Encroachment of lakes and storm water drains, and the now on, now off demolition jobs by the government have kept Bengalureans on edge for years.
Many had bought properties on layouts formed on encroached lake lands, right inside the area earmarked as buffer zone.
To understand how the complex issue of encroachments and buffer zones has affected people living around the city, conversations from the ground offer some help.
Many feel civic agencies such as the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) are guilty of looking the other way when encroachers went about their business in the past, both officially and otherwise.
Having given up planned growth decades ago, the city is now trying to evolve organically.
Residents say prominent builders have taken charge, dictating this growth by encroaching upon lake beds and buffer zones around storm water drains that link the water bodies. This uncontrolled encroachment of lakes has already led to flooding of many developed areas in the vicinity of the water bodies.
Pollution of the lakes, which hit headlines when the water bodies froth and even catch fire, has affected everyone.
Shravan, a resident of Kormangala, notes: “These lakes need to be maintained well, whether they are encroached or not. Besides the domestic sewage, industrial effluents flow directly into them without any treatment.”
Thousands of residents living near the lakes are directly exposed to the after-effects of encroachments: Extreme pollution that manifests itself through froth. Vani, a resident in the vicinity of Bellandur lake for years, points out, “This lake has constantly seen the foam formation. The stinky froth that irritates the skin has been a matter of great concern for people here.”
The foam gets worse during monsoon, when the flow of storm water and sewage is at its highest. As Vani says, people throw cooking oil into this mix that eventually enters the lake. The fires noticed on lakes are also due to garbage dumped into this mess.
Many who have bought apartments near lakes are indeed worried about the buffer zone regulations that mandate that no buildings should come up within the area. But long time residents wonder if it is worth living close to such polluted water bodies.
Reports abound about people suffering from lung infections, skin allergies and Dengue. Rahul, an eco-conscious resident, notes that there are multiple solutions to clean up the lakes. “But,” he regrets, “there is no initiative or interest from the officials to make it happen. Long ago, these lakes met the needs of the people for drinking water, fishing, and irrigation.”
Not everyone is convinced that the NGT fixing a 75-metre buffer zone will solve the encroachment problem.
“It may not be practical in a city like Bengaluru,” notes J M Mallikarjunaiah, principal of the KLE Law College in Sir M Visweshwaraiah Layout.
The ideal buffer zone for Bengaluru, he says, should be around 35 metres. “However, this land should be properly protected and developed. Efforts of temporary and permanent encroachments and misuse of the land should be curbed,” he points out.For business consultant Vishwanath Kiresur, the right solution to encroachments can happen only when Non-Government Organisations, citizens, bureaucrats and regulators come together and decide to bring about a difference with utmost sincerity. “Right to live with clean water and environment is for everyone,” he says.