Dry waste burning suspected for fire in polluted water bodies

No word yet from the BBMP or the BDA

Published - March 06, 2021 07:09 am IST

Dry weeds in the surroundings of Bellandur lake catch fire.

Dry weeds in the surroundings of Bellandur lake catch fire.

On the day that the city won laurels for ease of living, two of its water bodies – both cursed with years of neglect and pollution – were burning. The irony was not lost on residents.

While Bellandur lake is no stranger to fumes, this time, the burning of dry waste on its lakebed is suspected to have caused the fire. The lake is now dry as it has been dewatered for rejuvenation.

On the other hand, residents around Vrushabhavathi river, the only one that originates in the city yet has never commanded the importance it deserves, said the fire was unusual. They suspect two likely scenarios – dry waste that had accumulated was set on fire as in the case of Bellandur, or methane.

Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) officials were unavailable for comment despite repeated attempts. On the fire at Bellandur lake, Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) officials only said it was not inside the lake, but around 300 metres downstream. They refused to confirm if it was dry waste burning, which is what local residents suspect. Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike officials, on the other hand, said the lake was under the jurisdiction of the BDA.

Vinay Kumar Nanjundeswara, technical advisor to the Namami Vrishabhavathi Foundation, said they had doubts that friction in the dry waste accumulated could have caused the fire due to heat, or it could be due to methane accumulation. “The fire is unusual. Pollution has definitely increased because of direct flushing of waste water into the river. Correction needs to be done at source through viable effluent treatment plants (ETPs) and sewage treatment plant (STP) options. ETP comes with considerable capex. It is a humongous task to clean up the entire stretch. In every water body, waste dumping is a problem,” he said.

Nataraja P., an agriculturist who lives around 2 km from Byramangala, said fire in the river was noticed on Thursday afternoon. “The smoke was so dark, we were inhaling poison. Bengaluru's waste flows through the river, and the solid waste leads to stagnation in certain parts. It is in one such spot that the fire started,” he said.

Locals suspect that rows of waste picker settlements along the banks of the river is a source of solid waste that is dumped in the river, apart from indiscriminate dumping by others illegally.

“We have complained before, but to no avail. Public also has no awareness,” Mr. Nataraja said, even as he recalled seeing clear water around 35 years ago as a young boy in his village.

While Bellandur is under rejuvenation, Vrushabhavathi got a shot of optimism last year when the KSPCB constituted a committee to draw up an action plan for the Vrushabhavathi Valley (V-Valley). However, sources said the committee has had only one meeting so far.

A resident who lives opposite Bellandur lake, said the fires have become an annual occurrence, but still there are no answers.

Another resident, Sonali Singh, said they saw 16 major fires and numerous small fires last year. “This season in just two months, there have been seven fires in #BellandurLake, buffer zone and surrounding areas,” she alleged, saying it was imperative that lake marshalls be given basic fire fighting equipment. “But both the BBMP and the BDA simply put the onus on the other to provide the equipment. Meanwhile, lake marshals continue to fight fires with just tree branches. This red tape to source the equipment is shameful,” she alleged.

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