Environment

Bellandur Lake: a story of toxic froth and fire

Bengaluru’s failure in managing solid waste and lack of a sewage management plan explain repeated incidents of Bellandur lake catching fire

 
By Sushmita Sengupta, Aparna Pallavi, Subhojit Goswami
Last Updated: Saturday 18 February 2017
Often, flames are seen leaping off the water because of the phosphorus and oil on the surface Credit: DCP Traffic East / Twitter
Often, flames are seen leaping off the water because of the phosphorus and oil on the surface Credit: DCP Traffic East / Twitter Often, flames are seen leaping off the water because of the phosphorus and oil on the surface Credit: DCP Traffic East / Twitter

Bellandur, the largest lake in Bengaluru, caught fire on Thursday (February 16) evening after a garbage mound around it was set ablaze. Dry hyacinth and weed around the lake also caught fire, further intensifying the situation. The possibility of toxic chemicals, which are dumped into the lake, causing the fire to flare up cannot be ruled out. The environment ministry has already ordered a probe into the incident.

In May 2015, the foam covering the water surface caught fire and burned for hours.

While illegal dumping of garbage on the banks of the lake is a persistent issue, the locals allege that weeds and dry grass are also regularly burnt in the area without supervision by garbage collectors.

The extent of the fire was such that it almost engulfed the entire lake. The smoke not only reached a nearby flyover, but also caused a scare among residents and motorists on the busy Sarjapur main road.

The local authorities are in state of denial and blamed it on the dry grass in the vicinity.

The locals have time and again approached the civic authority to stop the discharge of chemicals and other toxic substances from factories and households into the lake. Pollution regularly causes the Bellandur Lake to froth so heavily that the foam is seen on nearby roads. Often, flames are seen leaping off the water because of the phosphorus and oil on the surface.

Experts had often pointed out to a huge amount of sewage flows from Bellandur Lake to Varthur Lake due to the failure of Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) to manage the sewage of the city.  Bellandur, along with Varthur—the other major lake in Bengaluru— has been ruined because of the constant dumping of untreated sewage and toxic chemicals from small factories. The BWSSB has certainly failed to divert sewage water.

According to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board Chairman Lakshman, notices have been issued to the BWSSB and other agencies to stop the dumping. He added that the board is in the process of inspecting sewage treatment plants in the area.

In April 2016, activists from the Namma Bengaluru Foundation had submitted an action plan to Bengaluru Development and Town Planning Minister K J George to rejuvenate this 131-year-old water body.

Talking to Down To Earth about the progress since then, Sridhar Pabbisetty, the CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, says, “Government constituted an expert committee, with Namma Bengaluru Foundation, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE), Indian Institute of Science and other institutes as its members. After deliberating on means and ways to rejuvenate the lake, we submitted a report few months back, recommending short-term, mid-term and long-term measures.”

The government has accepted all the recommendations, including the short-term measures like de-weeding and improving aeration by installing a fountain. “I hope the government comes up with a plan for a time-bound implementation of the measures,” says Pabbisetty.  

The long-term measures, recommended by committee, included installation of sewage treatment plants (STPs) of 90 million litres per day (MLD) at Ammanikere, 60 MLD at Koramangala and Challaghatta valleys and 150 MLD to treat water from Koramangala and Ejipura drains.

Commenting on the fire incident, he says, “Yesterday’s fire was alarming. Fumes could be seen from quite a distance. We hope that the pollution control board finds out the reason and nature of the flame so that health hazards can be averted.”

Sanchita Jha, a Bellandur resident and an IT professional, had started an online petition in 2015 urging government to take immediate action. More than 46,000 people have signed it so far to prevent what can be a carcinogenic disaster.

Apart from de-weeding and installation of sewage treatment plants, the petition also demanded regular harvesting of macrophytes which helps in curtailing nutrients accumulation. It also called for installing online water quality monitors at the treated water outlets.

Talking to Down To Earth about the impact of the campaign, Jha says, “The government did employ some short-term measures like construction of mesh around the lake and installation of sprinklers around it. But they were superficial measures that kept the froth away for a while. The problem is not the froth, but the increasing toxicity of the lake which is caused by the illegal and rampant dumping of industrial, domestic and construction waste.”

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