A Tale of Fire and Water: Bellandur Lake

By Lucy Gibson

Bellandur Lake, is located in the densely populated city of Bangalore. Once a healthy lifeline for its surrounding residents, both human and non-human, on the evening of 16th February 2017, Bellandur Lake caught fire.

But, how can that be? Water extinguishes not fuels fire, right?

Previously, Bellandur Lake was one of the oldest and largest lakes in Bangalore, enabling its neighbouring human residents to cultivate paddy, grow vegetables, and fish (over 400 fishing families used to live in this neighbourhood), and offering its non-human residents a home.

Rapid urbanisation has propelled Bangalore into India’s outsourcing and IT hub of 10 million people. About 40% of the city’s untreated sewage flows into Bellandur Lake every day; that is approximately 400-500 million litres. Residential and commercial activities in the region have resulted in increasing the silt deposition in the lake and have caused loss of underground water recharge. Urbanisation has changed the characteristics of the Lake from being a natural ecologically healthy Lake to an artificial reservoir of domestic sewage and industrial effluents. Now, this once bountiful lake finds its waters littered with a mixture of domestic and industrial waste.

With the banks of the lake becoming a convenient site for rubbish dumping and cooking oil entering the lake from untreated domestic sewage, the combined effect has been a lake that catches fire.

Four main locations where sewage enters Bellandur Lake. Source: Citizen Matters.
Fire on Bellandur Lake. Source: India Times.

Additionally, detergents present in the domestic sewage result in the formation of a foamy froth which has become a matter of concern for people residing in the Bellandur area. During the monsoon season, when large volumes of rainwater mixed with the sewage enter the lake, this foam forms at a greater rate. This froth, which may appear a sight to behold, has a pungent smell and causes irritation on contact with skin.

Snowy froth which floats up from Bellandur Lake into the surrounding area. Photo: Debasish Ghosh.

Bellandur Lake burns to be seen.

Evidentially, 30 years on unplanned urbanisation have taken their toll. Bellandur Lake exists as just one example of humanity’s struggle to protect its environment. A struggle faced on a global scale.

This once clean lake which offered both sources of income and recreation, is now toxic. Pollution has led to disappearance of native fish species in the lake. Wildlife which used to inhabit the area, kingfishers, kites, cobras, parakeets, and monitor lizards are now gone. With more and more residential areas springing up along the shores, more species will sadly disappear. The original habitat is in the process of being destroyed.

Kingfishers now found on the outskirts of Bangalore. Source: The Hindu.

But solutions are difficult to find.

Bellandur Lake does not completely come under one civic body. As a result, the Lake falls under the authority of multiple agencies and civic bodies, this has resulted in a lack of accountability.

Protests against the destruction of Bellandur Lake and its surroundings have been held for over 20 years. A group of people including lake and environment activists and residents are trying to preserve the Lake. Citizen Groups have been created to discuss and create awareness about the plight of Bellandur Lake. Bellandur Lake Citizen Group, for example, would like more lake oversight handed to private citizens.

The rejuvenation of Bellandur-Varthur lake involves, de-silting, treatment of wastewater through constructed wetlands and algae ponds, re-establishing inter-connectivity among lakes, banning alterations in the topography, and maintaining 30 m buffer zone around the lake etc. Yet efforts to desilting the south side are undone by there being no prevention of raw sewage water flowing into the lake on the north side.

If we do not make a conscious effort to protect our water bodies, we will lose them.

Water is a prime natural resource, a basic need for entire living systems on this planet. A precious natural asset.  

We must try our best to save these waters.

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