Citizens, civic groups, lake activists cry foul

Bengaluru's vocal, active citizen groups have come together yet again to protect city lakes from being taken over by Minor Irrigation department. They are just not in favour of killing an institution as promising as the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA).

Many lake activists, guardians and lake groups have written multiple letters and signed petitions asking the government not to go ahead with the move. They have also forwared these to the Governor, Vajubhai Vala.

Lake experts say that the urban lakes and tanks improve the catchment area. Developing these water bodies increases the chance of raising the groundwater level. But doing this requires a certain degree of expertise and skill sets. By handing over local lakes to an agency governed by the State is like taking away the rights of local people, who have been closely involved with the development of lakes.

Veena Srinivasan, Fellow, Centre for Environment and Development, Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE) feels that local governing agencies working for the development of the city, similar to KLCDA should look after the lakes. This way, they can be held accountable.

She explains: "Until now, lakes were being looked after either by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) or KLCDA which looked after the entire issue. There was Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) to look into waste water treatment processes."

The proposal that the state-governed Minor Irrigation department will now look after the urban lakes is faulty. "There will be lack of coordination and this will kill the spirit of people who are so active and motivated to work towards lakes," says Veena. This will take out a big part from the city's most active and participatory civic groups.

This move also poses a threat to the encroachment problem, feels S Vishwanath, who is an urban evangelist. "I think it is a stupid idea to hand over the lakes to a state governed body. The Minor Irrigation department specialises at a different level. It lacks the capacity to handle real problems such as the sewage flow into the lake, encroachment by real estate developers, and solid waste management and debris dumping into the lake."

The Minor Irrigation department, says Vishwanath, does not have the skill-sets to design the catchment area and tanks for an urban society. "The department is still working like a 19th century institution. KLCDA was more like a 20th century institution," he notes.

He draws attention to how the ground water is being recharged in Jakkur lake. "The waste water in Jakkur lake is being treated by the BWSSB and the treated water comes back into the lake. There is also a facility to recharge the ground water level. This should set an example for all other lakes in the city to reuse the waste water," says Vishwanath, also known as the Zen Rainman.

Sridhar Pabbishetty, CEO of Namma Bengaluru Foundation, feels that this move is dangerous for the protection of lakes. The way forward is to empower and vest more powers with KLCDA. "Lakes and wetlands are very important for a city as they allow water percolation during rains. There has been a problem with the institution as it never had the sufficient number of people to work for. However, the way forward would be to empower KLCDA keeping in view the ecological perspective of the city," he says.

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