Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Is Agara Lake a Mandur in the making?

Over the last year and a half, many of us who have been part of the Agara Lake forum have been interacting with the Lake Development Authority (LDA) for the revival and rejuvenation of Agara Lake. Post the Chief Minister’s visit last September, the progress to revive and rejuvenate the lake was in a steady pace and the tender to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) has been awarded to a qualified firm.

For the last few months BWSSB has been surveying Agara Lake to setup a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP), it has also been found that BWSSB has identified over 2+ acres of Agara Lake wet land for the STP. Agara Lake has already lost most part of its catchment area, latest to BDA that has in turn sold/leased lake land to an Educational Trust. Even as the dispute over the land encroached by BDA is going on, BWSSB plan to set up an STP which is indeed very alarming.

The primary objective of BWSSB is to ensure that the entire city sewage system is transported through underground pipes to designated pump-houses and STPs, which it has failed in totality. The Storm Water Drains (SWD) that has to carry only the rain water and the overflows for the upstream lakes is today nothing more than open sewage drains.

BBMP in the last 5-7 years has made no effort to clean the floating garbage or de-silt the SWD nor has it taken action against BWSSB for not fixing the sewage flow into the SWDs. No amount of pollution in the SWDs or water flowing into Bangalore lakes has woken-up Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB).

BWSSB, BBMP, KSPBC have all consistently failed to do their duties, time and again. Now adding to the list of experiments is BWSSB’s plan to setup an STP, promising ‘crystal clear water’ using membrane process from the loan given by a Japanese agency. The cost incurred to treat 1 KL of sewage water is about Rs 12, and the planned plant capacity is about 3 MLD. BWSSB is promising to let the treated water into Agara Lake and the excess would be sold to commercial/residential complexes.

Why STP in Agara Lake is not good and should be opposed?

  1. STP in the wet land of Agara Lake would mean an end to inflow of natural rain water, eventually converting the lake into a mere tank.
  2. Agara Lake has one of the best wet land designs and with the planned STP the lake will lose 2-3 acres of land along with the entire wet land area.
  3. 1000 mm pipes that BWSSB is planning to lay in the Agara Lake would mean the diversion of most of the Bangalore sewage towards the STP. As the sewage flow increases over a period of time more additional STPs would come up. This means taking over more lake area in the years to come.
  4. Most of the STPs in Bangalore are either in the non-residential areas or non-working conditions, putting up a STP right in the middle of the residential area could affect the citizen’s health and destroy the much needed lung space.
If the intent of BWSSB is to treat sewage water and in turn provide potable water, fill lakes and re-charge the ground water tables it can simply revamp Madivala Lake STP which is the upstream for Agara Lake. All the excess treated water from Madivala Lake can reach Agara Lake through the SWD and further downstream lakes.

STPs are indeed a necessity, given the water crisis Bangalore city is going to face in the next 2-3 years, but serious questions arise in case of Agara Lake proposed STP:

  • Is the STP planned to benefit the adjacent SEZ?
  • Will the planned STP takeover more land as and when the inflow of sewage increases?
  • Why should an STP come up in a wet land?
  • BWSSB is only talking about 5-7 years maintenance that runs to 1-2 crores per year, what will happen after the initial contract period?
  • Why STP in a downstream lake and why not in an upstream lake?
If BWSSB stops the sewage flowing into the SWD, if BBMP clears the floating garbage and silt in the SWD and if KSPCB does regular check on the quality of water flowing into the lakes a large part of water problem and contamination of ground water can be stopped.

Let’s be very clear, no amount of technology or treatment helped to clean Hussain Sagar in Hyderabad. It will be good if BWSSB stops fooling people with ‘crystal clear water’ STP in Agara Lake and gets its fundamentals right. Ensuring 100% Underground Drainage System (UDS) should be the first priority of BWSSB and is indeed the first important step towards stopping contamination of ground water.

This piece of news may come as a rude shock for many Agara Lake enthusiasts and citizens who care about saving the lakes in Bangalore. It’s time the citizens of HSR Layout, Agara Village, Jakkasandra and surrounding areas are aware what is being planned in their backyard so that they can ensure one of the pristine water body is not converted into an STP that treats most of Bangalore sewage. Any attempt to set up an STP in Agara Lake should be contested and opposed keeping in mind the need to save our lake and the lung space.

Our Chief Minister should take a long term view on the planned STP and question BWSSB’s intent on setting up STPs in downstream lake rather than upstream lakes. Since BWSSB comes under the Chief Minister, it’s his responsibility and obligation to ensure that BWSSB does not take this wrong step that intends to benefit only a few powerful people with vested interests. I do hope Chief Minister will intervene, look into the merits of the argument I have put out and support the common citizens to retain both lung space and the lake.  

Kavitha Reddy
Environmental Activist 

Also published in CityPlus HSR Layout 20th June 2014