Why are lakes in Bengaluru polluted? Who is accountable? Karnataka government has recently constituted Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA) to oversee the lake conservation. But there are many agencies in the city that are supposed to handle specific issues related to pollution. 

But there is a problem. With multiple bodies looking after different systems, there is no accountability for any of them. When the crisis hits, they blame each other and get away, while the lakes emit fire and froth. Here is an explanation of which agency is responsible for what problem, as far as a lake is considered.

Raw sewage from houses: Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is the reason for the domestic sewage in Bengaluru’s lakes. Bengaluru is not fully covered with a sewerage network and sewage treatment facilities. A lot of apartments and layouts especially on the outskirts of the city are left with no option but to leave their sewage to stormwater drains or the lakes. In some areas, old underground sewerage networks have collapsed and connectivity has been lost. Restoration work is slow. The result: Raw sewage enters lakes and pollutes them.

Partly treated sewage from BWSSB STPS: BWSSB has many Sewage Treatment Plants in the city, but they are not operated in the right manner, and the treated sewage does not meet the required parameters. These STPs don’t have power back-up, poorly maintained and are shut down during power cut.

Poorly treated sewage from the STPs of large apartments: Many apartments have under-designed STPs. There is no foolproof Consent for Establishment and Operations (CFE-CFO) process in place. Some apartments operate STPs that use unproven technology, which don’t work reliably/ consistently. Poor operation of apartment STPs due to lack of trained operators, poor maintenance by untrained vendors, ageing defects being not detected because of lack of process for annual CFO are the other problems.

Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) needs to take care of these situations, by means of proper approval processes and timely inspection.

Raw sewage gets diluted by treated sewage: Treated sewage from apartment STPs needs only tertiary treatment (to remove nitrates and phosphates. But raw sewage needs primary and secondary treatment first, and then tertiary treatment. But there is no separate logistical arrangement for both types of sewage. Both are dumped into rainwater drains, which reaches the lakes directly. The diluted sewage is not easy to treat. BWSSB, KSPCB, BBMP and BDA facilitate this wrongdoing, by providing infrastructure, letting the violations happen and not penalising the violators.

NP content in domestic sewage of all types (raw sewage, partially treated sewage and fully treated sewage):

No STP belonging to either BWSSB or large apartments has the capacity to treat Nitrates and Phosphates. KSPCB is not fining these apartments for not treating the sewage in right way.

Wetlands are not functional: Wetlands are developed into layouts and buildings or are not preserved and become dry. Drains feeding wetlands are encroached. This situation stops the lake from getting rainwater. All lakes do not have an upstream wetland. BDA, BBMP, KSPCB and LDA who can take action on this situation are responsible for the problems arising out of this situation.

Industrial effluents: Authorities allow unauthorised industries to operate within residential and commercial zones. There is no policy to account for total pollution load, and this leads to indiscriminate approvals for all kinds of industries. Industries allowed to operate without suitable Effluent Treatment Plants (ETP). As a result, industrial pollutants reach the lakes without any hurdle. KSPCB and BBMP are responsible for taking action on this situation.

Drains clogged with garbage create a huge amount of leachate: BBMP does not have logistics to handle all types of waste. People are forced to dump solid waste in drains. Hawkers and BBMP staff sometimes dump garbage, paper cups, coconut shells and vegetable waste into drains. BBMP can control this situation if there is willpower to do so.

Pollution potential is not assessed in the right manner, for the entire lifecycle of the business for any type of waste produced. No business is forced to declare its logistics channels for handling its pollution of all types. KSPCB and BBMP are the agencies that can put processes in place, control this and penalise the guilty.

Thus, all the power to control pollution in lakes lies with the agencies that operate in Bengaluru. The failure of these agencies has resulted in the present situation where lakes catch fire and are dumped with garbage.

Note: Facts from a table on accountability for lakes, shared by Nagesh Aras, a citizen living near Bellandur, have been used in this story.