Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai on Monday, September 19, informed the State Legislative Assembly that he would get an inquiry into closing of lakes in Bengaluru and encroachments done. Repeated pandemonium prevailed in the Assembly as the ruling BJP, especially Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, tried to turn the tables on the opposition Congress, accusing it of having taken decisions in the past, while in power, allowing close of lakes and permitting encroachments, which has resulted in flooding in the city, when there are heavy rains.
"During whose tenure were lakes closed to make way for which layout to be developed has to be inquired into, and I will get it inquired. Which lake was closed when, for what reason â€” I'm ready to get it inquired into thoroughly. I surely will get it probed," Bommai said.
He said, "not only closing of lakes, inquiry will be also be done regarding encroachments and who gave the licence to it, under which tenure, which official was there, whose political backing was there, and whose benami properties were there, will all be inquired into, and the nature of investigation will be made known soon."
"There will be a lot of pressure with rapid urbanisation and it needs a will to halt such things in public life, as the system has deteriorated," he said, as he quoted an example of a Revenue Department circular in 2018 (during Congress government tenure) to remove lakes that have lost the features of a water body from the maps, but after public outcry against the move, the circular was withdrawn.
The Chief Minister was responding to Congress MLA KJ George's intervention during the Revenue Minister's reply to debate on effects or damages caused by rains and floods in the State. George claimed he was being trolled by the ruling BJP accusing him of closing lakes in Bengaluru and allowing encroachments, while he was Minister in-charge of the city, and urged the government to conduct an inquiry.
Noting that governments in the past have taken wrong decisions on the ill-advice and have been misguided by officials in certain cases, Bommai further said, "It is true that attempts were made to close lakes and to remove them from the maps, who were the influential people behind it, will be inquired into."
Welcoming the Chief Minister's statement, Leader of Opposition Siddaramaiah said let the inquiry be done and the guilty be punished, also measures should be taken to ensure such things don't recur.
However, George, who was Minister during the previous Congress regime, said no lakes were closed during his tenure and there was a proposal to remove lakes that have lost existence and those which do not have the features of a water body, from the maps, across the State, but it was not implemented.
Siddaramaiah, too, jumping in defence of George, said the then government headed by him might have taken a decision based on the situation that existed, but it was never implemented.
Bommai, however, sharing details of the then Cabinet decision to remove the lakes that have lost the features of a water body from the maps said, "the then Cabinet's intention is very clear it was to remove right of the public on the such lakes...there are evidences and records for it."
This led to heated arguments between opposition and treasury benches. Congress tried to defend stating such decisions to convert non-existing lakes into bus stops, places of public amenities and layouts were taken by successive governments in the past, and they alone cannot be blamed for it.
Bommai, however, blamed Congress for the fate of lakes in Bengaluru and said, "It is you who conspired to swallow Bengaluru's lakes. Such decisions have led to flooding of the city, as the bodies that could have stored water during heavy rains, have vanished."
During his reply, Revenue Minister Ashoka said the recent rains were highest in the last 30-40 years and two zones of the city were hit, and it is because of "man-made mistakes". The deluge caused by the downpour is the best example for the consequences of going against nature, he said.
Blaming the current government and its Chief Minister Bommai for the destruction caused by recent rains and floods is not right, and there was lack of planning and vision on part of the successive governments in developing the city, he further said 42 lakes have been closed in the city so far.
Ashoka also pointed out that, there is no provision in the land revenue Act for the government to authorise closing down of lakes.
He said out of 42 lakes closed down in Bengaluru so far, 28 have been "swallowed" by Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), five by Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), one is BDA authorised, and seven by private encroachers.
Noting that the lakes in Bengaluru were connected to one another which ensured easy flow of water, the Revenue Minister said, "Our lakes have the capacity to store 2 to 4 tmc of water and there would have been no question of lakes overflowing if their systems were maintained well."
Questioning as to why lakes were used for bus stands and other public amenities, layouts and other, while there was availability of other land for it, blaming Congress, he said, "who did it...it is you, the Congress who did it while in power." He listed out various lakes that were closed or encroached upon in different parts of Bengaluru since the 1970s and said, "you also know who were in power during these tenures."
Ashoka alleged that in some cases lakes were not even shown in the survey reports, and those who were Ministers then and the Cabinet then are responsible for closing of lakes and them not existing.
This led to a heated debate between Congress and BJP members, as the opposition MLAs accused the government of trying to hide its failure in developing stormwater drains, by digging old stories, which made no sense.
"Will you restore lakes in those areas which were closed and converted into layouts in the 1970s and 80s...successive governments have taken such decisions in the past including BJP and Janata Dal, look at what can be done now..." Congress leaders said.
As the chaos prevailed, Speaker Vishweshwar Hegde Kageri adjourned the Assembly for lunch.