BDA wakes up, at last

 The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) is on a fast track task of rejuvenating 12 lakes in and around the city.

Considering that the city’s earlier ‘avatar’ had something like 3,000 water bodies, which has been reduced to about one fiftieth, the sigh could be spasmodic. But then, the BDA’s initiative is a path-breaker, the lakes are being given a fresh lease of life.

The citizen could look forward to seeing more birds, greenery,  parks and pathways lined with trees and flowering shrubs and most important, recharging of groundwater. 

There was a time when one could find water even at a depth of less than two metres in certain low-lying areas of Bangalore, but now water might be struck at a depth of not less three to four hundred meters and more.

The simple reason for this agonising situation has been the steep downfall in the level of leadership the people could throw up. The founder of Bangalore, (in 1537 AD) Kempe Gowda, launched a programme to impound rainwater in different locations of his new kingdom. Being at an elevation of more than a thousand metres. rainwater harvesting was the best method that the visionary chieftain thought fit to ensure water for drinking and irrigation. Not only did he form lakes, but also aqueducts to maintain water levels and to prevent flooding of the undulating terrain of Bangalore.

Selfish nature

The new ‘get rich quick’ and ‘me first’ culture of independent India has had its impact on Bangalore as well. Most of the water bodies have gone into history. Now, monstrous concrete structures are built without any concern for the future of its inhabitants.

Aqueducts have disappeared under illegal buildings. Lakes have been turned into stadia, layouts, brick making units or sewerage and hazardous waste dumps.

With the municipal authorities failing to provide water to new settlements, borewell operators took to the field — resulting in fast depletion of the groundwater table. The depleting groundwater source itself was highly polluted, thanks to mindless dumping of hazardous waste and discharge of effluents and drainage channels into existing water bodies. The people are forced to buy contaminated water because there is no other go.
The administration did not bother to organise a centralised groundwater collection agency.  The water mafia has strong political roots like the real estate mafia, which has powerful representation in governments — irrespective of political loyalties.

The rule book says “no non-forest activity is permissible within 30 metres of a water body”. However, the joint legislature committee on land encroachment found that 1,948 hectares of tank bed area have been encroached upon by 2,488 persons. Nobody has been prosecuted for the crime.

The report, which also went into land encroachment in and around Bangalore has been gathering dust since last year.  Land grabbers include top bureaucrats, politicians of all shades and police officers.

Earlier, local panchayats used to own and manage water bodies. Both the Tank Panchayat Act and the tanks are extinct now. The state government even leased out some lakes in Bangalore to private bodies in the guise of preservation.

The minister in-charge of minor irrigation is now talking of restoring some 4,000 water bodies in the state with World Bank loans, which actually means pushing coming generations into another debt trap.

In sharp contrast, the BDA is engaged in restoring water bodies with its own funds.
“As Bangalore marches into the 500th year of its founding by Magadi Kempe Gowda, let us do our bit to salvage what is left of the old glory for the coming generations. Kempe Gowda built the lakes and aqueducts  with a multi-vision approach — irrigation, water supply, flood control and ecological balance.   Development is not all about steel and concrete, but also woods, lakes and ample lung space,” says H Siddaiah, the BDA commissioner.

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