For decades, the Bellandur Lake was abundant with water during the monsoon and a natural grazing spot for cattle during summers.

From farming and boat festivals to stinky dump yard What happened to Bellandur Lake
news Civic Issues Tuesday, January 23, 2018 - 19:29

A frothy, stinking dump yard – this is what Bengaluru’s infamous Bellandur Lake is synonymous with. One of the larger and older lakes of the city, this water body was the lifeline for over 18 villages surrounding it until it all changed in the 1970s.

Abundant with water during the monsoon and a natural grazing spot for cattle during summers, Bellandur Lake had helped agriculture flourish for decades before it turned into a tank of untreated sewage. The locals also used to celebrate a boat festival or Theppotsava during the years when the lake overflowed.

Local myth and boat festival

Speaking to TNM, Harini Nagendra, a Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University, said that the quaint Duggalamma Temple located on the bank of the lake was built decades ago, and people worshipped the goddess and the lake.

There are many variations to the local myth but the story people believed in back then was that Goddess Duggalamma had visited the village in disguise, and went up to people and asked for some food. When everyone in the village turned her away, she unleashed her anger and cursed that the area would keep on flooding. When the locals realised the cause for the flood, they prayed to the goddess, who appeared before them and said that if a small temple was built, the flooding would stop.

“There are many variations to this – some say it was an old man and not the goddess but they are all stories of people who did not show kindness to someone in need. Even today there is a priestess in the temple who offers prayers to the goddess. The temple is located on the Yemlur side of the lake,” Harini says.

The locals marked the occasion of the lake overflowing by participating in the Theppotsava.

Locals would mount a goat and a giant lamp, made from 10 kg rice flour and jaggery, on a wooden raft. Once the raft reaches the end of the lake where the temple was located, the goat was sacrificed to the goddess and the boat festival would begin. People would ride on coracles and celebrate.

The last time the Theppotsava was celebrated was in 1972.

Agriculture and fishing

The lake’s water helped residents of the area grow paddy, ragi and vegetables until the 1970s.

“It also was a source of freshwater fish and supported over 400 families of the fishing community. Bengaluru’s largest fish market was also located in Bellandur itself,” Harini says.

When TNM contacted the former Gram Panchayat President of Bellandur, Jagannath Reddy, he said that before the 1970s residents of Bellandur would desilt the lakes themselves during summers and ensure that the lake bed was clean for the next monsoon.

“The biggest problem was the manure accumulated due to the cattle grazing in the area. The cattle would consume the grass and their dung would be collected by locals to be used as manure for growing crops. The desilting process was natural back then,” Reddy says.

He says that cat fish, carp and snake fish were the major freshwater fish available in the lake. The Fisheries Department, however, stopped the fishing activity in the lake in 1972.

Jagannath Reddy says that in that same year, the Bellandur fish market was also shut down.

When sewage began to pollute the lake

In 1972, the Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) began constructing unplanned layouts in several parts of Bengaluru and one of the areas chosen was Bellandur. Without any foresight, the sewage from the layouts was let into the storm water drains and the lake began to get polluted, Reddy says.

By the 1980s the water in Bellandur Lake was not fit for consumption and a sewage treatment plant (STP) was set up.

“The plant became non-functional and it was never repaired. By 1994, the lake had begun foaming as a lot of garment dyeing industries and battery making industries were discharging their effluents into the storm water drains. This coupled with the untreated sewage from the homes and apartments ensured that the stench from the lake became unbearable,” Reddy laments.

The first Bellandur Lake case is still without a verdict

In 1998, Jagannath Reddy filed a complaint with the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), the BDA and the Minor Irrigation Department, requesting that the lake be cleaned up and the sewage diverted to an STP.

With no response from the authorities, Reddy filed a case in the Karnataka High Court. In November 1999, the HC directed the BWSSB to provide a proper sewage network in the city and to stop sewage from entering lakes. Unsurprisingly, the BWSSB did not follow the court order and Reddy filed a contempt case. The HC referred the case to Lok Adalat for follow up and the case is still sitting with the Lok Adalat.

“Now the Lok Adalat is saying that it has misplaced the files… so the case has not yet been resolved,” he adds.

Lake catching fire is not a recent phenomenon

Jagannath Reddy says that the lake used to catch fire even in the late 1990s.

“Now that we have social media, a lot more people know about it. But the lake catching fire is not new to old residents. The problem with mosquitoes has been there since the 1980s and people have had skin diseases because of the foam,” Reddy adds.

Speaking to TNM, architect and urban planner Naresh Narasimhan says that the authorities “lack basic sense and are not addressing the root causes”.

“It has been over 30 years since the Bellandur Lake got polluted and it is ridiculous that till now none of the authorities have the sense to go back to the basics. They have to send people for inspection and find out who is responsible for letting the sewage into the storm water drains in the first place. Instead of putting STPs near the inlets, why can’t they ensure that the sewage flow stops?” Naresh questions.

Pictures by Praveen Singh