If Bengaluru's heavily polluted Bellandur Lake gained notoriety in the past for its frequent spewing of toxic foam and froth, over the past year, the lake's infamy stems from fires that are repeatedly breaking out in this water body. Late last week, a massive fire broke out on this lake. This isn't the first time that Bellandur Lake has gone up in flames. The lake, spread over 1,000 acres, witnessed fires in February and May last year. Last week's fire was the most severe on the lake so far. It raged for over 10 hours and took the efforts of around 5,000 army and fire department personnel and a dozen fire engines to douse the flames. The immediate response of authorities to the Bellandur fire reveals why the lake is repeatedly catching fire: Minister for Bengaluru Development and Planning K J George blamed "some people" who are "trying to malign Bengaluru's image." This is an attempt at deflecting attention away from the real culprits - his ministry, Bengaluru Development Authority, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board and other government agencies responsible for the filthy sewer that Bellandur Lake has become. Officials have blamed the fire on "miscreants" who burnt dry grass on the shore of the lake. Even if the fire was the work of miscreants, it was the lake's high sewage and toxic chemical content that fuelled it, transforming a spark into a raging fire. Scientists point out that highly combustible methane, which has accumulated in the lake, erupted spontaneously.
The National Green Tribunal has rightly rapped the Karnataka government on its knuckles for its failure to clean Bellandur Lake. It has ordered the state government to clarify what steps have been taken to rejuvenate the lake. It appears that the government has four reports on its plans to clean the lake. However, its plans remain confined to paper. They are yet to be translated into action. It is clear that the Karnataka government lacks the political will to clean up Bengaluru's water bodies.
In the wake of Bellandur Lake's frothing and fuming, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) issued notices last year to hundreds of industries that are pouring toxic effluents into the lake. Responding to these ineffective notices, the NGT ordered KSPCB to act by shutting down the industries. This was not done, as the Karnataka government sought more time. How many more fires will Bellandur Lake and the people living nearby have to suffer before the government gets its act together? Some 60% of Bengaluru's sewage pours into this lake. It will not survive this sustained sullying.