Apartment owners take fight against STPs to HC

When 85 per cent of the city’s existing 2,000 sewage treatment plants (STPs) aren’t functional, why is the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) insisting that the city’s apartment complexes construct more? That is the main contention of environmental consultant Ananth S Kodavasal. He has been assisting a consortium of apartments under the Bangalore Apartment Federation (BAF) in contesting the BWSSB’s rules mandating the implementation of STPs in apartment complexes with flats numbering over 20. After an online petition addressed to the Chief Minister, opposing the mandate on dual pipelines, payment of retrospective tax and hefty penalties, groups of apartments have now come together to file writ petitions in the High Court of Karnataka against the mandate.

For a year now

The issue has been a sticky one since February last year, when BWSSB issued a notification to apartment complexes to set up STPs and dual pipelines. September onwards, apartments which do not do so would be charged penalties at 25 per cent of the water bill for three months, which would increase to 50 per cent after six months, till the STP is installed.

BAF, however, contends that this move is neither economically nor environmentally feasible, and that the imposition of such hefty penalties are unfair because when the apartments were constructed, they followed all the requisite norms. According to Muralidhar Rao, committee member of Mantri Classic in Koramangala, which, along with 12 other apartments, filed its writ petition in the High Court in December, this will involve an entire redesign of complexes, many of which may not have the requisite space for an STP, while retrofitting the plumbing to implement the reflow of the treated water back into their toilets via dual piping is an impossible task.

Unscientific move

While dwellers of apartments that have received this notification are paying the penalties ‘under protest’, they argue that the move is unscientific because their complexes are already connected to the BWSSB’s underground sewage system. They have also done their due diligence, organising awareness workshops with other apartment complexes, sharing knowledge over WhatsApp groups, and consulting with experts such as Kodavasal on the feasibility of the project. “In fact, Dr Sharad­chandra Lele from ATREE made it clear that captive STPs are not feasible for apartment complexes having less than 150 flats on account of matters of economics, space and maintenance,” Rao says.

There are a few problems here, says Kodavasal. Most STPs are designed poorly, without consultation with environmental experts, and approved without much thought by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB). While there are various STP technologies available – sequencing batch reactor; moving bed bio film reactor; membrane bio reactor and even anaerobic systems – most will not work at the scale of apartment complexes, where there is a significant peak-hour load, with 60 per cent of the requirement occurring in the morning. “These technologies are meant for large municipal treatment plants, not such apartment complexes,” Kodavasal says.

When STPs are poorly designed, they pose a bigger health hazard. With maintenance being expensive and time-consuming, most housing complexes don’t operate them full time, and instead discharge raw sewage out, which pollutes lakes and water bodies. “They become cesspools, attract mosquitoes and emit a foul smell,” he explains.

A study conducted in 2013 said as much, finding that considering these factors, the only viable STP type is the classical system (extended aeration activated sludge system), and that too only for apartments housing 150+ apartments. “Instead of doing its job of supplying water and taking care of sewerage, BWSSB is just passing the buck.”

The next writ petition under BAF is likely to be filed by a group of apartments that includes Raj Paradise and Jalvayu Vihar. Gayathri Gopalakrishnan, president of the Mayflower Block in Brigade Millennium in JP Nagar, says they are currently canvassing support from all five blocks in the complex, and hope to file the petition soon.

Srikanth Narasimhan, governing council member says they are also doing a door-to-door campaign collecting signatures on physical campaign letters from RWAs. “If we are able to collect even 500 signature letters (with each RWA having, say, 100 apartment units), we are talking of 50,000 apartment units,” he says. Meanwhile, the online petition has garnered 2029 signatures, fast approaching their target of 2,500.

Credits Bangalore Mirror

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