Coming down heavily on the “colossal neglect” of the city’s two biggest and most polluted lakes — Bellandur and Varthur — the National Green Tribunal on Thursday ordered the Karnataka government to set aside Rs 500 crore in an escrow account towards cleaning them. It also directed the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike to pay Rs 50 crore penalty to the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) as environmental compensation.
“There is not even one millilitre of clean water in the lake,” the NGT rued about Bellandur as it sought an action plan from the state in one month, detailing the measures it will be taking to clean up the lakes and a timeline, specially for Bellandur where foaming and fires are frequent. In January, fire in the Bellandur lake raged for over a day and was eventually put out with help from defence personnel.
The green bench asked BBMP to pay another Rs 25 crore to CPCB, of which Rs 10 crore will be transferred to the Karnataka pollution control board to support a committee which will monitor implementation of the action plan.
The state government has also been directed to furnish a performance guarantee of Rs 100 crore, which it will have to pay if it fails to implement the plan within the timeline. The NGT’s observations came on a report submitted by a commission it appointed on May 31.
The report said the lake’s water-holding capacity had shrunk due to dumping of garbage and construction waste in the water body and the buffer zone. The weed cover had regained its initial spread, it found, despite pumping of several crores of rupees into the deweeding project by the BDA, the custodian of the lake.
The tribunal directed the government to carry out the commission’s recommendations and ensure that no pollutant or waste is discharged into the lake or stormwater drains leading to it, and that the encroachments in the catchment area are removed.
The NGT also constituted a committee to oversee the implementation of these recommendations as well as of the action plan drafted by the state. Headed by Justice Santhosh Hegde, for mer Kar nataka Lokayukta and retired Supreme Court judge, the committee will include professor TV Ramachandra from Indian Institute of Science, and one person each nominated by CPCB, KSPCB and the additional chief secretary to the urban development department respectively. The committee may set up a website to receive complaints and suggestions from the public.
In April last year, NGT had cracked the whip, ordering the government to clean the lake within a month. What followed was a half-hearted attempt to de-weed the lake which was slammed as an “eyewash” by citizens and activists in the city.
The state then informed the NGT that a full clean-up, including the setting up of wetlands and desilting, would be possible only after 2020 once sewage treatment plants are built to stop the flow of sewage into the lake.