Desperately seeking revival

The Bellandur lake, which has provided drinking water and nurtured the city's farming and fishing activities for over a century, is now a polluted and dying water body.

I would not mind starting with a clichéd phrase for Bangalore – the city of lakes and tanks. But these days this lake city is making news because its lakes are drying up. Some because of waste dumping, some because of encroachments. One of these unfortunate lakes in Bangalore is Bellandur Lake, one of the oldest with 130 years of history and the main water provider or the city.

The lake is two kms from the Koramanangla valley southwards of the city. It covers an area of 903 acres and is six meters deep at the center. The water storing capacity of Bellandur is 17.66 million cubic feet. This lake comprises of Bellandur Ammanakere, Ibbalur, Kempapura, Agara and Bellur. Rain water through Koramangala valley is discharged into Bellandur lake during rainy season. Excess water from the lake is discharged into Varthur Lake through waste weirs at Bellandur village and Kempapura village.

Might look like a nice picture, but the black areas show the undergrowth which has taken over the lake and the lake itself is a small portion

Might look like a nice picture, but the black areas show the undergrowth which has taken over the lake and the lake itself is a small portion (Pic: Amoghavarsha J S)

But Bellandur, which has survived for more than a century might not be visible to us a decade from now, thanks to the continuous encroachments and waste dumping along its boundaries. In fact the boundaries are shrinking. The water spread of this lake and the lake itself is systematically encroached by land developers and builders by dumping debris, thus reducing the area of the lake vis-à-vis the rain water storage capacity of the lake and also disturbing its bio-diversity.

The Koramangala valley starts from Majestic area, winding through thickly populated areas like Cubbon Park, Shantinagar, Wilson Gardens, Koramangala and terminates into the Bellandur Lake. Sewage from residential areas is often let into the storm water drain through the Koramangala valley. This sewage mixed with rain water flows into the lake. At present this lake looks more like a sewage drain than a rain water drain.

Government authorities associated with this lake are the Department of Minor Irrigation (state), Lake Development Authority (state), Pollution Control Board (state) , BBMP (city), BWSSB (city) and BDA (city). They seem to be mute spectators to the ongoing process of encroachments and pollution of the lake. No serious effort is being made to rejuvenate the lake.

The lake is silted up and 30 per cent of the lake is covered with hyacinth weeds. In the history of the lake there is no recorded evidence that the lake has ever been desilted, deweeded or if the cleaning was ever done.

In 2006 RTI activists C H Ram and M V K Anil Kumar went around Bellandur lake to see its condition and clicked some pictures of the debris being dumped and the encroachments around the lake. Soon after their rounds, Ram filed an RTI application with the Executive Engineer of the minor irrigation department asking reports made by engineers for this water body. But he never got any response. There was no answer for his questions on deweeding the tank or clearing up of the dumping.

The froth from the polluted lake flowing outwards, and the waste/garbage that has accumulated from the flow. Not a single bird of any sort was to be found in the region, not even a crow.

The froth from the polluted lake flowing outwards, and the waste/garbage that has accumulated from the flow. Not a single bird of any sort was to be found in the region, not even a crow. (Pic: Amoghavarsha J S)

The Minor Irrigation Department is supposed to make monsoon inspection reports and survey reports done by engineers about the status of the tank. This report should include details of the deweeding and cleaning of the tank, if and what kind of encroachments have been observed around the tank and what measures are required to be taken.

But these reports never made it to the BBMP files. After making several attempts to know what these reports contained Ram got some copies of the two reports which mentioned similar observations to look into the cleaning of the lake. Evidently no action was taken on these reports to clean the tank.

Ram filed a number of applications to Sathish Babu, Tahsildar East, and to the Executive Engineer – Minor Irrigation. He also filed one at the DC (urban) Bangalore District, to know about the illegal encroachments and dumpings around the tank. The following is an indication of Ram’s efforts to know about the encroachments on Bellandur Lake, all of which failed to get any answer from the authorities:

30th August 2006: first application to Tahsildar East- no response
22nd December 2006: first appeal to DC Bangalore district (Urban) – no response
23rd January 2007: complaint to Karnataka Information Commission (KIC)
9th April 2007: first hearing for the case took place. (The respondent, Tahsildar was directed to ascertain from the Joint House Committee on encroachment, as to whether the survey report of Bellandure tank, conducted during September 2006 was made available to Ram)
27th June 2007: second hearing – case disposed. (The drawings of the encroachments on Bellandur were not ready with the Tahsildar and so they were not provided to Ram. The Commission directed the Tahsildar to furnish required drawings at the earliest be careful in making correct drawings)
28th December 2007: reminder by Ram to K K Misra, Chief Information Commissioner, Karnataka to respond to the case
4th February 2008: second reminder to Misra
15th April 2008: third reminder to Misra
29th April 2008: KIC sends a notice to the Tahsildar, East. To this there has been no further response (The notice directed the Tahsildar to show cause within 30 days on why he shouldn’t be punished under section 20(1) (a) for penalty because he delayed in giving information and wilfully showed disobedience to Commission’ s directions to appear before the commission.)

