The multiple show cause notices and reminders, which TNM has accessed, pertain to laying of pipelines by the Minor Irrigation Dept, and the construction of a road.
The Karnataka government may be spending crores of rupees to rejuvenate Bengaluruās ailing lakes, but concerned authorities don't seem to care.
At least two state government departments entrusted with the task of maintaining and developing the city's lakes have been found guilty of showing blatant disregard to laws and regulations related to the same.
TNM has accessed a series of letters written by the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA), the nodal authority of all notified water bodies in the states, to the Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) between September and November 2017. These letters show that the BDA, which is the custodian of Varthur Lake, has facilitated illegal construction work on the lake despite multiple warnings by the KLCDA.
TNM, however, cannot independently confirm that these were the only communications sent out to the concerned government departments regarding the violation of lake laws.
Bureaucrats mum on show cause notices
The multiple show cause notices and reminders for the same from the KLCDA, which TNM has accessed, pertain to laying of pipelines by the Minor Irrigation (MI) Department, and the construction of a road on the lake.
The MI Department is working on the pipeline project to pump treated water to tanks in Kolar. It will ensure that the water from sewage treatment plants of Bangalore Water Supply and Sewage Board (BWSSB) is pumped to Narsapura Lake in Kolar.
Repeated show cause notices were sent by the KLCDA CEO to the BDA Engineer Member alleging that a road was being laid on Varthur Lake. The BDA, on its part, has not replied to any of these notices. Even the Chief Engineer of the Minor Irrigation (MI) Department, who was sent similar notices, did not respond to them.
In these communications, the Commissioner of BDA Rakesh Singh and the Superintendent Engineer BDA, who is the authorised officer to protect the lake, were also kept in the loop about the alleged illegal activity being carried out by the BDA.
In the aforementioned show cause notices, the KLCDA CEO asked the BDA Engineer Member and also the Chief Engineer of the MI Department as to why action was not taken against those carrying out illegal construction work on the lake.
A highly placed source in the KLCDA told TNM that till date the agency has not received any reply from the BDA's engineers, the parastatal's commissioner or the MI Department.
The source also said that the concerned officers also ignored warnings of "appropriate prosecution proceedings" by the KLCDA. Notably, the Superintendent Engineer was notified that he could be punished with a term of at least three years according to Section 14(6) of the KLCDA Act, 2014.
TNM could not get a response relating to the allegations from the BDA Commissioner and the BDA Engineer Member despite reaching out to them multiple times. The concerned Chief Engineer of the MI Department also refused to respond.
As mandated by the KLCDA Act passed by the Karnataka government in 2016, the KLCDA is the nodal authority of all water bodies in the state, and other civic agencies like the BDA can be the custodian of particular lakes.
According to the source, the KLCDA could have directly filed a police complaint, but chose not to do so as communication on similar grounds with other civic bodies in the past have had positive responses.
"The BBMP cancelled the No Objection Certificate (NOC) given to an illegal building. At a project by a prominent real estate group near Bellandur, three hectares of encroached land was recovered. Another construction company had tried to encroach upon the land near Nagawara lake, but they too were evicted. We had also written to the Town Planning Department of the BBMP, and the BWSSB about some irregularities too which had resulted in positive action," the source said.
They further added, "Without going for such notices, we could have directly filed a complaint with the police as mandated by the KLCDA Act. But since the departments have cooperated with us in the past, we followed the standard procedure, i.e. we send a letter and if we don't get a response, only then we issue a show cause notice after seven days."
The source also claimed that apart from sending the official letters, the concerned staff was also made aware of the notice via phone calls.
Why didnāt politicians object?
Ramprasad, a lake activist with citizens' group Friends of Lakes, questioned how such activities could go on without the knowledge of politicians and how bureaucrats can act with such impunity by not bothering to reply to show cause notices even when warned of imprisonment.
It may be noted here that the government had passed the controversial Tank Development Bill on February 22 this year. The Bill aims to repeal the KLCDA Act and environmentalists claim it is the government's way of legalising the killing of lakes. However, at present the old rules are still in place as the Governor is yet to give his consent to the Bill.
"This is nothing but murder of democracy and an extension of the feudal mindset of our elected representatives. There's no point in blaming the bureaucrats as they are just cogs in the wheel. We also can't blame just the ruling government because nobody opposed the Bill when it was tabled as everyone has a share in the profits," Ramprasad said.
"How can such a decision be taken without public consultation?" he asked. "This is beyond the scope of the state government according to the 74th Constitutional Amendment."
If the Bill is cleared by the Governor, all lakes in the state will be managed by the MI Department. The government's reasoning is that the MI department can do a better job of restoring the state's ailing lakes as most of the lakes in Bengaluru are connected and there is often miscommunication between various civic bodies which hampers development work.
Read: Kātaka govt hands over lakes to Minor Irrigation Dept, repeals āprogressiveā KLCDA Act
Extending his argument, Ramprasad highlighted how Amendment 14, Section 12 of the newly passed Bill allows construction of roads and carrying out recreational, industrial and commercial activities within 30 metres of the lake boundary. This goes against the latest NGT order stating that no such activities can take place with 75 metres of the lake's buffer zone.
In contrast, the KLCDA Act was framed with the vision of "restoring quality and importance of the lakes to their pristine status as reflected in the pages of history of the State".
Activists have pointed out many such environmentally unfriendly clauses in the law and have started an online petition addressed to the Governor. At the time of writing this article, the petition had close to 2,000 signatures. In addition, Friends of Lakes and 40 other such lake conservation groups have also petitioned the Governor personally urging him not to give his assent to the Bill.
The revelation comes at a time when lakes in the city are under continuous threat from several issues such as pollution, construction activities and illegal encroachment
Read: To save Bellandur Lake, is Karnataka killing other lakes? Scientists question govt