Bangalore's Bellandur Lake is in the news again. Not for all the wrong reasons this time.
The 900-acre lake has repeatedly made headlines for its bubbling froth and foam and the fires that erupt on its surface. It is now well established that the untreated domestic sewage and industrial effluents flowing into the lake form a highly toxic, flammable cocktail that is choking the lake and creating a public health hazard.
Since the issue blew out of control last year, several measures have been taken to arrest the pollution of Bellandur Lake: earlier this year, the NGT ordered the closure of several polluting industries around the lake, large scale de-weeding operations were initiated, and 150 acres of wetland were to identified to treat the sewage content of the water.
But the pace of work has been glacial and coordination among governmental authorities is absent. Without street lights, security and monitoring on its periphery, mixed waste collected from the surrounding apartments continues to be dumped in the buffer zone of the lake, and piles of burning trash shine like beacons every night - a dead giveaway of the garbage mafia at work.
Last month, a group of citizens under the banner 'Bellandur Rising' have gathered to form a strong citizen voice to oppose the inaction by authorities. Says Seema Sharma of Bellandur Rising, "Officials of the BDA, BBMP, Lake Development and Conservation Authority (KLDCA) and Karnataka Pollution Control Board - all stakeholders in the management of the lake - are yet to sit down together at the same table, discuss the matter of reviving Bellandur Lake, and arrive at a coordinated action plan."
At the behest of the BDA, the group is organising the first Kere Habba (Lake Festival) at Bellandur Lake on August 5th to draw public attention to the problem. The Habba will serve as a platform for citizens to interact with officials and have their questions answered. People can see up close the problems plaguing the lake as well as the cleanup measures undertaken so far.
On a blustery Saturday morning, the team of citizens has arranged to meet Seema Garg, CEO of the KLDCA to discuss preparations for the Habba.
Steps such as fixing lake boundaries, de-weeding, fencing, identification of land for tree-planting, and removal of trash from the lake have begun in earnest. The team invited noted scientist Prof T.V Ramachandra to survey the progress and on his recommendation, 15-20 percent of the vegetation will be retained to act as natural wetlands. Says Seema, "After weeding, aeration will be taken up to temporarily improve water quality." The team is also discussing with BBMP the feasibility of composting the harvested weeds and making biogas.
The team hopes that the Habba will bring the important issue of waste management and lake pollution and the connection between these issues to the public's notice so that more citizens join the call for change and help to monitor and track the government's progress.
"Many companies are ready to support the clean up and rejuvenation of Bellandur and Varthur Lakes under the CSR model", says Jagdish Reddy, another member of Bellandur Rising.
Together with Varthur Lake downstream from it, Bellandur Lake accumulates wastewater from two-thirds of Bangalore. A Herculean effort remains if the two lakes are to be rejuvenated. Says Reddy, "De-weeding and aeration may offer a short term solution to the problems of Bellandur Lake but without more permanent measures like the establishment of STPs and ETPs, curbing the flow of sewage into storm water drains and Rajakaluves, and removal of encroachments from the SWDs and buffer zone, all other efforts are merely cosmetic."
Images courtesy Shalini Batra.