Bengaluru's foaming lakes are awash in trash and spit fire again, but no respite soon

A few months ago, foreign tourists were seen near Bengaluru's Varthur lake, clicking pictures. The notoriety of the foaming lakes of India's Silicon Valley had earned it a spot among the must-see tourist spots of the city, making the lake a visual symbol of the degradation of Bengaluru's environment.

And today, Varthur is foaming again. The timing couldn't be worse, as Bengaluru is playing host to thousands of NRIs and foreign delegates, who have descended upon the city for the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas from January 7 to 9.

To top it, Bengaluru has already been in the news for all the wrong reasons since the alleged mass molestation on Brigade Road on New Year's Eve and the Kammanahalli molestation case in which four persons were arrested.

Foam from the Varthur lake flows on to the surrounding roads. Image courtesy: Twitter/@amitsingh2203

Foam from the Varthur lake flows on to the surrounding roads. Image courtesy: Twitter/@amitsingh2203

Bengaluru is enveloped by the winter chill and you may even be excused if you are cheated into thinking the foaming lakes are an expanse of snow. From a distance, floating in the air, they look white, light and fluffy. Step closer and the flakes stink.

The city's administration does not realise that hell hath no fury like the Earth scorned. The froth provides the optics of the fury of Varthur, Yemlur and Bellandur, the latter being the largest lake in Bengaluru. Most of these water bodies are hemmed in all on sides by residential complexes, whose waste finds its way into the lakes. The fish have all been killed, and the lakes are a den of mosquitoes.

Bengalureans blame civic apathy and their inability to police the city. They point out that the administration engages only in firefighting by putting up fencing around the lakes, which only helps the contractors and does little to prevent foaming in the lakes or prevent it from coming on to the main road.

"Environmental molestation of Bengaluru's lakes has been going on for a decade now," says V Balasubramanian, former additional chief secretary of Karnataka, and a leading environmentalist. "Of the 25 lakh odd properties in Bengaluru, the Water Supply and Sewerage Board covers only 10 lakh. The rest simply dump their sewage into the water bodies, contaminating them and leading to the phenomenon of foaming."

Bengaluru generates about 1,100 million litres of sewage everyday but has installed sewage treatment capacity of just 780 million litres. Even that does not help, however, as only 450 million litres of sewage is actually collected and sent to the treatment plants. This means 650 million litres of untreated sewage is discharged into the water bodies.

This is how Bengaluru is killed through slow poison. Everyday.

Which is why civic groups like Whitefield Rising are lamenting that the government spends on hosting an international event trying to impress NRIs while turning a blind eye to the plight of resident Indians. They have been mobilising public opinion about heavy pollution in the city for years now. From 200-plus tanks in Bengaluru half a century ago, only 90-odd remain now. Environmentalists point out that it is quite possible that a majority of these would be lost in the next five years.

"On one hand, you have global cutting edge work happening here, but on the other, basic concerns like security and health are not taken care of," says K Elangovan, a member of Whitefield Rising. "The government is so disengaged that it is frustrating. When you talk of Karnataka facing one of the worst droughts, the least you should do is conserve this valuable resource of water that we have in Bengaluru."

When Cyclone Vardah hit Chennai in December, Bengaluru's lakes felt the heat. When it rains, the water gets churned, mixing up the effluents and causing the froth to come up. Scientists explain that the ammonia and phosphate levels in the water go up due to untreated sewage and effluents flowing in, causing a reduction in dissolved oxygen. That causes the froth formation.

The government has done little except blame the washing habits of residents for the foam. Technically, it's not off the mark, as the phosphate that is used by detergents to soften the hard water, along with the foaming agents, causes froth. But to blame the residents is also a way to shut up civic protest. Instead it should get authorities, including the Pollution Control Board, to put in systems which do not give permissions to constructions that will pollute.

Efforts to mobilise CSR funds to set up sewage treatment plants have not met with much success. Citizen groups say this is because it is again the government that has to clear roadblocks like allocating land.

After the 31 December incident, the Karnataka home minister promised to install 5,000 CCTVs across Bengaluru to improve citizen's safety. Using the same yardstick, if Bengaluru's environment is to be saved, the Karnataka government needs to be put under surveillance too.

Updated Date: Jan 07, 2017 15:40 PM

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