Bengaluru residents, heed this SOS call from Bellandur, save the city

Bellandur residents have had a see-saw of joys and sorrows, good news and bad news. When I moved here two years ago, I’d look out of my window and feast my eyes on that vast peaceful expanse of water, with flocks of white egrets hovering above. Kingfishers, coucals and green barbets visited daily, the water being a magnet for uncommon birds. The setting sun on the water was a sight to behold, peaceful and awe-inspiring. We were privileged to live overlooking this beautiful lake.

A scene from Bellandur lake area. Pic: Shikha Balakrishnan

Slowly, that feast for our eyes became an assault on our senses, as whiffs of foul sulphides and other putrid odours seeped in through our windows, especially during rainy months, as deterioration gradually set in and the weeds took over. The birds disappeared, but for a few crows and kites. We put up with unimaginable hordes of mosquitoes, with regular smoke from open burning of dumped garbage on lake buffer zones and of course, with the froth, foam and fire on the lake – which are what now give Bellandur Lake its dubious claim to international fame.

The increasing weed cover Pic: Odette Katrak

The big fire of 16 February 2017 in some strange way brought good news, because it drew attention where residents’ cries were earlier ignored. But sigh, bad news again when no action ensued, not surprising with so many different agencies involved, making it far easier for them to languish in that comfortable state of diffused accountability.

Then there was good news yet again in the form of intervention from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) with a strict deadline, forcing local authorities to do what they should have done years ago. Cleaning efforts are now actually visible (with additional reported long-overdue actions on controlling sewage). We sincerely hope that both are more than just cosmetic.

The bad news now is that the cleaning has revealed a deep, dark secret.  Last fortnight, cranes began the mammoth task of picking off the thick macrophyte cover of water hyacinth from the edge of the lake. The peek I had into this ‘cleaned’ up strip on the periphery shook me beyond words, for the green ‘curtain’ had parted to reveal the shocking reality of Bellandur lake. 

Weed removal on lake edge reveals garbage beneath Pic: Odette Katrak

Beneath the surface lies nothing but rotting garbage – floating, submerged, sinking, and giving off the foulest of odours. I saw footwear, tied bags of garbage, plastic milk packets, chips wrappers, plastic bottles, food containers, paper, glass, rubber, a floating light bulb, and more. There was even a metal Airtel signboard! Every kind of waste imaginable was dumped into Bengaluru’s largest lake–it is such a complete tragedy and travesty that anyone could do this to a water body playing such a crucial role in the ecosystem.

Garbage dump revealed right along the lake periphery. Pic: Odette Katrak

Those who live far from the lake may believe this does not really concern them apart from it being a sad state of affairs. But hold on, this is a very bad news, not just for Bellandur residents but for every Bengalurean, because the same malaise impacts your water, air and the food chain!

That bag of garbage that I saw could well be your garbage. Here’s how it works. You rush off for work, so you diligently drop a single bag of mixed waste at your doorstop (or perhaps two separate bags of wet and dry waste). It is gone when you return and you don’t think twice about where it goes, believing you have done your part.

Every kind of garbage submerged in the lake Pic: Odette Katrak

The sordid truth is, if you have not segregated it and if your apartment employs an unethical vendor who charges you less but doesn’t do the right thing, your garbage might reach a lake, an empty plot, a railway track, a street corner or someplace where it shouldn’t be – and that gives the city its piles of rotting garbage.

Every now and then, these piles are burnt and they contribute to a drastic reduction in the quality of the air we breathe. The toxins in lakes and black spots leach into groundwater and enter food chains as well. That rotting garbage is killing our lakes and killing the city. It is killing inhabitants, namely you and me, so yes it falls squarely upon us, part-culprits in this crime, to do something about it and do it right now.

What can you do to stop this mess?

