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A parched land, in a sea of sewage

In June, farmers in water-starved Kolar were overjoyed when the newly inaugurated KC Valley Project began supplying treated sewage water from Bengaluru . But things went horribly wrong in July when the pipeline began to spew out raw sewage, contaminating the land, the lakes and the groundwater. Mohit M. Rao reports
Manjunath N., 33, looks on as his brother Murali, 31, opens the lid of their drinking water sump. The lid comes up, revealing black, stagnant water emitting a foul stench. This is their drinking water source, pumped up from a community borewell barely 50 metres away. “We used to drink this water until the project began,” says Murali. Dark clouds have gathered and thunder rumbles over Bellur village in Kolar district, 70 km from Bengaluru. The persistent drizzle turns into a downpour. Water drips down the bund of the Narasapura lake that faces their house. “We built this house just three years ago, using all our savings. What if the entire lake starts to smell?” asks Murali. This year, for the seventh time since 2011, Kolar was declared drought-hit. The day’s rains will do little to reverse this. But this is not what’s on Manjunath’s mind. He is thinking about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s expected visit to the village in mid-December, to pay tribute to B.K.S. Iyengar, the yoga guru born in Bellur nearly a century ago. “I’m going to tell him about the water in the village,” says Manjunath. When the conversation turns to the layers of security around the Prime Minister, he elaborates, “I’ll go earlier than everyone so that I get time with the PM. I don’t speak Hindi. But we’ll give him a letter in English so that he can understand. We’ll tell him to include it in his speech. We have to do this, or we’ll end up drinking Bengaluru’s sewage throughout our life.” A little more than 60 km away on the eastern outskirts of Bengaluru, sewage treatment plants (STPs) churn million of litres of the city’s sewage. From the city’s Varthur lake — which, like the neighbouring Bellandur lake, is overrun by froth and filth — a gigantic pipe cuts across putrid waters and plunges underground, from where it winds its way beneath habitations for 55 km, in the direction of Murali and Manjunath’s house. Seven kilometres short of the brothers’ home, the wide pipe turns into a concrete channel, which opens into the Lakshmisagar lake in the parched Kolar district.Towards the end of September, the High Court gave permission to resume pumping of water from the STPs, provided the water is tested and reports submitted on its quality. On October 6, after a gap of two-and-a-half months, Kolar’s man-made river sprung back to life. The Lakshmisagar lake is yet again being filled to the brim. The tank near the mouth of the pipe has been freshly painted to remove the stains of the “mistake” that had seen sewage flow from it. Farmers from the neighbouring villages who have come to check out the site look cheerful. Political messaging and the court order for release has reassured them. There is even talk of setting up a tea stall nearby to profit from the influx of “local tourists”. “There is some relief in knowing that we will get some kind of water to use, even if it is treated sewage,” says Shankarappa, 70, from Doddayyur village, further upstream in Kolar, which is yet to receive the water. His own well went dry two decades ago. He anticipates that the project will bring it back to life. They hope that no more mistakes will happen. Murugesh Rajanna, 38, a farmer and a vocal opponent of the project ever since the sewage inflow destroyed his two-acre radish crop, issues a warning: “I hope Bengaluru remembers that all our vegetables, which are grown in these waters and washed in the lakes, end up in their markets. For their sake, they better give us clean water.”
Source : https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-opinion/a-parched-land-in-a-sea-of-sewage/article25209963.ece

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