Lakes: BBMP must act on IISc findings

The number of lakes in Bengaluru has fallen from 262 in 1960 to 81 today. What is more, many lakes have shrunk or become stagnant sewers.

An Indian Institute of Science (IISc) study on Bengaluru’s lakes lays bare the wrong-headed approach of the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to revive the city’s lakes. The Karnataka capital was once famous for the numerous lakes that dotted its landscape. But many of these have vanished — the number of lakes in Bengaluru has fallen from 262 in 1960 to 81 today. What is more, many lakes have shrunk or become stagnant sewers.

Just 34 lakes in the city are living water bodies. Under strong public criticism, BBMP has undertaken the restoration of the lakes. However, this has been a futile effort. The IISc study blames BBMP’s unscientific approach for this state of affairs. A scientific evaluation of the lake and a need assessment was not done, it points out. Not surprisingly then, water quality in most lakes is extremely poor. Of the 45 lakes restored by the BBMP over the last decade, 87% of lakes were found to be of poor and very poor water quality. This was because the removal of silt, which is necessary for shoreline stabilisation, was only partially done. Dumping of solid waste, the inflow of untreated sewage and toxic chemicals continues unabated as does encroachment of lakes.

It is evident from the rather superficial manner in which BBMP has handled lake restoration that it is not committed to breathing life into Bengaluru’s water bodies. Rather, it seems preoccupied with spending the funds allocated for the task. It has focused on the beautification of lakes and their surroundings rather than reviving them. Thus, it has laid out gardens and walking paths around several of the lakes. In a city starved of jogging paths and lung space, such initiatives are welcome.

What is problematic is that the BBMP’s work on lakes seems to have ended there. The problems underlying the dying water bodies cannot be addressed by superficial and cosmetic makeovers. The reasons for their transformation into toxic water pits need to be identified and addressed first. Unless the BBMP takes robust action to halt sewage inflow into lakes and dumping of construction and other debris, the shrinking of Bengaluru’s lakes numerically and in area, cannot be halted. Beautification can and must follow but only after the disease is cured.

The IISc study provides useful insights into BBMP’s superficial approach to cleaning water bodies. The civic body must act on the study’s findings and recommendations. It needs to involve experts in lake rejuvenation in the process and listen and act on their advice. The restoration process needs to be transparent. The BBMP must rope in residents’ welfare associations and eminent persons to monitor the process and the subsequent maintenance of lakes.

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