news Sunday, May 03, 2015 - 05:30
OUR LAKE WARRIORS - I: The 2011 census recorded the highest increase in rural to urban migration, which means a large, likely permanent increase in urban population, whose needs urban local bodies need to look after. Most sources of water in urban areas are under severe threat owing to the rising pressure on resources made worse by mismanagement by governing authorities. Ordinary people in south Indian cities are battling to keep water freely accessible to all, and also trying to ensure that these water bodies do not succumb to environmental and urban pollution. This is the first in a three-part series by The News Minute team. Most of Bengaluru’s lakes are critically ill and will join others that have died out, but there is a small army of people working to nurture them to health. Citizens’ groups, resident welfare associations, biodiversity experts, environmental groups and NGOs are working together, although in a disjointed fashion to make this happen. If citizens groups are approaching civic agencies, environmental groups are questioning the privatization of the lakes which they argue should be freely accessible to the public; biodiversity experts and bird watchers provide information which is used to build the case to convince civic agencies of the urgency of the situation, and others have created maps to which anybody can add data, thereby creating a knowledge commons of the lakes in Bengaluru. Many residents of the city have banded together to form trusts which work to preserve the water bodies in their vicinities. One such group is the Arekere Neighbourhood Improvement Trust (ANIT). Chairperson of the trust Arbind Kumar Gupta has been living in the city for the last 17 years since he moved here for work. A computer science lecturer, Gupta says he and some others in the Arekere area got together three years ago to try and save the 37-acre Arekere lake. The major problems plaguing this lake are the same as those for any lake in the city: encroachments due to lack of fencing, pollution from sewage and garbage. They complained to the Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) which owns the lake and also the revenue department to get a move on demarcating the boundaries. He said that the trust had made several futile requests to the Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) to ensure that sewage did not flow into the Hulivmavu storm water drain (SWD) which opened out into the lake. “Now, if the BWSSB doesn’t ensure that inflow of sewage is stopped, we will approach the locals as we did the human chain last year, and ask them to write to the BWSSB and call them to take action,” he says. It took around seven years for the MAPSAS trust to ensure that the Kaikondarahalli lake in Mahadevapura ward was properly fenced and trees planted around it, says Meera K, one of the members of the trust. It is now trying to revive the Kasavanahalli, Parappana Agrahara, Kudlu, Harlur, Bellandur and Soulkere lakes. Underscoring the importance of the lakes, Meera says: “Bengaluru has very few public spaces. Restoring the lakes is key for people to enjoy nature and bird watching. The lakes also have an essential role to play in water sustainability,” she says. In the past, the seven lakes in Kudlu and Bellandur wards were connected by canals called the rajakaaluves but are now encroached upon. Excess water from one lake would flow to another as the topography of the region provided a natural gradient, forming a natural system of flood control and ground water recharge she explained. Another move that has had the city up in arms is the government’s decision to hand over four lakes to private entities for development and maintenance. “The first thing they (private parties) did was to fence it and start selling tickets for entry. Rs 20-25 may not sound like much, but it is a lot for many people, including fisherfolk whose livelihood was cut off,” says Shashikala Iyer of NGO Environment Support group. Calling it “cosmetic surgery”, she said that the banks of one lake had been cemented, causing ecological damage to biodiversity. Fortunately, she said that the N K Patil committee report recommended against privatization of any other lakes in the state. An undated presentation prepared by Forest Development official C S Vedanth, says that the Bangalore Metropolitan Region has 2,789 lakes of which 596 are listed with the BDA. It quotes a 1985 state government survey that studied 390 lakes and found that only 81 lakes had water; 46 were “disused”. The presentation notes that along with sedimentation and siltation, the major reasons for the degradation of the lakes were tied to urbanization. As building activity increased, the command areas of the lakes were reduced and excessive mining of ground water increased percolation. Lastly, the increase of nutrients in the water led to the water being choked by weeds. Asked why if he had only shifted to the city for work, did he work to restore the lakes, Gupta replied: “Bangalore is home. Considering the environmental degradation in the city, we are already seeing catastrophic situation. But people will really feel the heat in a few years when they don’t get water. This (degradation of lakes) is something that needs to be addressed on a war footing.”