Garbage dump and polluted water just next to a farm land. You can imagine what kind of rice these paddy fields might grow

Garbage dump and polluted water just next to a farm land. You can imagine what kind of rice these paddy fields might grow (Pic: Amoghavarsha J S)

From some of the diagrams that Ram received from the Department of Minor Irrigation it is clear that there was an encroachment of 3.43 acres (1.39 hectares) as of May 2007. But there are no documents that mention anything being done to remove the dumpings or stop the encroachments.

"The workers in and around the lake now know me by face and they shoo me away as per the orders of the respective builders," says Ram. According to Ram, Shantinagar Housing Society is one of the encroachers. This society has also been named in the government’s K T Ramaswamy report, according to a national daily. Ram also filed RTI applications with the DC Bangalore and the Tahsildar, to know more about the constructions details of this Housing Society. But he never got responses on these applications.

Past ‘Save Bellandur’ efforts

Various citizen groups including farmers, fishermen, environment
al activists and residents have been, over the years, trying to get the government bodies to become proactive in saving the Bellandur lake from encroachment and pollution. Rohan D Souza, in a paper titled A Study on Bellandur Tank and Changes due to Urbanisation identifies the following efforts:

  1. After the 1997 notification on outer ring road linking ITPL and Electronic City, a farmer’s association from Bellandur and surrounding areas called Raitha Horata Samithi protested against the land acquisition by BDA. The Samithi was partially successful in getting BDA to alter their route plan, retaining some of the notified land in the process.
  2. In the same year, Panchayat President Jagannath Reddy and environmental activist Ramamurthy, supported by villagers initiated court proceedings to get the BWSSB to clean up the tank and prevent untreated sewage from flowing into it. The sewage treatment plant at the inflow of the lake was upgraded as a result.
  3. The media got interested in the case after the tank was pronounced unfit for water sports because of silt, during the 1997 National Games.
  4. After 2000, resident welfare groups in Koramangala have been lobbying to get government bodies to prevent sewage mixing with the storm water drain and flowing into the lake.
  5. Fishermen groups from Yemlur, Kempapura and nearby places petitioned the then Chief Minister Kumaraswamy regarding loss to their livelihood through fishing. The Fisheries department was approached too, and efforts of introducing baby fish into the tank proved futile as they couldn’t survive in those waters.
  6. Now, MLA from Varthur, Krishnappa has taken up the cause and has approached the Chief Minister for intervention.

(Read the report, PDF)

A few months after the last notice to the Tahsildar by the KIC, in September 2008 the lake situation looked worse than earlier. Bio-diversity has suffered; not even a crow could be seen in the vicinity, leave alone other migrant birds. The debris piling up on the sides has increased in amount and a number of constructions can be seen eating up the lake. Furthermore, the waste in the stagnant water has added to the pollution content.

Garbage being deposited by trucks you can see in the pic and contaminating the other side of the lake (which is a dry bed)

Garbage being deposited by trucks you can see in the pic and contaminating the other side of the lake (which is a dry bed) (Pic: Amoghavarsha J S)

Efforts from all sides seems to be failing to catch the attention of the authorities to take action on this ongoing deterioration of the water body. Lakes have been a major part of beauty and life of this city, but soon this city of lakes might be renamed as the city of dead lakes.

The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) has admitted in court hearings to the under utilisation of the Sewerage Treatment Plants at Koramangala & Challagatta valley, being run by a German and a French organisation.

The capacity of these plants as per the BWSSB is a total of 248 Million Litres a Day (MLD), of which only 110 MLD is being utilised. The volume of sewerage as per them in this valley is 237 MLD in 2006, which means that 127 MLD of untreated sewerage is finding its way into the tank.

The main reasons that they give for this are non-connectivity of laterals to sub mains, direct discharge of sewerage into storm water drains, abuse of sewers and inadequate carrying capacity of sewers As per the projections of the volumes of sewerage they present (in table below), by 2021, the volume will go upto 359 MLD and by 416MLD by 2036.

K & C Valley
Year 2006 2021 2036
Volume of sewerage 237 MLD 359 MLD 416 MLD

Source: Rohan D’Souza’s paper.

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