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When people stood up for Bengaluru's Puttakere lake

The lake overflowed for the first time in July 2016 after the work began filling it with excess treated water from an apartment nearby in May 2015 onwards
Last Updated : 22 October 2022, 11:54 IST
Last Updated : 22 October 2022, 11:54 IST

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The crystal-clear water revealed the fish. Coots were taking a dip in the water while a Kingfisher waited for the right moment to catch the fish. Well-organised garden, grass lawns, and the flora and fauna flourishing around— Puttenahalli lake, known as Puttakere in the JP Nagar neighbourhood, stood as a testimony to what a committed team of locals can do.

Behind this sight is the consistent effort of 10 long years. The lake that was dying in 2011 was brought back to life by the Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT) which worked with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagaka Palike (BBMP).

Usha Rajagopalan, the chairperson of PNLIT, explains the process. "All credit to the BBMP for their bold step of partnering with the locals. When they began rejuvenation work, we registered our trust with the intent of assisting with lake maintenance and ended up becoming caretakers of Puttenahalli Puttakere in 2011."

"We were more than watchdogs and looked for ways to improve the lake and its premises while actively involving the entire neighbourhood. An urban lake truly needs a community to protect and sustain its development," she adds.

Paripoorna Reddy, a school student who walks on the lake bund in the evenings, says: "I like how they have grown trees for birds and the place is well-kept." She loves the fresh air on the lake premises.

Snidhin Sajeevan, another regular walker, says that he moved to the locality as he fell in love with the lake and the greenery around.

The story of rejuvenation

PNLIT was formed on June 11, 2010, with the intention to assist BBMP with protecting, and maintaining the lake and promoting environmental awareness in the neighbourhood. It started work with a tree plantation drive in July 2010 in which people living in the vicinity of the lake participated.

"It took some effort and time to build a rapport with Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) to get them to resolve sewage issues," says Usha, explaining how BWSSB diverted sewage from the lake.

The lake overflowed for the first time in July 2016 after the work began filling it with excess treated water from an apartment nearby in May 2015 onwards.

"However, in 2017, sewage from a neighbouring layout began trickling onto the road and through the rainwater drain into the lake. Each time this happened, we alerted the BWSSB who would try to clear it... This became frequent and the quantum of raw sewage also increased, leading to a massive fish kill in March 2018," Usha recalls.

With the BWSSB not taking their appeals seriously, PNLIT had to bring it to the notice of the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and the NGT. Finally, the BWSSB replaced the existing pipeline with a bigger one.

"We got our staff to remove the excessive weeds and expose the water to the sun. To purify the water, we reinstalled our aerator fountain and made new floating platforms bearing biofilter plants," she adds, explaining her efforts.

The maintenance

With donations from locals, the Trust hired a gardener and a security guard. The local community helps the Trust with volunteering and fund support even today. Corporate grants are also coming by. While the BBMP offers infrastructural support, the trust executes projects such as installing aerators or pergolas for climbers.

Even though the lake is accessible to everyone, access to water is restricted, due to the potential risk for the visitors and the species inhabiting the lake. Visitors are warned against littering on the premises and polluting the water.

The lake's ecosystem inspires everyone to learn about it. When DH went for a visit at the lake, home guard Jaibunnisa enthusiastically showed various types of birds like kingfishers, coots, cranes and fish thriving in the lake.

"The trust keeps the surroundings clean, and it has attracted a lot of birds to the area," Jaibunnisa said. The lake is clean and thriving now but there's no guarantee that it will stay this way.

"We are vigilant for the slightest trickle of sewage entering. We plan to invite the residents in the vicinity and the regular users of the lake and discuss how they can protect "their" lake. Hopefully, they will become stakeholders in its welfare," says Usha.

"Puttakere may belong to the state but it is the local community that gets the benefit of a healthy lake. Hence, the lake is as much their responsibility as that of the BBMP," Usha points out.

How should people participate?

"The local community or people living nearby are the best qualified to take care of the biodiversity of waterbodies. For Avalahalli Anjanapura Lake, we are asking BBMP to maintain it properly for the last four-five years. Cleaning the walking area, watering plants and monitoring security guards can be done by the community, but infrastructural work has to be taken care of by BBMP. The govt sanctions the budget for infrastructure, but no budget for maintenance."

Anand Yadwad, Trustee, Alahalli Lake & Neighborhood Development Trust

"Residents living nearby see the lake regularly, they pass by it and are most affected by the lake, whether it is clean with good public space or otherwise. They can be the first responders, playing a strong role in being vigilant in monitoring pollution going into the lake, be it in the form of sewage, garbage or construction dumping or alerting authorities with regard to encroachment. By building close relations with authorities like BBMP, BWSSB or lake marshals, they can work closely to ensure the safeguarding of the commons."

Ankit Bhargava, Urban planner and Co-founder at Sensing Local

"As citizens, forming a lake group in the local vicinity helps to keep tabs on the condition of the lake. One must be vigilant to check if any sewer water is entering the lake or if any garbage is clogging the stormwater drain lines from where the lake should get its virgin rainwater. Also if possible the group must ensure they keep the authorities aware of all lake problems. If BBMP is not providing solutions on time, they must approach the regulatory authority, Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority (KTCDA), for a permanent and feasible solution. Our lakes must be filled with pure rainwater and clean potable water. Lakes are "commons" (Public spaces) Legally, Govt cannot privatise lakes. The case against the privatisation of these lakes is in court already. The lake ecosystem is very fragile. The lake bodies should not be used for commercial/recreational activities."

Madhuri Subbarao, Co-Founder, Friends of Lakes (FOL)

"Lakes are not just local water bodies but interconnected. Eg. All upstream lakes cascade into Bellandur Lake. In a study by the committee appointed by NGT, Silt and sludge samples collected were found to have heavy metal values above the prescribed levels. This is because untreated industrial effluents from upstream are being released into SWD, which flow into our lakes. BWSSB is the biggest violator. Lakes are the collective responsibility of the Govt and all citizens of Bengaluru."

Sonali Singh, Volunteer, Bellandur Lake and Federation of Bengaluru Lakes

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Published 21 October 2022, 17:14 IST

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