Failing to plan is planning to fail, the quote that best describes the management of Lakes in Bengaluru. Once upon a time, we were a city of 1000 Lakes and what is seen now is a weak attempt to save the 280 odd lakes that have turned into sewage pools.
As the voices that are fighting to save the lakes become meeker, the challenges to retrieve, save, revive, and manage the lakes are only increasing. About 16 – 17 yrs ago, when most of the lakes were fenced and Lake Development Authority (LDA) was formed, it was seen as a first step to consolidate all the Bengaluru lakes under a single entity. But that effort stayed in files that gathered dust for years, rather gave way to privatization of lakes followed by litigation and wrath of the environmentalists. Eventually, the activists and citizens watched the rampant encroachments and lakes turning into concrete buildings helplessly, or with little resistance.
Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA) ACT 2014 kept the city lakes out, then later when all the lakes across the state were handed over to Minor Irrigation, the city lakes were looking at one more vacuum. The activists were guessing what would happen next and the final blow came when the current Government decided to hand over all the city lakes that were with the Forest Department and BDA to BBMP for intents unknown, exposing the lakes to more political hands without heads.
In the garb of growth and development, the sustainability of the city hangs in balance, extreme localization of the lake management has increased political interference and isolation of lakes converting them into single units.
Bengaluru lakes are a network water system and are not isolated units, and reviving a few odd lakes will not paint a pretty picture either. Lakes in Bengaluru are rainwater harvesting zones, flood mitigators, biodiversity spots, lung spaces, livelihood creators, and overflow to rural water bodies providing water for agriculture. But current policy and structure negate the water system and take up revivals ignoring the upstream, catchment, and downstream.
So, there is an urgent need to re-look at our lakes and water bodies with a fresh pair of green glasses.
Re-look begins with four key steps:
1.Strengthen the Authority:
Since all Bengaluru lakes are with BBMP lakes division, empower it to remove encroachments without more red tapes, joint responsibility on stormwater drains, lake inlets, and catchment areas, make them accountable to Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority (KTCDA) and Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), allocate committed budget and resource for recovery, revival, monitoring, and conservation, make National Green Tribunal (NGT) guidelines and review mandatory.
2.Vision for Lakes:
With an overall Vision for Bengaluru Lake which is the complete Water System, objectives, uniqueness of each Lake should be documented along with the local stakeholders (citizens, fishermen, activists, farmers, etc.) This will help in drawing up a long-term monitoring and conservation plan for each Lake along with financial requirements.
3.Recovery & Revival:
Implement suggestions from Justice N K Patil’s report, recovery of Lake lands and buffer zones as per NGT guidelines, and fence the Lakes as an initial step to protect Lakes. The revival of Lakes needs a comprehensive and standardization focusing on catchments area, inlets, wetlands, biodiversity, utilities based on the vision of the Lake.
Lakes of Bengaluru have been a victim of constant policy changes leading to inconsistency and apathy. Multiple experiments on lakes need to end thereby making way to a clear and consistent sustainable conservation policy.
Time is running out. Bengaluru cannot afford to fail its lakes anymore. with almost consistent rainfall, the ability to recycle wastewater every step has to be taken to conserve lakes and make Bengaluru Water Sufficient and Efficient.
Lake Activist & Trustee Kaagaz Foundation