Thick fumes coming out of the Bellandur Lake had engulfed the surrounding areas on February 16. As the shocking visuals were captured on cameras, the residents were not completely surprised. They’ve seen the lake catch fire once before, and the memory of the fumes from May 2015 were still fresh in their memories.
This time though, the National Green Tribunal decided to take cognizance of the matter, and had issued a suo motu show cause notice to the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, the Bengaluru Development Authority, the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board, the Central Pollution Control Board and the Karnataka State Lake Development Authority.
The tribunal had granted the authorities of these agencies time till March 20 to file affidavits as to why they should not be prosecuted under the Environment Protection Act.
But come March 20, and not all the authorities have filed the affidavits. In a hearing on Monday, the NGT extended the time given to them till April 12.
New orders for Bengaluru authorities
The extension did not come without a round of fresh orders for the authorities. On Monday, the Tribunal ordered the Lake Development authority to demolish all constructions including boundary walls falling in the buffer zone of 75 metres around all water bodies and lakes of Bengaluru.
The tribunal also directed that all Sewage Treatment Plants, whether government or privately owned, meet the revised standards notified by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF).
The BWSSB was directed to separately consider the water requirements during construction and operation phases. It was mandated that only treated sewage water can be used for construction purposes. The court directed this condition to be included as an aspect for obtaining environmental clearance.
NGT also directed the Karnataka government to submit a proposal to the MoEF for demarcation of wetlands within four weeks and also directed the MoEF to consider the state government’s proposal within four weeks thereafter.
“We do hope that by April 12, we will see enough action by the Government of Karnataka to reduce the suffering of the residents next to Bellandur and Varthur Lakes by committing to a timeline to all the recommendations of the Expert Committee. In addition, we hope the directions given by the Hon’ble NGT on May 4, 2016, will be complied with by the developers and the Government Agencies,” said Sridhar Pabbisetty, CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation.
Follow up on landmark judgement
The directions that Sridhar refers to are the directions in the NGT’s landmark May 2016 judgement, where it had imposed a new buffer zone of 75 metres for lakes and wetlands, which would be no-construction zones. Earlier, the buffer zone was 30 metres in Bengaluru.
The Tribunal had also ordered Mantri Techzone Pvt Ltd and Core Mind Software and Services Pvt Ltd to demolish structures built on this buffer zone around lakes and rajakaluves in Bellandur and Varthur, and had ordered Mantri Developers to pay a fine of Rs 117.35 crores.
Mantri Techzone was also directed to restore 3 acres and 10 guntas of land - which came within the 75 metre buffer zone - to its original condition at their own cost, and to then return it to the authorities.
On all of these orders, both companies have now been asked to file a compliance report by April 12. The Tribunal has also directed the companies to remove the construction material being dumped into the storm water drains and on their banks, and also along the buffer zone of the wetlands by April 12.
What’s ailing Bengaluru’s lakes?
During the hearing, it was brought to the Tribunal’s notice that the fires were caused due to burning of municipal waste and dumping of garbage in the catchment area.
Namma Bengaluru Foundation, which had submitted an intervention to the NGT, brought to the court’s notice that the fire department has been regularly dousing fire near the lake bed and that these incidents of garbage burning and fire has largely affected the air quality of the region.
“The present situation of the lake is alarming and immediate remedial measures are required to be adopted to save the dying lake in terms of the recommendations of the Action Plan Report and the Karnataka government’s Expert Committee Report,” the report said.
Friends of Lakes, a citizens’ group, said that there is no proper quantification of the actual amount of treated or untreated sewage entering the Lake. All estimates are based on old data, said Ramprasad, convener of the group.