A stitch in time to save lakes, people

Encroachment of lakes was a hidden affair all these years. It has now surfaced thanks to the attempts by several NGOs and the judicial courts. All land grantees have financially suffered, but the suffering has been worse for the poor.

Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), the custodian of many of the lakes, has become unworthy of any trust. Private agencies also partook in the loot and cheated both the rich and the poor. Quasi-government agencies erected offices and bus stands on the lake beds. Many went to the extent of breaching lakes to their personal benefit.

While the opposition parties are requesting not to demolish structures on lake beds, the government is contemplating  regularising the encroachments made by the BDA, defining the lakes as dead.

The Laxmana Rau’s Committee, of which I was a member, did not mention ‘dead lakes’, but did refer to some 46 lakes as disused. In fact, these ‘disused lakes’ broadly meant that they had little or no water as they were highly silted, and into awhich sewage water was also let in.

The committee had strictly forbidden the formation of layouts. These so-called disused lakes were recommended to be converted in to ‘tree parks’. Has this been done, the metropolis would have now been gifted with assets of green lungs of 25-30 old, well-grown tree parks.  
However, alarmed by the current situation, the state government has started working on a bill which would regularise irregularised properties raised on lake beds, by defining lakes as dead. This definition, unfortunately, gives a long arm to the officials and administrators to killing more lakes.

The BDA says it has developed 14 layouts in lake areas – though the number is said to
be even higher – building 3,500 sites at a cost of Rs 10,000
crore. However, the amount of money earned has not been stated. This whole mess is occupying the valuable time of the Upalokayukta, the Revenue department, the House Committee on Lake Protection, the government and the Bangalore Metroplitan Task Force (BMTF).

In the meantime, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has restrained all those concerned not to sanction any construction project on wet lands and catchments of the water bodies in the city of Bengaluru. It has also formed a tribunal, an expert panel, to recommend specific details for buffer zones around the lakes and inter connecting passages and wet lands.

The committee has also been told to report whether activities of multipurpose projects should be permitted any further or not, particularly on wet lands and catchment areas of water bodies, and to suggest steps and measures to be taken for the restoration of lakes.

Ground-water depletion

Disappearance of city lakes is the main reason for ground-water depletion. If water bodies are not saved, the city will eventually face serious water scarcity in the years to come.  Lakes are store houses of water, both above and below, and they recharge the aquifers around their neighbourhood.

The following are a few suggestions to overcome the present catastrophic scenario, keeping in view both the interests of the water bodies, environment and the people.
Sites allotted on lake beds to VIPs and VVIPs – numbered at around 419 – should be cancelled forthwith. Similarly, plots not yet allotted or not yet occupied but already built should be cancelled, as well. If government or quasi-government buildings have come up, the same should be recovered and handed over to the Horticulture and Forest Departments 

The so-called ‘dead lakes’ by the government are, in fact, not dead but alive. There is a large quantity of water under these lakes, which must be utilised for better purposes of the water-starved City. Silted-up lakes should be desilted, revived and the aquifers restored. Such sites must be made use of to raise tree parks.

Encroachments on lake

beds by private agencies should be cracked upon and heavily fined. Stringent measures must also be taken against  errant officials, both of the past and present.The abhorrent practise of letting sewage water and the dumping of constructional materials into the lakes has to be stopped. Those aggrieved BDA allottees on lake beds should be given alternate sites on other regular areas of the BDA and the Housing Board.

To check lawlessness and to ensure smooth running of future projects around wet lands, the rulings and guidelines given by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) should be implemented.

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