How Mayor can help Bengaluru with clean water and lakes

Most STPs in Bengaluru are dysfunctional due to many reasons including use of inappropriate technology, incorrect design, faulty engineering, poor operation and maintenance.

On top of my list of priorities as a Mayor of Bengaluru, would be to clean up lakes and water bodies in the city, and mitigate health hazards of citizens of the Bengaluru Metropolis.

Background of the problem

There are an estimated 2500 or more micro, mini and small Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) distributed across the city in Residential, commercial, retail and industrial complexes. The total quantity of sewage treated in these STPs is estimated to be approximately 350 MLD.

To put it in perspective, this constitutes nearly 20-25% of water supplied to Bengaluru by the BWSSB. A vast majority of the STPs are dysfunctional on account of a variety of reasons including use of inappropriate technology, incorrect design, faulty engineering, poor operation and maintenance or a combination of these factors.

The genesis of the problem and the blame lies squarely on architects and their plumbing consultants who are totally ignorant in the matters of STP technology and design.

Compounding the problem is an equally ignorant government agency (in this case the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) which approves all and sundry STP technologies and schemes proposed by the plumbing consultant and the architect.

Builders and developers are partly to blame as well for not having done due diligence while selecting their architect. Several small developers deliberately choose architects and plumbing consultants who will work out low cost inadequate STPs.

There are instances of short-sighted Managing Committees of Residential complexes let the STPs suffer and degenerate and become dysfunctional, in order to save on maintenance costs.

Bengaluru (and most other cities in India) therefore end up with a very large number of STPs which are dysfunctional to varying degrees given the above state of affairs.

Why the KSPCB is not in a position to get the STPs rectified

The law of the land under Section 30 of the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974 has armed the KSPCB with sufficient powers to get the STPs rectified and functional by issuing notice to the person who executed the STP. If he fails to do so, the KSPCB themselves can get the STPs rectified and recover the costs from the Developer/ Builder/ Promoter as arrears of land revenue, or of public demand.

The KSPCB is not in a position to enforce this rule, since it has been complicit in approving a defective technology and design of the STP in the first place. And worse, as I have been maintaining for more than three decades now, it suits many to have the STPs dysfunctional. Here is a report of the STP that we prepared from Bangalore Apartment Federation (BAF).

What is not a good solution to the problem?

The BWSSB setting up mega STPs on lake beds is a bad idea. The track record of the agency is not very promising.

The BWSSB may be able to set up STPs with funding from JICA, DANIDA, ADB or such well-meaning munificent agencies. The operation and maintenance costs which can be quite hefty are largely ignored or if budgeted, are abysmally low leading to quick and premature deterioration and death of the STPs.

That said, if the BWSSB can garner adequate funds for operation and maintenance of its STPs by qualified, professional agencies this would be the most preferred solution.

Towards a practical, doable solution, with multiple benefits

  • Blacklist and bar architects and their plumbing consultants whose STP designs have been found to be wanting in the past. This will ensure that the sins of the past are not repeated all over again.
  • KSPCB to desist from assessing and approving STP proposals put forward by developers, builders and promoters. KSPCB ought to only specify the final treated water quality as per prescribed norms and parameters.

It is estimated that there are already Rs.1,200-1,500 crore of STP assets built and lying idle or non-performing across the city, which are in dire need of resuscitation. Based on our past experience an amount of Rs.300-400 crore will be required to perform necessary surgery and upgradation to make these STPs functional again.

A vast majority of the residential communities who inherit dysfunctional STPs from their Builders are quite young and do not have ready access to funds for such immediate surgeries and expenditure.

I suggest that the Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development Finance Corporation (KUIDFC) step in and finance these communities with low cost loans and live up to its grandiose name and title by doing its bit to improve urban infrastructure in Bengaluru

There is no quick fix for this issue, and it may take five years or more to fix the problems of the past, mainly because there are not enough qualified agencies to undertake the surgeries and upgradation with precision and professionalism. But the end result is guaranteed to be a success and can solve more than 80% of the current problems faced by our lakes.

Added benefit of setting right the STPs and making them functional is that the communities with good working STPs can become self sufficient in their water needs up to 50-60 % of their daily requirement. This in turn will reduce the pressure on dwindling freshwater resources for the city.

And finally, I would strongly discourage the current crop of politicians and ministers from dreaming of mega projects of Rs.4,000 crore or more, music as it may well be to their ears.

This article is one of the editors’ pick entries, in the contest ‘If I were the Mayor’ launched by Citizen Matters in September 2017.

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