After years of lobbying by apartment residents against the imposition of annual fees on apartments that operate Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) has relented and reduced the fees to Rs.250 per annum.
The KSPCB has ruled that apartments be treated as an Urban Local Body and has revised the fee for Consent For Operation (CFO) to Rs 250 per annum. Earlier apartments had to shell out Rs 30,000 to 40,000 per year for the same. The KSPCB order dated 17 July 2013 can be seen here.
STPs were made mandatory in 2010 for all the new apartments with more than 20,000 sq ft built up area, having more than 50 flats. Builders procured Consent For Establishment (CFE) for STP at a cost based on the capital investment, prior to the construction. After the construction is completed, the STP is required to be legally transferred by the builders to the Residents’ Association.
Residents paid an annual charge to KSPCB to get the Consent for Operation (CFO) after the first instance (paid by the builder). This was a huge sum because apartments were considered to fall under the “Red” category – meant for the worst polluting industries – which includes nuclear reactors, refineries and airports. In 2004, KSPCB had categorised all large apartments under red category.
The CFO amount charged for various categories of constructions, as seen here, could go upto Rs 2 lakhs. For example, an apartment that had a capital investment of 25 crores, had to pay Rs 50,000 per annum.
A group of residents has been fighting to reduce the cost for a long time (See earlier report by Citizen Matters). The group argued that treating the waste is the BWSSB’s job. As the apartments have taken the responsibility to treat their own waste, it is not fair to charge them with exorbitant amount.
Nagesh, a resident of Sobha apartments in Bellandur, part of the group of apartment residents who lobbied against the steep STP fees, feels that according to National Environment Policy 2006, apartment-owners should get refund for their STP running costs.
Former chairman Sadashivaiah had assured residents of action, but it has taken a few years for the formal decision.
Status changed from Red to Orange, for first level permission
One key change in the new rules, is in how apartments are categorised for calculation of CFE fees, when the STP is to be first installed by the builder.
KSPCB Chairman, Dr Vaman Acharya, says, “Earlier apartments were categorised in red category and charged accordingly. Now they have been shifted to orange category, therefore the fee will be less.” This is related to the amount that builders pay for Consent For Establishment of the STP. “Construction of STP is definitely expensive and that is the job of the builders. This cost will be in return collected by the investors of the property.”
According to Dr Acharya, 468 apartments have setup STP and are doing well. The smaller apartments with households less than 50 or individual houses do not come under KSPCB’s purview. They are expected to have connection with BWSSB’s sewerage lines.
Nagesh, while welcoming the news, says it is still unfair. “Each apartment-owner still pays the operational costs for the STP, which is about Rs 3000 per annum, while some houses and smaller apartments use UGD pipelines from BWSSB, at a throwaway rate.” He also points out a large majority of houses (43% of Bangalore population) have no STP or UGD lines. They simply dump raw sewage into lakes and are let off without any penalty.
KSPCB not to charge cess?
Apartment residents still have other reasons to worry. For example, the KSPCB is also collecting a cess from apartments, which according to Water Cess Act 1977, is to be paid by the BWSSB, not by consumers. This has been a topic of hot debate among RWA groups.
Reacting to this, Acharya says, “We are planning to not charge cess to the apartments as we collect charges from BWSSB. We do not want to collect fees again and again and increase our paper work.”
The “zero discharge policy” adopted in 2006 is another cause for concern among residents groups. Acharya agrees that there are difficulties in implementing zero waste policy and says ”We are still looking into it.”
KSPCB Environmental Officer Nandakumar also says treatment of waste water effluents is a debatable topic. He says, the issue is “effluents (including treated water) may not be properly treated to let them in the river or lake beds.”. He points out builders promise to provide enough space for reusing the water, but after construction, residents face problems in using the entire volume of treated water, because of lack of garden and dual pipeline infrastructure.
Some issues related to KSPCB raised by RWAs
1. Currently there is no process or forms for CFE, CFO and annual CFO. No traceable records are kept. For any problem, the RWA is held responsible. A formal process, acceptance criteria and records for CFE, CFO and annual CFO are the need of the hour.
2. KSPCB inspectors raise the same fundamental design issues in old STPs every year. The very first CFO process should follow a separate process from subsequent CFO applications. The inspectors should verify the design and implementation during first inspection, in a detailed manner.
3. Most STPs approved by KSPCB are dysfunctional, due to poor design. Yet buyers do not suspect the builders, while taking possession of the property. To avoid this, a step-by-step process for STP handover is required.
4. The “zero discharge policy” adopted in 2006 is something unmanageable by public. Public can be allowed to discharge unused treated STP water. A formal city-planning for a separate network of pipelines for treated sewage is a solution.