'Just beautification of lakes won’t suffice'

A view of T Dasarahalli Lake in Bengaluru. (Photo/ B H Shivakumar)

Bengaluru was once known as the City of lakes. As per government records, from 262 water bodies in 1960, many dating back to the period of the city founder Kempegowda, the number has declined to 81. Of these, only 34 are now categorised as living lakes.

As the city grew, lakes made way for bus stations, stadiums, residential areas, IT parks and more. Of the remaining lakes, most are severely polluted due to discharge of sewage and dumping of waste.

The city's lakes are hydrologically interconnected by a network of stormwater drains called kaluves. The surplus water in higher lakes are carried to the low lying lakes through these kaluves. This results in a cascading effect as pollution of one lake causes other lakes to also get contaminated.

Once a lake becomes an eyesore and the stench becomes unbearable, it is rejuvenated but superficial cleaning and lack of maintenance takes it back to its polluted state.

In many cases, with government bodies shirking responsibility, residents carry out the restoration works themselves.

“We cleaned the Avalahalli lake and its surroundings between 2013 and 2014, by pooling close to Rs 15 lakh. But as sewage continued to be discharged into it, our efforts went in vain,” says Anand Yadawad of Avalahalli Lake and Neighbourhood Development Trust.

In 2017, the lake was handed over to the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). Residents approached the Palike and political leaders to restore the lake.

“In 2018, the restoration work was started. However, with the change in government, the funds weren’t released on time which slowed down the work,” says Anand. The restoration works are expected to get completed in another two to three months.

Activists feel that the State does not have the intent to restore lakes and various parties with the connivance of government bodies encroach different portions of lakes.

“As a part of the Mesthripalya lake was encroached by private property developers, we took this case upto the Supreme Court. The court ordered the lake land to be restored. The BDA then carried out a very shoddy restoration work,” says Vijayan Menon, Vice President of Citizens’ Action Forum.

“Subsequently, the lake was transferred to BBMP, which instead of restoring the lake, constructed a wall across the lake to pave way for real estate sharks to encroach it. We took this up at the High Court which ordered the BBMP to demolish the wall,” Vijayan says.

Issues with restoration are everywhere. Take, for instance, the Rachenahalli lake located near the Manyata tech park.

The lake was restored and revived recently by a residents group, Jalamitra with the help of BBMP. Although some are content that the lake looks better than before, many others draw attention to underlying problems.

“The lake is in its worst condition now. The algae has come up and if it continues in this condition, in a few years it will dry up. Lot of work needs to be done. Reclamation of the lake should be taken up on a priority basis,” says Manik (name changed), a regular jogger here.

He points to the entry of untreated sewage into the lake. “Only treated water should be let into the lake. Of course, there is a lot of biodiversity here, many trees and grass species. But to conserve the lake, a lot needs to be improved through the departments concerned. Otherwise, the water body will dry up,” he cautions.

The park around the lake and the aesthetics are good, but people on the other end of the lake use it for sanitation purpose, notes Anitha, a regular visitor. “This may be because they don’t have proper facilities, but it pollutes the lake,” she notes.

Ajith, another regular visitor to the lake, highlights the water quality. “Water in the lake is polluted. Drainage is let into the lake even now. They have made some arrangements near the entry point but there is still an inflow of sewage. This is harmful,” he says.

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