TNM in conversation with Anand Malligavad who left his richly paying job for a cause close to his heart— reviving lake ecosystems in Bengaluru.

Anand Malligavad
news Environment Saturday, July 16, 2022 - 17:05

Bengaluru was once known for its many lakes, rich water sources now lost to encroachment and pollution resulting from massive urbanisation. Having grown up around a lake in his village, Karmudi, Anand Malligavad had a natural affinity towards water bodies. He went on to become a mechanical engineer but later turned into a lake conservationist after reading an article which said Bengaluru would soon run out of water and become a Zero Water City. Since then, Malligavad has been working passionately to revive the city’s lake ecosystems. He has fully revived 15 lakes in Bengaluru alone and the work on eight more are underway. Malligavad believes that dying water bodies must be rejuvenated if they are to become ecologically self-sustaining. His process of rejuvenating lakes begins by thoroughly understanding the topography, soil, catchment area and other necessary elements regarding the lake. Malligavad, who is planning to take his water conservation movement pan India, speaks to TNM on the condition of lakes in Bengaluru and his connection to them.

You have been rejuvenating Bengaluru 's lakes for many years. How is the city faring now? Have threats on our lakes reduced or increased?

They haven’t increased, but they haven’t reduced either. Most of the lakes are encroached by farmers and local citizens which are then sold to builders. There was no awareness five to six years ago about lakes and their conservation. However, people are aware now and waste dumping has reduced slightly. Despite the awareness, people are lazy or do not care. They think it is the government’s job and that they do not have any role to play. People need to start taking the initiative. 

Which lakes in Bengaluru do you believe require immediate attention and why?

Hosakerehalli Lake. I have been struggling with this lake for the past three years. Apart from this, Halasuru lake, Kaggadasapura lake, Hoodi lake, Doddanekundi lake are some others which need work. Most of the lakes under Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) also need immediate attention. This is because of a High Court judgement that says none of the lakes under BBMP should be rejuvenated by citizens or NGOs, it should only be done by the government. Their water condition is pathetic, sewage water gets mixed with rain water and the lakes contain lots of water hyacinth and algae causing it to stink. The fishes in these lakes are all dying.

What are the biggest issues you face, apart from pollution and collection of funds?

Encroachment is a huge issue and the government is not working on it. They never survey, they never give notice, there is no support from them. Apart from that they should compel school and college students and company employees to volunteer for water body rejuvenation and afforestation. This will help people engage with such projects from the school-level itself. It has to become a movement. 

Moreover, citizens are given the right to protect natural bodies such as forests, lakes, rivers. But the High Court order I mentioned earlier says, corporates cannot rejuvenate the lake. Without corporates, how will we get the required funds in order to protect these lakes? Our source itself has been cut off. It further says that the corporates can reach out to BBMP directly if they need help. Why will corporates give money to the BBMP? They are all corrupt.

Chikkanamangala lake after and before rejuvenation.

There is a lake conservation department for the city. How do you perceive their work? What more should they do?

They should first stop reducing water body spaces, the rejuvenation must be done with reducing the area. What they do now is reduce the water spread area and instead build artificial gardens, wide walking tracks, seating spaces, they put drains inside the lake. They spend a lot of money on beautification rather than the health of the water. Rejuvenation must be done with ecology in mind, not with steel, concrete and stone. If done scientifically, the waterbody becomes self-sustaining and does not require any human intervention. 

Moreover, the BBMP rejuvenates the same lakes over and over again, there is no new list. They have put aside Rs 200 crore recently for 26 lakes. I have rejuvenated a 30 acre lake with a budget of Rs one crore. If that money was given to people like me, we would have rejuvenated 200 lakes, not just 23. Out of these 23, rejuvenation work on 10 lakes has been taken up previously.

If the citizenry in Bengaluru was not so active, do you believe our lakes would have fared even worse?

After Cape Town, Bengaluru would have been the second zero water city by 2025. Because lakes are the lungs of the earth. There would have been methane gas everywhere since we still have dying lakes every five kilometres that are producing carbon or methane gas. They are the highest contributors for air pollution, wildlife would have died causing adverse effects on the ecosystem. If this ecosystem dies, there would be no water. Bengaluru would be a dead city.

You spoke about Odisha government officials showing interest in the work done by you. Could you elaborate on that?

Till March I only focused on Bengaluru. I have a team here and some Bengaluru lakes are becoming stabilised. Around February, the central government invited me to a council called the All India Council for Technical Education under the Prime Minister. The AICTE has formed a national level environmental committee to create a policy on water bodies, of which I am a member. Following this, I have also tied up with the Meghalaya and Uttar Pradesh governments to help with water bodies’ rejuvenation. Through this, the Odisha government reached out to me and I will be helping them in rejuvenating 1400 lakes in their state.

Hadosiddapura lake after and before rejuvenation.

You have a connection to lakes because you grew up around one, how can others develop this connection?

My connection was because I am a villager who grew up around lakes. The time I spent at the lake are some of my core memories and thus I understood the ecosystem of a lake quite early on. How can you connect to something without experiencing it? I want the same connection for my daughter and everyone else. Only when people go to these lakes and spend some time there, will they develop a connection. That’s why I do what I do. 

What is the role locals can play in lake rejuvenation?

The major role they can play here is by starting to visit lakes, whether they are clean or not that is secondary. Once they start visiting, they can make a group and familiarise themselves with the people who live close by and the workers around the lake. They can form groups and volunteer to stop others from polluting the area or chopping down trees around it. Secondly, people need to start living responsibly. Just because you have the money now, does not mean you live the way you want and someone else suffers.

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