The National Green Tribunal on Thursday once again slapped a fine of Rs 50 crore on the Karnataka government and an additional Rs 25 crore fine on Bengaluru's civic body, the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), on account of the pollution at Bellandur lake.
The NGT has also asked the state government to transfer Rs 500 crore to an escrow account for execution of the action plan to clean Bellandur. It has further warned a fine of Rs 100 crore if the government fails to take corrective action.
It also asked for a website to be a set up to receive complaints and suggestions. From now on compliance on matters to the lake rejuvenation will be overseen by a committee headed by Justice Santosh Hegde, former judge of Supreme Court; TV Ramachandran, renowned scientist and IISc professor, and a nominee of CPCB.
The court also ordered an action plan to be prepared by the state of Karnataka within one month specifying the timeline for the various actions to be initiated.
The NGT observed that there is negligence by Karnataka government in protecting its lakes and in keeping rajakaluves (storm water drains) free from encroachment. The tribunal has asked the government again to control pollution and close polluting units, adding that water pollution is a criminal offence. The court also observed that violators should be penalised as per the ‘polluter pays’ principle and that officers-in-charge are accountable for their failures. The CPCB has been asked to make guidelines and regulations denoting the penalties and amounts to be recovered from individuals and institutions for failure to comply.
Namma Bengaluru Foundation, which made itself a party in the case issued a statement following Thursday’s verdict.
“At the outset, the NBF welcomes the historic order of National Green Tribunal. Bengaluru would like to know what is GoK’s plan to implement NGT’s order along with the list of officials who will be put to this task. As NBF has been fighting for, there is finding of Government negligence and there is finding that people must be held to account, and the court has clearly said that water pollution is a criminal offence. So, NBF will not only support this committee in restoring the lakes but it will also on its own rigorously pursue the prosecution of those who have violated norms. 5. NBF’s one-point mission is Save Bengaluru – NBF is fulfilling its responsibility to Nadaprabhu Kempegowda and this beautiful City and her people,” NBF said in its statement.
The country’s topmost green court had taken suo motu cognisance of the matter after the Bellandur lake caught fire for the second time in February 2017.
The fire on January 19, 2018, that raged on for almost 30 hours, was the last major episode that embarrassed the government. Recently, in mid-November, there have been incidents of minor fires too which the marshals guarding the lake termed as unnatural.
In June, a report prepared by the commission set up by the National Green Tribunal to determine the extent of damage in Bellandur had said that the lake had caught fire 12 times since August 2016, when it first made the headlines. The report also mentioned that the high oil and grease volumes in the lake make it highly flammable. The report also ruled out that the fires were not caused due to the spontaneous combustion of methane accumulated in the lake.
Earlier in June, the NGT had lambasted the state government and its agencies for their inaction with regard to the rejuvenation of three Bengaluru lakes – Bellandur, Agara and Varthur. The NGT bench headed by acting chairperson Justice Jawad Rahim appointed a seven-member committee to inspect the three lakes.