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Wanton neglect: Actions taken to restore Bengaluru lakes found to be superficial

Counterview Desk
The Bengaluru Environment Trust (BET), in its report “Citizen’s Agenda for Bellandur/Varthur Catchment”, has found that the plan to rejuvenate Bellandur, Varthur and Agara lakes in Bengaluru is “ad-hoc, illogical and not supported by well documented data and scientific facts.” 
Following is an excerpt from the BET report, which is actually an official submission to government bodies and the National Green Tribunal (NGT) appointed monitoring committee to oversee the rejuvenation process:
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Actions taken by the government to restore Bellandur, Varthur and Agara lakes is found to be superficial and leaves the citizens wanting for more. In-depth analysis of the government’s submissions to National Green Tribunal over the past few years revealed continued wanton neglect of responsibilities, eluding courts with inaccurate facts and escaping public scrutiny with non-transparent operations.
Treated wastewater is a precious commodity in today’s times. In the absence of treated wastewater policy and the necessary data to make informed decisions, injudicious allocation of treated wastewater to Minor irrigation can leave the Bellandur and Varthur lakes with scant or no water, turning these large lakes into small ponds. The government must prepare treated wastewater utilization plan for Bellandur/Varthur catchment, with a very clear policy decision to use the treated wastewater to maintain the lakes of Bengaluru up to its brim.
Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is using the oldest trick in the book -- Cherry picking data to show compliance to NGT. It must stop doing that. The existence of four million liters per day (MLD) Madivala sewage treatment plant (STP), so far hidden from NGT, must be included. Important transparency and accountability metrics like STP operating capacities, wastewater treatment efficiencies, flow levels in the raja kaluves and sewer trunk lines, sewage transportation efficiencies, most of which is generated, is not used adequately and must be used for decision making and compliance monitoring.
Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP)’s epic negligence is palpable from its inability in putting simple interventions like waste and silt trapping structures in the drains. Despite being flogged from many sides – high court, NGT, public – it is unable to clean up solid waste in the drains and clear encrochments. Appropriate silt and waste trapping structures at regular distances, with daily removal and disposal of solid waste, must be immediately done in accordance with law. Exact area and location of buffer zones, available for bio-diversity park plantation must be immediately determined and plantation must start as soon as possible.
Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has self-diminished its role to issuing notices. The debate on hazardous nature of the slush and silt has continued for years till today while KSPCB should have put that to rest a long time ago. The real time monitors show wide fluctuations in water quality, which are unequivocally indicators of frequent episodic industrial discharges. KSPCB must wake up from slumber, investigate and find the sources. The issue of illegal industries is far from over. There is a need for speed in stopping the operations of illegal industries.
Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA)’s one-time rejuvenation is a complete mess. It’s ad-hoc , piecemeal and impractical nature of work has worsened pollution of the lakebed and resulted in infructuous expenses. Ground truthing reveals that dredged muck dumped in mounds is rotting on the lakebed creating a hazard to the people around and also polluting the lake. Until the disposal plan is finalized, the dredging must stop. In terms of silt disposal, an astounding 77% of the desilting cost (i.e. Rs 131 crores) is allocated for disposal of silt to a quarry 25 kms away. A cost-benefit analysis must be done to determine if the disposal costs are justified. Perhaps desilting the drains leading to the lakes, is a better alternative.
More important than the one-time rejuvenation is the lake specific maintenance policy. Maintenance plan for Bellandur, Varthur and Agara must be developed at the earliest, clearly documenting the execution of maintenance activities with proper timing and with adequate resources esp. budget.
Several court orders -- NGT O.A No 593/2017 , NGT O.A. No 804/2017, NGT O.A No 111/2020 , High Court W.P No. 817/2008, High Court W.P No. 24739/2012 , High Court W.P No. 38401/2014 -- are relevant and those orders must be followed.
Our analysis has identified 31 agenda points on which government action is needed. We earnestly request the government to wake-up from its slumber and get into meaningful action.
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Click here to read the full report

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