BWSSB mandates smart sensors for treated sewage, backtracks within a month

BWSSB issued a circular to monitor apartment STPs and improve their working with added microbes. But the new Chief Engineer is considering withdrawing it.

A recent circular sent by the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) directed apartments with Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) to adhere to certain parameters. This kickstarted a debate among apartment residents, as the BWSSB did not publish the circular on their website and there was no official communication on this to any of the apartments that have STP.

The BWSSB circular issued by BWSSB Engineer-in-Chief on May 19th 2015 deals with two aspects:

1) Making it mandatory to use external additives like microorganisms for bio-culturing in STPs

2) Compulsory installation of single low cost ‘probe’, a sensor equipment, fitted with GPRS communication, in all sewage treatment plants, for monitoring the performance of STPs.

However, now the BWSSB is reconsidering withdrawing the circular. T Venkataraju who had issued the controversial circular when he was the Engineer-in-Chief of BWSSB, retired from service a week ago—within a month of issuing the circular. S Krishnappa who has newly taken charge as the Engineer-in-Chief said that he knew about the circular issued by his predecessor, but he had not gone through it thoroughly.

Surprisingly, S Krishnappa differs in view—he told Citizen Matters that external additives like bacteria are of no use for the functioning of STPs. “I did not know that the circular makes it mandatory to use microorganisms in STPs and I am not even aware of how probe equipment will monitor treatment plants. I have no clue as to how three vendors were selected for purchasing bacteria and probes. I will review the circular and revise it, if needed,” he said.

He also warned of action against builders who get water and sewerage connections sanctioned without establishing STPs. “So far, BWSSB engineers used to recommend even the STPs under construction for sanctioning water connections. Henceforth, we will ensure that engineers recommend water and sewage connection to only those apartments/ commercial complexes where STP is operational. If a building does not abide by the BWSSB rules, we will cut off water and sewerage connection,” he said.

Venkataraju was unavialable for comment as his phone remained out of reach.

The circular plans data collection and monitoring through sensors

The BWSSB circular (Click here to see it) reiterates that it is mandatory for all housing complexes with over 100 flats and commercial complexes with built up area of 10,000 square metres and above shall invariably install reusable standard STPs and reuse the water for secondary purpose. Further, the circular emphasises on effective use of external additives like microorganisms in already established and proposed STPs. However, the use of microorganisms is made optional wherever there are no STPs in housing complexes having less than 100 units.

The circular elaborates on why microorganisms should be used in STPs and states “Microorganisms for bio culturing shall be effectively used to accelerate the treatment and in the process reduce load of impurities present in wastewater and odour to a great extent, thereby saving energy beside effectively treating the water to the required urban reuse standards.”

On installation of single low cost probe equipped with GPRS communications, the circular says that all STPs shall invariably install probe for obtaining online general performance of treatment. Probe equipped with GPRS will be configured to the server maintained at BWSSB office to monitor the functioning of STPs. The design of the sensor can be seen here.

Interestingly, the circular highlights on purchasing probes equipped with GPRS communications, from three approved vendors: KPS Enterprises, Chamarajpet; Kolte Patil Biotech, Pukhraj Layout, Bengaluru: Jyothi Electricals, Chamarajpet.

The circular also says that the instructions should come into effect immediately and has instructed executive engineers and assistant executive engineers of Operations and Maintenance division to ensure that all housing and commercial complexes implement the same.

Citizens question BWSSB’s motive

This being said, BWSSB making the use of microorganisms and the sensor device compulsory has raised many eyebrows, with citizens questioning the motive behind the BWSSB’s step. While citizens criticised the first criterion for lacking relevance, the second point which aims to monitor STPs, has also been flayed for its lacunae.

Nagesh Aras, a resident of Sobha Aquamarine on Sarjapur asked as to why BWSSB has zeroed in on three vendors for purchasing micro-organisms and probes, without divulging details on how the vendors were selected. Aras asks, when there are evidences that microorganisms are not necessary for the functioning of STPs, why has BWSSB made it mandatory to use them. On what basis were three vendors approved? Was it based on lowest price for specific culture? Is BWSSB trying to flourish the business of three vendors? he asked.

Questioning the reliability of probe to monitor functioning of STPs, he said probe sounds like a magic device which can detect all 12 parameters in the process of sewage treatment. Circular does not give clarity on who is responsible if probe reveals that particular STP does not function properly. Will the builder be held responsible or the Residents’ Welfare Association?, Aras asks.

Pointing at the lacunae in the system, Aras said when there is no formal handing over process through which RWAs take charge of STP from the builder, why should RWAs be held responsible if STP fails to meet KSPCB/BWSSB standards.

Aras wonders why BWSSB wants to monitor private STPs, when the STPs run by BWSSB are not functioning properly with no functioning display systems—the display in the STP in Marathahalli has stopped working ages ago. While BWSSB gets away despite not treating sewage effectively, why are hapless citizens targeted, he asks.

Though the BWSSB has issued the circular, there are no evidences of it being circulated among Residents Welfare Associations and other stakeholders for the effective implementation of the same. In fact, the circular has not been uploaded even on BWSSB’s website.

Expert says external additives waste of money!

Dr Ananth Kodavasal has conducted experiments with microbial cultures and is also the author of STP Guide for Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). He says there was no need to add external microorganisms to STP. “Purchasing microorganism is nothing but waste of money. Since STPs are like open reaction vessels, processing takes place naturally. Naturally grown microorganisms do the job better than external additives,” he adds.

However, he says that external microorganisms are advantageous to some extent for a new STP. “During the first two months, they will help to stabilise the STP and then they tend to lose their value,” Dr Ananth explains.

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