Lakes: wages of negligence

Foam is seen in Bellandur lake at Bellandur Kodi in Bengaluru on Friday. Photo by S K Dinesh

A National Green Tribunal (NGT)-appointed panel has slammed the Karnataka government, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and other civic agencies for their callous indifference to the pollution of Bellandur Lake. For several years now, Bellandur Lake has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. So grave is its pollution that it froths and foam spills over into nearby roads. The lake has even caught fire over a dozen times since 2016. Describing Bellandur Lake as a “septic tank” that doesn’t have “even 1 ml of clean water”, the panel, which was appointed to inspect for compliance with NGT orders, found that the lake’s water-holding capacity had diminished by 71.45% and over 60% of the lake area was found to be covered with hydrophytes. Over 183 million litres of untreated sewage flow into this lake daily; only 496 of 873 establishments in the lake’s catchment area have sewage treatment plants. Not surprisingly then, Bellandur Lake is “nothing but a dumping area of municipal solid waste and construction and debris waste,” the report said. The panel’s observations on Varthur Lake are no less disturbing. It is “an aggravated calamity”, it said, pointing to “the sheer volume of filth that is dumped in it.”

One would have thought that the NGT panel’s damning report would have shamed Karnataka and Bengaluru’s multiple agencies into acting swiftly to clean the lakes. This hasn’t happened yet. In fact, illegal encroachers in the lake’s vicinity, who were evicted in the run-up to the panel’s recent visits, have returned. It is well-known that these encroachers are encouraged by the real estate mafia. The mafia throws construction debris into the lakes, sets up shanties on the reclaimed land and then engages in land grabbing, all with the connivance of politicians, police and officials. The return of the squatters signals that the mafia is back in action on the lake beds.

For over a decade, environment and civil society groups have been crying themselves hoarse over the alarming filth and toxic content of Bengaluru’s lakes. Authorities have made grand promises to clean up the lakes, but deadlines come and go, and the water bodies remain as filthy as ever. It is time that Karnataka’s ministers and officials are held accountable for the pollution of Bengaluru’s water bodies. Failure to implement NGT orders must be punished. Bengaluru’s polluted lakes are not just an ugly sight, they are toxic and dangerous. Fish consume chemicals in the lake and these enter the food chain before long. It has grave implications for human health. Can the authorities show a little more sensitivity toward the well-being of Bengaluru’s residents?

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Lakes: wages of negligence

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