Citizens campaign against encroachers, yet efforts flounder

Citizens campaign against encroachers, yet efforts flounder

Citizens campaign against encroachers, yet efforts flounder

Citizens campaign against encroachers, yet efforts flounder

Encroachment of lakes and storm water drains (SWDs) in Bengaluru has assumed monstrous proportions in recent years. Result: Large parts of the city have now been left extremely vulnerable to inundation and floods, as illustrated by the copious rainfall over the last few months.

To know what exactly this means to the man on the street, DH spoke to a few Bengalureans. One of them, Ameeruddin D A, a teacher and long-time resident near Sarakki lake in JP Nagar, has this to say: "The land mafia and the public as well are largely responsible for encroachment of lakes."

He describes the process that put Sarakki lake in dire straits: "Over a long period they began dumping sand and built many buildings to occupy the land illegally. The government has not been vigilant enough to evict these occupants. The lake is now dying slowly."

Shreya Praveen, a Residents Welfare Association member in Sector 7 of HSR layout speaks for the residents of 197 apartments. "We are facing the issue of illegal construction on the storm water drain here and fighting it. Constructing any sort of structure over the drains will not allow periodic inspections and de-silting of the drains," she explains.

Citizens and RWAs, she says, can play a vital role since public service personnel are stretched in their roles. "Need of the hour are technology-enabled platforms where citizen forums can login real-time challenges of illegal construction/encroachments. This can trigger complaints and can allow the respective authority personnel to address these challenges," notes Shreya.

B N S Ratnakar, an independent financial consultant says, "Storm water drains are important outlets not only for draining the water during rains but also a conduit for flooded lake water to enter the city areas. They must be laid scientifically and maintained well."

According to him, RWAs and other citizen forums play an important role in completing the efforts of civic agencies. "Their support should be enlisted at all stages to ensure effective management of storm water drains. Encroachments across the city must be cleared and severe penalties must be imposed on errant citizens. The BBMP should also educate the public through various media about proper maintenance of drains."

Muralidhar Kopparam, RWA secretary of HSR layout sector 1, talks about encroachments by both the government and the public. "In many cases, the land mafia has shifted the drain itself. However, the BBMP has not taken any action against them. Even the BDA has encroached many areas," he explains.

The scope for RWAs and citizen driven initiatives is limited if the civic agencies remain non-responsive or demand bribes to do the work they are supposed to do. "Whenever we meet higher officials, they talk positively and build up our hopes. However no action actually takes place on the ground," points out Muralidhar.

Siddharth Varma, a psychologist wants civic agencies to do more. "All they seem to do is dig up roads to lay pipes and leave behind a mess. I doubt there is a single place in the city which has an efficient SWD. The water will obviously stagnate when it has nowhere to go, which leads to deterioration of roads," he says, suggesting an interconnected drainage system which runs below the roads.

Businessman Sunil Malapat, who lives in Whitefield near Sadaramangala lake says, "There is a group of people who are trying to work closely with authorities to save Sadaramangala lake. However, there are vested interests within the government who make sure things don't get going."

The citizens had taken up this issue with multiple government authorities. "Everyone does sugar-coating and talks sweetly in public forums. On the ground no work happens. Encroachment can be seen all across Sadaramangala lake. In the last 5-6 years the lake is getting smaller and smaller," he says. He is convinced that a nexus between government officials, elected representatives and the land mafia are all out to grab the lake in any way possible. "Even grabbing a few acres gets them a fortune, so they do it."