The Bellandur Lake, Bengaluru’s symbol that represents rampant corruption, toxic pollution, negligent government bodies and helpless citizens, was shown a ray of hope by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Wednesday.
The NGT’s order on Bellandur lake is a slap on Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) & Urban Development Department (UDD), who despite having been exposed multiple times, continue to be a front for builders and does not act in the interest of the city and its people.
Errant officials and politicians must be held liable and prosecuted
The public shaming of a group of lawbreaking bureaucrats has its origin in an infamous circular brought out by BBMP. This circular, at the direction of Govt of Karnataka’s Urban Development Department, tried to interpret the NGT’s 2016 order to suit its convenience. The NGT, in its May 2016 judgment, had imposed a new buffer zone of 75 metres for lakes and wetlands where no construction will be allowed, as opposed to 30 metres of buffer zone earlier in Bengaluru.
The Namma Bengaluru Foundation brought this smoking gun of bias towards the builder lobby, to the NGTs attention. The result of NGT’s scrutiny of that circular was sharp and swift. This govt, which has just suffered the ignominy of being shamed into withdrawing its Steel Flyover project, now has its two senior officials abjectly and unconditionally apologising for violating the law and unconditionally withdrawing the circular.
Will this pathetic sight make the state government pause, to reconsider their continued support for law-breaking builders and officials who have caused irreparable harm to the city and its ecology? Probably not.
It’s important to note that the NGT also commented further on these efforts to subvert the law by stating, “Government of Karnataka on its own should take some action to show they have some respect for the law”.
There is no doubt that those responsible for issuing that circular have broken laws to help certain commercial interests. It is unacceptable that those in the government and the BBMP, who are supposed to protect the law, are complicit in actively subverting and compromising it--including orders of a judicial body like NGT. Does the CM of our state respect the law? Or is he part and parcel of this conspiracy to help builders exploit and destroy our city? The CM’s actions in response to the NGT order will give us the answer.
I have no doubt that this government will shield these officers. Because they couldn’t have done this fiddling with the law without the support and encouragement of some political masters, just like in the Steel Flyover case.
Regardless of whether the CM takes action or not, I am confident that these erring and law-breaking officers will be brought to account eventually. I, and many citizens, and our courts will ensure that.
Future of lakes in Bengaluru and solutions to reclaim them
The situation of lakes in Bengaluru is still grim. However, bodies like NGT are crucial in establishing a sense of law. This was evident after the Government of Karnataka ignored repeated pleas from Citizens and Resident Welfare Associations, including Members of Parliament like myself, and chose to remain shamelessly apathetic and deaf to save our city.
Additionally, citizens of Bengaluru must continue to lead the fight for our lakes and the city. Efforts to save Bellandur Lake were initiated many years ago by ordinary citizens who had repeatedly raised their concerns through means such as a Change.org petition, started by Sanchita Jha that gathered thousands of signatures and had my support. Moreover, the NGT’s interim order is only the beginning. I further encourage the citizens to get more involved with the Joint Inspection Team (JIT) and ensure that the NGT order to restore the Bellandur Lake is implemented by the government authorities concerned.
Moreover, our fight should continue until all lakes are reclaimed and restored. Otherwise, waterbodies will continue to die and present significant challenges for our city. According to a report by the Indian Institute of Science, 98 per cent of the lakes are encroached by the land mafia and around 90 per cent of the lakes are subject to sustained flow of untreated sewage and industrial effluents, dumping of solid wastes and building debris.
Experts have stated that reviving Bengaluru’s lakes and wetlands can sustain the city’s population and restore the groundwater table. However, if current levels of pollution and water crisis continue, Bengaluru will become uninhabitable in 25 years.
In conclusion, I would like to state as custodians of this great city that we come together to fight and use the law to protect our city and hold those responsible, to account.
(The author is a Rajya Sabha Member of Parliament and NDA Kerala Vice Chairman.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.