news Friday, May 01, 2015 - 05:30

The furore surrounding images of the foamy Varthur and Bellandur lakes reached the mainstream TV channels after they surfaced on social media, but residents of the area and local experts have hardly been up in arms. Why? You ask. “I’ve been witness to this phenomenon since 2005,” says Nagesh, a concerned resident of Bellandur, adding that the land which was once farmland now hosts a slew of high-rise apartments. Nagesh states that there are hardly any farmers left in the region and that many bore wells had come up in the area, the ground-water from which is being used by families residing nearby. His concern about the contaminated water is something that was voiced in a research paper published close to thirteen years ago. An IISc research paper from 2002 had mentioned that 86% of the area’s residents back then had cited deterioration in the quality of the lake. “Infiltration is the main water source of groundwater recharging in the Bangalore area. Varthur Lake represents a major local reservoir of rainwater and a reduction in the permeability of its benthic layers would decrease the water resources available from local open and bore wells. These wells are the primary source of domestic, potable, and agricultural water, and their decline would be detrimental to the people living in the area,” the report had almost prophesized.   “Many residents relied on bore wells or open wells for all their water needs, a trend that increases rapidly as distance from the lake increases,” the report adds. The fact is corroborated by Nagesh, who mentions that many bore wells had come up in the area, some of which were very close to the lake and obviously did use the ground water which is replenished by the lake. The report had also mentioned that 83% of the population surveyed relied on agriculture back then and relied on the water from the lake and bore wells for irrigation. Another cause for concern is the water hyacinth that grows beneath the surface of the lake and is used by cattle-farmers to feed the bovine. Nagesh mentions that the local milk which is sold goes unchecked for contaminations that may have creeped in due to the animal consuming the weeds from the polluted water. The decline of farming and a drop in the water table in the area can also be put into perspective by studies which have been conducted more recently. Research scholar at Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Durga Madhav Mahapatra had conducted a survey of the Varthur lake few months ago and the results of which showed clear contamination of water. He said that sedimentation at the floor of the lake had increased significantly due to which certain spots had become impervious, therefore rainwater could not seep in, which caused a drastic decrease in the ground water table. In areas that the water can seep in, contaminated water is recharging the ground water table therefore posing high risk to those who consume bore-well water, he added. He also advised that it was not advisable for local residents to dig bore-wells since they would have to digger deeper into the ground, and deeper the depth, contamination of dissolved salts would be high. The lake, he said, had high metal concentration like chromium, zinc, manganese and the repercussions of using such water could affect the metabolism in humans. In the past, the proximity of the Varthur lake was a boon for the farmers who had agriculture lands. But as the city grew, it became a convenient option to discharge sewage into the lake. The farmers engage in horticulture and vegetable production and use the same water for the purpose of irrigation since this was the closest water body available, said Mahapatra. “Since the water is highly polluted, there is a high possibility that the same chemicals enters the food chain. The plants and the produce may contain the same toxic material which could be harmful when consumed in the long run,” he said. While conducting a survey for his research paper, several residents complained to him of having experienced health problems. Though no clinical survey is available, people who stayed near Varthur lake had reported skin problems, diarrhea and gastroentities, he said. Dr Ramesh who runs a clinic that is located close to Varthur lake said that in the last three to four months, cases of gastroentities had increased. “I’ve at least seen 800 cases of dengue in and around this area in the last few months.” The contaminated water, he said, acted as a breeding ground for mosquitoes that could cause dengue and malaria. Dr Ramesh had resided in a nearby locality all his life until recently. Having witnessed the change with his own eyes, he says that the condition of the river has gone from bad to worse. “It is very possible that people can develop skin allergies or irritation in the eyes or nasal allergy because of the harmful gases produced due to the reaction in the water. There is certainly no doubt about it,” he said. However, recently, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board Chairman Vaman Acharya had dismissed this and had blamed the air pollution when pointed that people had experienced health problems. Mahapatra says that had the civic authorities acted when the IISc had published the report in 2002, the condition of the lake would not have deteriorated to this extent.  

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