NGT order, a ray of hope for lakes

NGT order, a ray of hope for lakes

NGT order, a ray of hope for lakes

Irregularities have regularly plagued mega construction projects in Bengaluru. But the National Green Tribunal (NGT) verdict on the one linked to Mantri Tech Zone/Coremind could force a dramatic course correction. Could this mean the industry juggernaut that swallows up lakes galore be finally regulated?

The line-up against the encroachment of the wetlands between Agara and Bellandur lakes has been formidable this time. Citizen groups, NGOs such as the Namma Bengaluru Foundation, scientists and environmentalists came together to eventually clinch a verdict in their favour.

But a bigger challenge remains: Implementation of the NGT order. Besides ordering penalties on the builders, demolition of their structures and restoration of the encroached land to its custodians, the Tribunal has redefined the boundaries of lakes and the use of treated water for construction purposes.

The BBMP Special Commissioner (Projects) J Ravindra has been quick to issue an inter-department note directing the Joint Director of Town Planning of BBMP to approve only projects that adhere to NGT guidelines.

BDA awaiting clarification

But the BDA is yet to act in terms of its order. It is awaiting the government's direction. BDA’s Town Planning Member, Chowdegowda explains, “We are awaiting clarification from the state government whether the order is prospective. However, we will implement whatever is mentioned in the ruling and accordingly an office order will be issued.”

The Development Authority, he says, will incorporate the NGT order in the Revised Master Plan – 2031 that is now being prepared.

But will this make much change in the way how BDA functions? Past experiences show that the Authority has often violated the provisions of the law and court directions. A case in the point is Venkatarayana Kere (tank) in Gubbalala village near Uttarahalli.

In 1995, the Karnataka High Court had ordered the state government not to allow any construction activities on the lake land. Eight years later in 2003, the BDA formed a residential layout on the tank.

Chowdegowda has no answer to this question. “I can't answer your question on Venkatarayana Kere since I was not there when the layout was formed. You should better ask our Commissioner,” he replies curtly.

The BBMP Chief Engineer (Stormwater Drain) Siddegowda says the onus of implementing the NGT order lies with the plan sanctioning authorities.

Origin of illegalities

It is interesting to note how the illegalities took shape in the Bellandur wetland case. The Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) had acquired about 80 acres of land for industrial purposes near Bellandur lake during 2004.

This acquisition also included a good portion of the Bellandur wetland, which the BDA has identified in its Comprehensive Development Plan as a sensitive zone. A recent survey conducted by the Bengaluru Urban district authorities showed the land acquired by the KIADB as encroachment of Bellandur lake.

The portion acquired by KIADB was where the BWSSB had intended to set up a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) to save the lake from turning into a big septic tank. The location was chosen since it was from where the maximum effluents enter the lake spread across an expanse of about 950 acres.

BWSSB officials were reportedly pressured to give up the portion of land and set up their STP at a place where there was no inlet of sewage.

The land was then given to for a dubious project to Manipal ETA, which has Sushil Mantri of Mantri Developers as a director, and Coremind. The allotment happened through a single-window system to make the transfer of land hassle-free.

KIADB as realtor

The KIADB is meant for developing industrial areas but it served as a real estate agent for the developers. The proposal by the two firms served more as a real estate project. It had malls, residential complexes and other commercial buildings besides a Special Economic Zone.

Top sources in the revenue department say there was tremendous pressure on the officials not to carry out any survey of the lake as it would expose the wrongdoings.

It was only after the hue and cry from various quarters including IISc professor Dr T V Ramachandra, Citizens' Action Forum, the NBF and the House panel on lake encroachment that the government acted. It ordered a survey of all lakes, including Bellandur. The survey eventually exposed the lies.

But despite the pressure, the illegalities continued. Construction activities were in full swing right under the nose of various government agencies such as BBMP, the lake custodian BDA, the Lake Development Authority, Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and the Chief Secretary-headed Karnataka Lake Conservation Authority. BWSSB too had not given its approval but the work went on unabated.

The damage caused to the sensitive zone looks irreparable as the entire topography of the area has changed due to the dumping of soil and debris. The NGT verdict has given hope that further damage could be prevented.