Honour for Bangalore's lake vigilantes

Honour for Bangalore's lake vigilantes

Historically, the lake system in Bangalore was created to ensure that its denizens received a constant supply of water. Over a period of time, lakes have also been providing livelihood and recreation, besides supporting a wide variety of flora and fauna.

There is a threat of commercialisation in and around Hebbal Lake in Bangalore. Photo by the author

However, massive encroachment of government land, and illegal conversion of wetlands into residential layouts or commercial centres have triggered widespread concern and anxiety. Bangalore-based Environment Support Group (ESG) fears that the acceptance of such privatisation of our lakes will result in the large-scale commercialisation of open/public spaces in the City, and eventually in its total loss, as viable water bodies.
Hence there is a need to protect water bodies from any form of built activity in and around them.

The ESG has won the 2012 ‘Water for Life’ Best Practices Award instituted by United Nations Water Decade Programme on Advocacy and Communication (UNW-DPAC) and the UN World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP). The award was recently presented to the ESG at a special ceremony during World Water Day in Rome, Italy.

The award recognises the best practices which ensure long-term sustainable management of water resources and also contribute to achieving internationally agreed goals and targets.

The ESG was honoured for its initiative, ‘Protection of Bangalore Lakes for Posterity – Setting a Legal Precedent for Conservation of Lakes as Commons’. The multi-year and multi-pronged effort was, according to the UN, an “outstanding contribution towards the conservation of water bodies in Bangalore, India, and its demonstrable and tangible impact on the food and water security of urban, peri-urban and rural communities in the region”.

An independent non-profit organisation, the ESG has been promoting the cause of environmental and social justice through research, documentation, advocacy, training and campaign support. It has also been highlighting the rights of local communities and voiceless ecosystems keeping contextual complexities in mind.

The group is also critical of the manner in which ancient tanks are being “rehabilitated and developed” exposing a complete lack of understanding of the ecological structure of the tanks. It has observed that often, all the good work done by the Karnataka Forest Department in tank protection is undone by the civil engineers hired as technical consultants to these projects by the private hospitality industry/investors.

The Group has been appealing to the State government to order a thorough review of such projects and to reverse the flawed policy on urban wetland management. Its fight on the issues of water and its ownership take the shape of organised campaigns, rallies and workshops to help raise awareness about the evils of privatisation.

Water as a human right

So, what does the United Nations award mean to ESG? “The UN Award means a lot for the organisation and all those communities struggling toward making water easily accessible to all,” says Bhargavi S Rao, a Trustee and Coordinator of Educational Programmes at ESG. “It is truly a recognition of our ideals to protect public commons, and of our efforts over the years collectively with many other communities on this issue. Only the rich and powerful have always benefitted from very high access and control of the commons. People will recognise that the government is only a custodian of commons, and do not own it. ”

And how does ESG foresee the government’s commitment to the issue? “In its recent budget an amount of Rs 50 crore has been earmarked by the government to conserve lakes and water bodies in the city; this has to be complemented by matching investments from BBMP and Bangalore Development Authority. We will spare no effort in ensuring it and in strict accordance with the Justice Patil report on Bangalore lakes. This already serves as a model for the country in building water security in a climate challenged scenario”

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