Following the Bellandur lake fire incident in 2015, new rules that required apartment complexes to set up Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) to treat wastewater within the complex itself were brought in force. Through this, the state government aimed to protect the city’s water bodies.
The retrospective implementation of the rules was a bone of contention between the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and various apartment associations. In the face of opposition, the rules were made to apply prospectively i.e. new apartments were supposed to have STPs installed to get clearance certificates.
Though making installation of STPs mandatory was a step taken in the right direction, the regulatory board did not devise means to use the surplus of treated water.
As most of the new apartments are coming up on the city’s outskirts, which are outside BBMP limits, these apartments are not connected to a sewer line. The surplus of treated water is generally released to the stormwater drains that join lakes or are diverted to rainwater harvesting pits.
“The treated water gets used for gardening, flushing and car wash. But there is always a surplus. So, there should be a system to collect the treated water from the apartment complexes and taken to parks or industries which do not require fresh water. This way we can ensure that the treated water doesn’t get wasted,” says Srikanth Narasimhan, General Secretary of Bangalore Apartment Federation (BAF).
“Ideally, the government should make arrangements for tankers to fetch the treated water and ask the industries to pay for the water. This way, the industries will get the required amount of water at a cheaper rate and the apartment residents will get monetary incentives, and will create a win-win situation,” Srikanth says.
As most industries and parks use groundwater, reuse of the treated water will also save the already depleted groundwater reserves.
“For proper compliance, the government should incentivise those apartments where the treated water meets the water quality standards by charging less for water consumption. This will allow us to reinvest in better STPs,” says Umashankar Gantayat, who is an office-bearer of the Housing committee of Shobha Carnation apartment.
While the surplus of treated water is one problem, many apartment-dwellers complain that the STPs at their complexes do not function properly.
“At a few apartments, the supposedly treated wastewater has a bad odour as well as bad colour. Though the law mandates dual-plumbing, most apartments channel both black and grey water through the same pipe and it goes to the same STP,” says Vikram, General Secretary, All India IT Employee Association.
If the STPs are not functioning properly, the biochemical oxygen demand (BOD), chemical oxygen demand (COD) and E.coli levels in the treated water will be high.
“As the treated water is reused, coming in contact with such water is leading to serious skin infections and urinary tract infection (UTI). Some people have also come across red worms in the treated water,” Vikram says.
In most cases, the builders neither reveal specifications of the STPs nor inform the residents of the amount they are being charged to maintain the STPs, as a fixed amount is collected as the maintenance fee.
“In spite of making several requests, the builders haven’t informed us of the working condition of the STP, how much quantity of wastewater gets generated and if the STP units in place are sufficient to treat the output from the 750 households. They don’t even let us know about the water quality test results,” says Kiran, who resides in an apartment in North Yelahanka.
The KSPCB checks the quality of treated water only if it receives a complaint or at the time of renewal of license once in five years. And in most cases, substandard STPs are installed.
In some places, though the septic tanks are cleaned regularly, the sludge removed from the tank is dumped at nearby lakes. “This defeats the very purpose of setting up an STP,” he says.