Take speedy but planned steps to revive Bengaluru lakes

Take speedy but planned steps to revive Bengaluru lakes

Take speedy but planned steps to revive Bengaluru lakes

Bengaluru was once known as a city of lakes (the ‘garden city’ tag came much later). It had more than 2,000 water bodies, big and small, created and linked to one another through a series of internal channels. These channels were   to act as catchment for scanty rainfall that ran off in the undulating terrain of the city which is basically a table top plateau  draining into Arkavathi, Vrushbhavathi and Kormangala-Challaghatta valleys.

The original founders and builders of Bengaluru – starting from the city founder, the great Kempegowda, to the Maharajas to Tipu Sultan – every one of them contributed towards the scientifically designed cascade of lakes so that the city had enough drinking water for its growing population as well something for the cattle, birds, wildlife and agriculture.

This was a well-thought plan as there were no rivers flowing nearby Bengaluru (the nearest Arkavathi and Cauvery are    around 100 km away) and these lakes were maintained as lifeline till Cauvery water began to be pumped to quench its thirst. However, even that option has almost run out now notwithstanding the efforts to build a dam at Mekedatu which is still in the realm of future, fraught with uncertainties besides it being a vexed issue.

With the advent of water supply from Cauvery, the city’s lakes were suddenly turned into sewage muck and dumping ground for the solid urban wastes. Soon thereafter, lakes began to disappear giving way to numerous buildings built on illegal layouts formed on these lakebeds that  were  killed slowly but steadily by a growing unholy nexus of builders, officials and politicians.

The civic authorities responsible to keep these lakes alive and clean by keeping the lifeline (the channels) intact, did completely the opposite by emptying the city sewage into these lakes and thereby accelerating their death. Not just this. They later reclaimed these very lakebeds to form layouts and sold them to gullible people who have lost their life savings in the recent demolition drives. In many cases, they also allowed illegal layouts to be formed by unscrupulous builders on these lands which had once supported water bodies but were deliberately choked to death.

Even planners could not resist the temptation of constructing bus stations, stadiums and the like on these ‘’reclaimed’’ lands. Alarmed by the rapidly deteriorating conditions of water bodies and the drastic shrinkage in their numbers, some initiatives were taken by the government. It formed the Laxman Rau (a retired IAS officer) committee and accepted its report. The committee handed out a grim picture of the situation and suggested a number of steps to arrest further degradation and to revive these lakes.

The report, as usual, remained only half acted and forgotten till noted environmentalist Zafar Futehally filed a writ petition in 1991 before the high court. The HC gave a historical judgement that no lake land should be used for any other purpose without its permission. This judgement became the base for many such subsequent judicial pronouncements which has ultimately culminated in the ongoing high visible demolition drive.

Assembly committee

Governments have to be sensitive to people’s plight and at least now, go ahead with full vigour to revive all such catchments, channels and lakes that are slowly but surely going the same way as  witnessed in the past. The setting up of a Legislative Assembly committee shows the law makers’ concern, and citizens’ hopes are on it for giving directions for the protection and   revival of city lakes.

It is also necessary to expose the pulls and pressures from builders’ lobby which is the root cause of the disappearance of many lakes from city’s landscape. While the civic authorities concerned must be made accountable for not doing enough to keep the sewage away from these water bodies, what is of urgent need is to demarcate and fix boundaries of the remaining lakes with huge signboards cautioning people. An abandoned sewage cess pool which was once a teeming lake hardly gets anyone’s second glance, except  of the unscrupulous builders for whom such spots are gold mines.

It is a good sign to see that the civic authorities and government agencies are now coming out of their apathy towards the remaining lakes and getting proactive by taking people’s support and helping protect these water bodies. But much bigger things are required. The Lake Development Authority should take it as a war mission and tokenism should be eschewed. Now that it is a fully empowered body for protection and conservation of lakes, the Authority should fulfil its role and responsibilities in a much more proactive manner.

It would be interesting to examine the feasibility of creating few more large water bodies, particularly in the Kormangala Challaghatta Valley where almost two-third sewage run off flows into the Bellandur and Varthur lakes after which the surplus just overflows into Hosur where the local authorities  use the same sewage water after treatment. Can we allow this precious gift of lakes, so critical for the survival of Bengaluru, to be withered away?

The growth of the city will not be limi-ted or stifled by any other factor but water. Its topography is so unique that it would support even the scanty rainfall that the city receives to allow its growth in a clean and green manner. But that would need a vision of Kempegowda. Any claimants to the legacy?

(The writer is former Member-Secretary, Lake Development Authority)

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