Every citizen has a basic right to a clean environment. We grumble if our streets are not cleaned and garbage not lifted. But along with this right, comes a responsibility. Disposing garbage responsibly is a critical responsibility of every resident. The checklist below can clearly tell you if you are discharging those duties adequately; if not, please start doing so TODAY so you no longer contribute to the destruction of the city and its lakes:

  1. Segregate your waste. Not just two-way wet and dry, but three distinct categories: Green – organic, White – recyclable, Red – reject (E-waste is to be handled separately). Please visit www.2bin1bag.in for expert tips. 

  2. Disposal: The BBMP system offers free pick-up of segregated waste for houses and apartments under 50 households; learn details from their website under ‘Solid Waste Management’ and follow it. If you are not covered by BBMP pick-up, tie up with an ethical vendor; understand what he does with your waste. Diligent disposal will cost more. Cheaper disposal will of course cost you less but will cost the environment more and kill the city faster.

  3. Cut down your waste: Plastic/non-woven polypropylene bags and all plastic/thermacol/foil-lined disposables including food containers are banned in Karnataka. Ensure never to use these items (or paper disposables with their plastic coating and needless depletion of trees) which greatly increase the waste volume all for just a single-use! Instead shift to reusables; carry your own water bottle, mug, containers for takeaways… Reducing plastic/disposable waste is must, but what is also desirable is convert kitchen/garden waste to a resource through home or community composting, without burdening the garbage system.

Do all of the above and you are being a responsible citizen, sending minimal waste to landfill.

What should BBMP do?

There are, of course, other serious questions to be answered by the authorities: BBMP is accountable for proper collection and disposal of the city’s waste. Why has the city’s Solid Waste Management system failed so badly, that garbage has been getting dumped into this and other lakes all this while and no one noticed? Who are those who do the actual dumping?

Apart from garbage, construction debris gets constantly dumped into the lake in shocking quantities, changing the very borders of the lake—once over 1000+ acres and now somewhere around 860 acres as per BDA records. It was a veritable mountain of such debris that we residents climbed to reach the site of the 16 February fire!

: Construction debris is reducing the lake boundaries Pic: Odette Katrak

All kinds of dumping must be stopped forthwith after clear announcements by BBMP on designated destinations for C&D (construction & demolition) waste. Culprits must be fined but more importantly, immediate preventive measures must be taken to prevent further dumping. High fences all around the lake are one immediate solution, not the inadequate fencing that currently exists in some parts.

CCTV cameras and patrolling all around the lake (not at limited points to tick off a list) are critical measures – this is no less a threat to life, and night patrols too must add it to their beat. Culprits must be levied a heavy penalty that deters repeat offenses.

Can BBMP commit to putting every single rupee of the hefty Rs 751 crore budget for waste management to good use, to accelerate the recovery from this mess? Additionally, a complete relook at its empaneled vendors with stringent yardsticks, transparent licensing linked to a clear understanding and approval of their intended waste destinations, fully-functioning DWCCs (dry waste collection centres), clear announcements on end-destinations for E-waste, C&D waste and wet waste, strict monitoring on their efficient functioning, are needed. This will make only the most scrupulous vendors deal with this explosive cargo of waste, not just any entrepreneur looking for big profits without the slightest concern for the environment. All these must be reviewed at regular intervals with constant enforcement and stiff penalties for defaulters.

Finally, residents’ involvement in the process will ensure it works smoothly with local monitoring. The push by BBMP to ensure community composting is definitely a step in the right direction. The day of reckoning is here and we must act immediately, every one of us. I hope when you hand out your garbage tomorrow, your conscience can clearly tell you that you are doing the right thing. I also hope that BBMP and its vendors work with a zero tolerance for mixed waste. There is still hope, as I look out at the beautiful sunrise across the lake.

Every new sunrise brings hope Pic: Sujata Mathur

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About Odette Katrak 0 Articles
Odette Katrak is a soft-skills trainer, social-change activist and co-founder of Beautiful Bengaluru, an initiative for a clean, green, safe city.

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