, while hearing the Public Interest Petition by the Environment Support Group to prevent the leasing of four lakes to private sector companies, constituted a Monitoring Committee headed by a serving judge, Justice N K Patil.  Its members were the heads of Pollution Control Board, BWSSB, BBMP, BDA, principal chief conservator of forests, secretary to government, Minor Irrigation Department, director, Town Planning and the CEO of Lake Development Authority.

The Monitoring Committee gave its report, “Preservation of Lakes in the City of Bangalore”, in March 2011.  The report highlighted :

— Preservation 189 lakes in the city (129-BBMP; 44-BDA; 11-LDA and five by the Forest Department);
—Joint verification of an additional 121 ponds and lakes as per village maps;

— Preservation and restoration of another 179 lakes in the custody of zilla panchayats and 18 lakes with the Minor Irrigation Department;

— Altogether, a total of 507 lakes should be restored and preserved by removing encroachment, cleaning, fencing, constructing bird-islands and walking paths around;

— BWSSB should completely treat sewage in BBMP area;

— The Pollution Control Board will check water quality of each lake twice a year and will keep a bench mark information;  The LDA and Revenue Department will create a data base for all the lakes based on village maps and web-host such information;

— The restored lakes should supplement drinking water and the waste water should be recycled by tertiary treatment to augment supply.

The entire Action Plan would cost about Rs 6,000crore of which Rs 4,300 crore was to be provided, the balance having been “tied up”. 

After trying to conduct review meetings of the concerned actors for about a year, the LDA gave up all attempts to coordinate implementation of the Action Plan.  The report itself has been consigned to the archives like all such reports, howsoever high-powered the committee may be.

Financial implications and government’s inability for tough action: Bellandur is the biggest lake in the BBMP area, having 797 acres of formerly water-spread and now sewage-spread area. Its buffer zone of 75 m all around its periphery will be about 123 acres and at even Rs 2,000 per square foot, the value of the area will be about Rs 1,080 crore.  Are the developers and their partners in government going to give up their investment in this area?

The total water cum sewage-spread area of the 189 lakes specified in the Justice N K Patil Monitoring Committee Report is 7,166 acres and the corresponding buffer zone will be about 1,100 acres. If we take into account the buffer zone on either side of 850 km of storm water drains, that area alone will be 15,000 acres!

The cleaning up of Bellandur lake has been variously estimated at different times from Rs 400 crore to Rs 900 crore. Even at a low average cost Rs 100 crore on average for each lake, for 189 lakes this will cost Rs 19,000 crore. The restoration cost of 850 km Rajakaluves is anybody’s guess.

The construction of effective Tertiary Sewage Treatment Plants preventing sewage entering the lakes and providing recovered water of 1,200 MLD as in Singapore’s NEWater, in place of the ineffective old technology, non-functional STPs, will cost Rs 6,000crore  at Rs 5 crore each.

For the first time, the NGT has insisted upon the government to implement its decisions to preserve Bellandur lake. This will also be applicable to other lakes if only some NGO files a PIL for such extension.  After all, the inflammation, frothing and flame is not exclusive to Bellandur alone but already Varthur and a few other lakes are frothing and are dispensing foam like snow-flakes, promoting tourism.

This then is the magnitude of the task before government. The remarkable Cascading System of Lakes started since Kempe Gowda in 1537 and continued through four centuries by Tippu Sultan, General Hieram Sankey of the British East India Company and the Wodeyars, have been mindlessly destroyed in 50 years of independence and bribe-democracy by “layout leaders” and a mercenary bureaucracy. It is time for government to reap the whirlwind.

(The writer is former Additional Chief Secretary, Government of Karnataka)