Garbage dumped on the canal linking Bellandur & Varthur lakes
Lake borders sacred no more
Shock, anger and extreme frustration greeted the legislature panel revelation that 10,785 acres or almost a fifth of Bengaluru's lake area has been encroached. But why did the government sit on the panel's recommendations on reviving those lost areas, expert advice submitted 18 months ago?
This is a critical question that demands immediate answers. In 18 months, much could have been done to address those encroachments. But beyound short-term, cosmetic measures, precious little was done, notes senior scientist Dr T V Ramachandra from the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, who, as an active member of the panel, had offered well-researched scientific inputs on ways to arrest the dramatic decline of the city lakes.
De-silting and establishing the connectivity between the lakes was a key input. "The Rajakaluves have to be cleared at any cost. Diverting them is suicidal. Any concession on this front looks like guided by political motives. This give and take policy is just not acceptable," says Dr Ramachandra.
In total disregard to the National Greens Tribunal (NGT) order, the buffer zones around the Rajakaluve linking the Bellandur and Varthur lakes have been encroached. This violation is both by private interests and by government-sanctioned projects.
"They talk about inter-linking of rivers. First, let them demonstrate how they can re-establish the links between the city lakes."
Mafia back in action
Demolition of illegal structures on encroachments had created much hype. But once it died down and faded from public memory, the encroachment mafia is back at its old game. The tell-tale signs of its deeds are visible on lake areas across the city. Construction debris and solid waste are being dumped, some under the cover of darkness and some, openly.
The encroachment pattern is similar across water bodies: Debris is dumped surreptitiously or otherwise; mud is overlaid and the land compressed over months. Once it settles adequately, the earthmovers and monster drillers come in. This has been clearly visible on the wetlands of Bellandur lake for years, a pattern visible now in Varthur lake as well.
The house panel has named the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) as one of the biggest offenders. Residential societies were built over 41 lakes. But officials of civic agencies were also hand-in-glove with private builders, allowing huge apartments to come up, violating every norm. Land records were fabricated and maps altered. Insiders say local corporators are also often part of this mafia, striking a deal of silence in return for a few flats.
Official apathy in lake upkeep has been another key factor in promoting encroachments. For instance, the Pattandur Agrahara lake, the Bagalagunte lake, Sadaramangala lake and the water body in Hoodi are in a deplorable state. For several years now, no official has turned up to undertake restoration work.
It has been almost 20 years since the Pattandur Agrahara lake in Kadugodi dried up and started losing a part of its area to encroachers. Recently, hundreds of people and schoolchildren living near the lake formed a human chain and protested against the indiscriminate dumping of debris. Citizens had complained that about 50 loads of debris are dumped every night.
Even the local corporator, S Muniswamy joined the protest. Although the dumping of debris has stopped for now, the lake survey or restoration work is yet to begin, say the residents. "We have learnt that the government is planning to build a road cutting through the lake. This is a clear violation of the NGT rule, which bans construction of any structure in the buffer zone of the water bodies," says Sandeep Anirudhan, who had initiated the protests.
A new link road is being constructed from Varthur Kodi main road to 80 feet ITPL main road. This will not only lead to felling of hundreds of trees but also pass right through the lake and a school nearby.
The case of Bagalagunte lake near Dasarahalli Metro station is even worse. It has been dead for a while now. The recent rains had filled up the lake. Yet, it has now been transformed into a garbage dumping yard, laments a local resident. Another localite points to a slum with several houses that has emerged right on the lake bed, earmarked as the buffer zone.
The Sadaramangala lake near Hoodi is another case in point. Residents there had complained against private encroachments that were even drawing water illegally from the lake. The BBMP has now begun a survey to restore and rejuvenate the lake. This lake too was filled up after the heavy rains. "We hope that the lake revival efforts will bear fruit," says Balachandran, a resident actively involved in mobilizing support to save the lake.