Wait, Stop and Think
"Don’t dirty the water around you. You may have to drink it soon"
One of his biggest victories is the rejuvenation of Madiwala Lake and its two neighbouring lakes, Arakere and Hulimavu, located in the middle of Bengaluru. Madiwala, the size of 110 football fields, had already been declared ‘dead’ by environmental studies but Athri used the RTI Act to find out which agencies were responsible for its maintenance.
He made a shocking discovery. The reply to his RTI application revealed that untreated sewage from neighbouring apartments and residences, mainly the BTM Layout that borders one side of the lake, was contaminating the water bodies—a lapse on the part of as many as five civic agencies. First, Athri lodged a complaint with the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), but the main culprit was the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB). “Most city lakes have died because of the apathy of the sewerage board,” he points out. “When they knew the city was growing, they did not take measures to tackle wastewater. Instead, they have been directing sewage through the storm-water drains, into the lakes! So instead of rainwater alone entering the drains and then flowing into the lakes, raw sewage is getting into the storm-water drains and finding its way to the lakes.”
Athri’s relentless effort to bring the guilty to book resulted in the Pollution Control Board filing criminal charges under the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, 1974, against the top brass of the Sewerage Board, including its then chairperson. This was a first of its kind. “As many as 13 officials were charged for allowing the lakes to become polluted,” he reveals. “Although all of them are out on bail, I am happy to have played a role in making this happen.”
Madiwala is finally witnessing a rejuvenation following a year-long battle and the formation of a Lake Watchdog Committee (LWC), which comprises local government agencies and citizens’ representatives. Its waters are being de-silted and the on-site sewerage treatment plant (STP) has undergone maintenance to ensure that only treated water enters the lake. The slush from the lake was dredged, compacted and used to build a walkway that is now being enjoyed by morning walkers and joggers.
According to Suresh Dharmaji, a member of the LWC, “When I moved to Kamanahalli [near Hulimavu Lake] 10 years ago, we didn’t even know there was a lake here. Apart from construction workers who used the lake to relieve themselves, it had also becoming a dumping ground for the shops nearby. Residents, too, were throwing their garbage into the drains instead of dustbins. When it rains, it is all carried into the lakes.” Karnataka State Information Commissioner L Krishnamurthy is all praise for Athri’s style of functioning. “It is a pleasure to interact with the retired Wing Commander, who has a very disciplined and systematic approach in dealing with issues,” he says. “He uses the RTI Act for public good and gets to the heart of the matter. He then thoroughly researches the subject before approaching the authorities.”
By mid-2015, the dust had barely settled on the Madiwala Lake rejuvenation issue when it was under threat from another quarter. To decongest Bengaluru’s IT corridor, a bypass road connecting Hosur Road to BTM Layout was sanctioned—it was to be constructed on the lake bund. This meant a portion of the lake would have to be reclaimed.
Athri and the LWC went into battle mode and, once again, came to the rescue of Madiwala. “Sure, the IT corridor needed to be decongested and an alternative road was the need of the hour, but not on the lake bund,” says Athri. “We suggested they create an elevated bypass, 15 m away from the bund.” The issue was also brought to the notice of the chief minister and, within months, work on the bypass began away from the bund, at an elevated level, just as Athri had suggested.
Having tackled the authorities in the city, our crusader set his sights on Tunga River, which flows through his hometown of Sringeri, 325 km from Bengaluru. A 2014 RTI application had revealed that Sringeri, which produces over 9 million litre of household effluents and sewerage per day, did not have even a basic STP in place. The famed Sringeri Mutt, located on the riverbank, was adding to the pollution by disposing its solid kitchen waste into the waterway. “It took almost two years but by early 2016, STPs were set up to take care of effluents that flowed into the river,” says Athri. “A compact, manure-making machine has also been installed in the mutt premises and the solid kitchen waste generated by it is turned into manure, which is being used as fertiliser in the mutt garden.”
Source: Harmony India