Lakes: act before it’s too late

Varthur lake encroachment in Bengaluru . DH Photo/Janardhan B K

Water bodies in Karnataka are disappearing at an alarming rate and though an ongoing government survey has revealed that over 20,000 acres of lake lands have been encroached upon across the State, the authorities continue to maintain an ostrich-like attitude. This could only be the proverbial tip of the iceberg as the Karnataka Public Lands Corporation, which is conducting the survey, is barely half-way through it. The situation is worse in Bengaluru, with a legislature committee that investigated the issue identifying 4,238 hectares of lake encroachments. Ironically, the panel has estimated that about 30% of lakes are encroached upon by civic agencies like the BBMP and BDA, with the latter converting many tanks into residential layouts. Even the few existing lakes in the city are unfit for consumptive purposes, forcing Bengaluru to depend on river Cauvery, which originates 300 km away, for its water requirements.

This destruction of water bodies has led to disastrous consequences. Besides their other environmental advantages like recharging the groundwater table, lakes serve as troughs during rains, thereby preventing urban flooding. Floods, which were unknown in Bengaluru, are now an annual feature during the monsoons mainly due to the encroachment of lakes and unplanned urbanisation. In agricultural areas, traditional water bodies stored excess rainwater and provided low-cost protective irrigation. With many of these tanks now in disuse, farmers are forced to depend on the vagaries of the monsoon.

Karnataka boasts of some of the most stringent laws to deal with lake encroachments, but the will to implement them is lacking. The Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority Act, 2014, empowers officers and civic agencies to arrest certain offenders without a warrant, confiscate properties and remove encroachments in the form of crops, trees or buildings. A government officer who fails to report unlawful occupation of a lake is also liable to be imprisoned for one year and pay a fine of Rs 10,000. But the law has remained a paper tiger, with neither encroachers nor conniving bureaucrats being brought to book. While it may be difficult to evict residents of BDA layouts as they have not indulged in any unlawful act by the virtue of being allotted a site by a government body, no mercy should be shown towards illegal private constructions, including high-rise buildings, which have encroached upon lakes and tank beds, chocking Bengaluru’s ecosystem. Action should also be initiated in rural areas as encroachment of tanks by an influential few deprives the entire village of its water needs. But first, the officers responsible should be prosecuted. In issues such as these, the government should think of the next generation, rather than the next election.

 

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Lakes: act before it’s too late

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