Lose no time in protecting our lakes

Lose no time in protecting our lakes

20% of lake land in and around Bengaluru encroached. Credit: DH Photo

A recent survey ordered by the Bengaluru Urban Deputy Commissioner has revealed that 4,500 acres or 20% of lake land in and around the city have been encroached upon. This could just be the tip of the iceberg as details of encroachment in the buffer zone are yet to be collated. While most lakes are maintained by Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, Bengaluru Development Authority and the zilla panchayat, 125 lakes were found to be orphans, that is, they did not have any caretaker. Of the 837 lakes, only 91 were free from encroachment. The 20% encroachment does not include many of Bengaluru’s lakes that were flattened by the government itself to create public utilities like housing colonies, playgrounds, stadiums and bus stands. Besides the ecological devastation this has caused, the filling up of lakes and meddling with the natural contours leading to them, have resulted in flooding of Bengalure after every downpour.

Several such studies in the past have flagged the massive encroachment of lake land. The Lakebed Encroachment Committee headed by K B Koliwad, set up by the Karnataka legislature in 2014, had found that 11,000 acres of land in Bengaluru Urban and Rural districts were encroached, mostly by private builders who had constructed massive housing and office structures. The committee had recommended criminal action against 24 prominent builders and government officers who had connived with them in fabricating documents. Like all other previous reports, this one too has been gathering dust.

Sometime ago, the Supreme Court had struck down the National Green Tribunal’s (NGT) order banning construction within a 75-metre buffer zone around lakes in the city and had restricted the distance to 30-metre. In reality, even the reduced buffer zone is not maintained around most lakes.  Whenever the authorities act against encroachments, it is only hutments that are evicted, while illegal sky-scrapers continue to stand tall.  In 2020, four high-rise apartments were demolished through implosion in Maradu village of Kerala under orders from the Supreme Court for violating Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules. Perhaps, some such tough action is required in Bengaluru too where builders, with the active collusion of  politicians and bureaucrats, have had a free run for far too long, with utter contempt for local laws and even court orders. The failure of the authorities to act has only emboldened them. Unless the government deals with errant builders and their conspirators with a heavy hand, what is still left of Bengaluru’s greenery and water bodies may be permanently lost.

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