For months now, local resident groups and Bengaluru-based NGOs have been working to rejuvenate the Doddabommasandra Lake in north Bengaluru with their limited means.
Sustained pressure from these citizen groups forced the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to take up restoration work in 2016 and then later Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), the public-sector unit under the Ministry of Defence set up a 10 MLD Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) as part of its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiative in 2016.
Spread over 124 acres, the lake in its current form is important for maintaining the groundwater table of the region which includes localities of Vidyaranyapura, Govindayyanapalya, Doddabommasandra and Thindlu.
Although, the STP is not yet functional, the rejuvenation process has started to show some results.
But on Tuesday, Epsilon India, a global marketing company claimed that it will revive the same lake as part of their community outreach programme, triggering a strong reaction from local citizen groups.
By Wednesday, the posts have been changed to, â€śAt Epsilon India, we are set to revive one such lake.â€ť
It has been now found that the company had tied up with United Ways, an international NGO for its CSR activity.
Mahesh, who is in charge of United Wayâ€™s Lake Rejuvenation Campaign tried to downplay the issue. â€śWe are taking up the biodiversity and upkeep of the lake. The rejuvenation work is being done by the government. There is some miscommunication which has led to these issues,â€ť Mahesh said.
â€śThis is a fund making scam of United Ways. They have a history of doing this. When all the hard work has been done by the local groups, they have come to show the world that they have done all the work. They are usurping all the good work done by us and now they are taking photographs to show to the world that they are doing all the work and they should be given funds,â€ť alleged Ramprasad, convenor of Friends of Lake, a citizen group rejuvenating lakes across Bengaluru.
He further alleged that big corporates use big NGOs to spend their CSR funds as they have a FCRA (foreign contribution) license. Incidentally, United Ways have been mired in controversy outside India.
William Aramony, the founder of United Way was jailed for defrauding the organisation of more than $1 million.
He further alleged the same thing was done by the NGO in the case of Rachenahalli and Kaikondrahalli Lakes, where they entered the process in the last phase of rejuvenation and hijacked the success of citizen groups.
Ramprasad is not alone, Shilpi Sahu, a trustee at Mapsas (the Kannada acronym for Mahadevapura Environment Protection and Development Trust), which manages many of lakes of Bellandur-Sarjapur region, also alleged that United Way has in the past taken credit for other projects.
She alleged, â€śAlthough Mapsas will continue with existing projects that involve United Way it will however not extend their association further following a lot of issues. They are not very proactive in involving the community and they hijack the attention even though the community and the BBMP lakes team primarily look after the issues. They are only there because of the ease of FCRA and we donâ€™t see the benefit of having them in the loop.â€ť
On Thursday, an employee with Epsilon India on condition of anonymity, however, told TNM that the community outreach programme has been put on hold.
Following the publication of this article, United Way issued a statement. Read their full statement below:
Wake the Lake, a flagship campaign which United Way Bengaluru, a NGO has been spearheading since 2010 is primarily aimed at soliciting support across all stake holders through active collaborations. The primary among them are the BBMP, Corporate partner and community, including the elected representatives with a single objective to enhance the bio-diversity of the lakes through plantation drives and maintenance. We also deploy eco-friendly STPs, Open Air Gyms, Children Play areas, Toilets with an aim to make them community friendly. Pro-Active participation from communities augments the process. While it is very appreciative that the heavy lifting is done by BBMP like getting the fencing, bunding, dredging, the softer aspects as mentioned above is undertaken by United Way Bengaluru. We also believe that reviving is a continuous process and needs maintenance as an integral part. The success is always attributed to the collective efforts of all stake holders.
For any intervention there is a well laid out process where in United Way Bengaluru approaches the CSR Partner to solicit their support and upon the approval; approaches BBMP who are the custodians of the lake to sign a MOU which clearly outlines the roles and responsibilities of both the parties. Specific to Dodda Bommasandra Lake, the same process was followed with a formal signed MOU in place. The MOU permits us to undertake some activities, which include planting of trees around the lake, keeping the lake environment free of weeds, debris, garbage and reporting encroachments if any. United Way Bengaluru is very cognizant of the fact that the custodian of the lake is BBMP and ultimately belongs to the community to which United Way Bengaluru is a member too. We encourage communities to form Lake Trusts, Associations with an aim to build a sense of ownership to protect the lake.
All our lake interventions follow the same process and are limited to the years for which the MOU specifies. We work primarily with an aim to nurture collaborations between government agencies, citizen groups, volunteers and corporates in the neighborhood with an aim to bring back lakes as an active member to our eco â€“ system. This stems from our conviction that it is local communities who are the actual guardians and owners of joint resources along with BBMP. We merely facilitate change.
It is unfortunate that the lake community of Dodda Bommasandra has chosen to approach the media to air grievances. A little check on the facts would have helped all of us. We are further encouraged by the community's involvement and enthusiasm towards their lake and look forward to deeper collaboration with them which can result in a greener, healthier Bengaluru. United Way Bengaluru has reached out to the community and we shall be very happy to take the discussions forward.
About United Way Bengaluru
United Way Bengaluru is registered under the Karnataka Societies Registration Act, 1960. We are affiliated to United Way Worldwide which is a global movement of 1800 chapters spread across 40 countries. We work collaboratively with and foster partnerships between governments, communities and a wide range of stakeholders to address complex issues of society. Besides our Lake initiative, we also work on Integrated Rural Development Program, Early Childhood initiative to make children in the age group of 0-6, school ready and a host of other initiatives. We welcome communitiesâ€™ suggestions, participation in our initiatives.