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The fire had kept over 5,000 Army personnel on tenterhooks through Friday and Saturday morning
After having spent over 12 hours dousing flames that were creeping closer to their major camp, the Army has decided to take up the issue of Bellandur lake with the State government. The massive fire that broke out in the over-750-acre lake on Friday morning saw over 5,000 Army personnel engaged in fire-fighting operations after the fire entered the Iblur Firing Range camp of the Army Service Corps. It was only on Saturday morning that the fire was doused completely.
During the operations, Manoranjan Roy, who is with the ASC, was bitten by a snake. Officials said he was rushed to hospital and is out of danger.
The fire, which is suspected to have been started in the grasslands by accident or by purpose to clear out the weeds, had kept over 5,000 Army personnel on tenterhooks through Friday and Saturday morning.
Lieutenant General Vipin Gupta, Commandant ASC Centre and College, told reporters on Saturday that the magnitude of the fire had seen set protocols and drills placed for the personnel come into effect. “The fire was so big that all in the camp had to be alerted. Around 800 people were working in the spot, while the rest were kept on standby,” he said.
Personnel manually snuffed smaller fires or cleared out weeds to form control lines to check the spread of the flames, while at least 17 fire tenders, including 15 from the Army camp — were pressed into action. “We will be on the lookout through Saturday night,” said Lt. Gen. Gupta.
While the cause of the fire remains unknown, he iterated that fires in the Bellandur grasslands have been happening every year, including a major fire in February 2017.
“We will definitely write (to the State government and the Chief Minister) and take up the case. We are told they are taking precautions to ensure this does not happen again,” he said.
KSPCB collects samples of sludge
Officials of the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority and other local agencies believe the fire may have been set off by those who graze livestock in the grasslands. Either the fire could be accidental or intentional to clear the way for new grass to grow in the burnt area.
However, as experts pointed out that accumulated methane in the sewage-laden sludge of the lake could have aggravated the fire, the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) on Saturday took samples from nine locations to determine the methane content. “In 15 days, we will have results on the gaseous build-up in the soil. However, when we had tested the samples in February 2017, we found low levels of methane. The spread of the fire could be because of the overgrown grass that has dried out,” said Lakshman, KSPCB chairman.
Politicking in the time of fire
In the time of elections, even Bellandur lake is not spared of politicking. As the fire reached national headlines, the BJP pinned the blame entirely on the apathy of the Congress government in the State. The BJP claimed that ₹800 crore had been sanctioned by the Centre for the construction of sewage treatment plants (STPs), of which 162 crore was for four plants in Bellandur. Furthermore, on social media, the official account of the BJP tore into the State government for spending money on advertisements instead of cleaning up the lake. The political intent was highlighted even when Union Human Resource Development Minister Prakash Javadekar visited the lake along with local BJP representatives.
In response, Bengaluru Development Minister K.J. George called the BJP’s charges as “blatant lies”. “Fact is the Centre has not responded to the State’s request and categorically denied separate funding for this purpose,” he tweeted.
Earlier in the day, he told reporters that he would ask the Chief Minister to make separate allocation for rejuvenation of Bellandur lake in the upcoming budget, which is, in essence, the final financial intention of the present government before the Assembly elections. He referred to an assessment by the Bangalore Development Authority in November 2017 which said over 381 crore — of which 115 crore would be used to stop sewage flow — was needed to dredge and rejuvenate the lake.
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