Ruined by effluents: Farmers pay the price for Varthur Lake's death

Bengaluru: One of the less discussed aspects of city's lake pollution revolves around the price farmers have had to pay for the lake's death.
Dependent on the lake for fodder, growing vegetables, and dairy farming, farmers, especially those living near Bellandur and Varthur Lakes, have been ruined by the lake's slow death.

Take the case of Varthur Lake. Spread over 450 acres, the lake was a source of water for Ramagondanahalli, Siddapura, Tubarahalli, Munnekolala, Balgere, Varthur, Bellandur, Yemlur and Gunjur villages. Now, with the lake heavily polluted due to chemical effluents and sewage, farmers are facing a host of problems, including 'toxic grass', dwindling yield of milk, and mosquito menace among others. The recent NGT ruling with regard to Bellandur has only added to their woes.

Rajanna, a dairy farmer at Balgere, owns 15 cows now. Five years ago, he had 40. "I had to see all 35 cows due to lack of fodder and froth depositing on the grass. Out of the 15 cows, only 9 produce milk," says Rajanna. According to him, milk yield has dropped from 190 litres per day to 120 litres following the lake's pollution.

Rajanna also says the chemical content in the water affected the growth of grass.

"Apart from this, mosquito menace has increased. Earlier, the presence of fish in the lake did not allow the mosquitoes to survive," says Rajanna.

Five years ago, villages used to grow sugarcane, paddy and all kinds of greens and vegetables but the pollution has rendered cultivation unviable.

Rangappa, another dairy farmer from Varthur village, says the lake should be rejuvenated since it plays a huge role in a farmer's life. "The government and civic agencies should rejuvenate Varthur Lake. Before letting in the sewage, it should be treated and STPs should be installed here also," says Rangappa.

Farmer after farmer complained of how they had been ruined by the lake turning toxic. Murali, who owns one acre of land, says he used to earn Rs 8 lakhs every year by growing vegetables and greens. "But after the lake got polluted, cultivation was not possible. Leaves of the plants changed colour due to presence of acid in water and they withered slowly," says Murali, who is now planning to sell the land and move out. "I will have to depend on rent from the houses that will be built in future in this land," rued Murali.

The extent of pollution was revealed when Murali started the borewell. Toxic froth surfaced instead of water!

Then there are farmers Lokesh, Manjula, who are worried about the lake being fenced by the BDA, which would prevent them from accessing grass, and Jagadish, farmer from Gunjur, who says he has stopped cultivation due to the "presence of chemicals" in the lake. "With the NGT ruling that there should be no buildings in the buffer zone, no real estate person is coming forward to purchase my land. I want the government to allocate me a three-acre land somewhere else," says Jagadish.

Hemachandra, Secretary, Balagere Halu Udpadakara Abhivrudhi Sangha, who has lost "two of his cows" to the 'toxic grass', says the milk collection at Balagere dairy had also dropped. "Milk collection is about 1,300 litres per day, and the same is sent to Bengaluru dairy," says Hemachandra. "Earlier, we used to supply 2,000 litres of milk but it has reduced as many farmers have stopped dairy farming due to urbanisation and shortage of fodder from the lake bed. The milk yielding cows suffer from mastitis, a condition which affects milk secreting tissues. I lost two of my cows recently."

Hope on the horizon

But all is not lost as the BWSSB is installing a STP at the lake. SM Ramakrishna, BWSSB Chief Engineer, Waste Water Management, says a 90 MLD STP would be installed by July between Varthur and Bellandur Lake. "This will reduce 90 percent of the lake pollution. A 248 MLD STP is functional in the Bellandur Lake right now," says Ramakrishna.

S Nagraj, an engineer who works in the lake section of the BDA, says they would begin fencing as per the NGT ruling. "We will have to fence the lake. We are going by the National Green Tribunal rules," says Nagraj. "Regarding the compensation to farmers, it is left to the government to decide. The Varthur Lake is being surveyed from last week. Encroachers will be served notices soon."