The Chikkabanavara lake, a majestic spread of water on 170 acres on the outskirts of Bangalore, is being choked to death. What could have been developed as an idyllic picnic spot and a bird sanctuary for Bangaloreans is turning into a swamp with encroachers tightening their noose on this water body and its catchment area having been overbuilt and almost lost.
The lake is located at a distance of 1.5 km north of Chikkabanavara railway station on the Bangalore-Tumkur railway line. Though it is still out of the BBMP domain, there are signs that the once serene village is speedily getting into the urban enfoldment of Bangalore and it may not take long for BBMP to expand its authority over the area.
Chikkabanavara used to be a village but has steadily gathered more and more urban residents with around 75,000 inhabitants now living there. It is accessible by Hessarghatta Road from Peenya junction on the Bangalore-Tumkur highway.
Ever since Hessarghatta Road was metalled, both flanks of the major artery have seen rapid urban development. Old timers recall that the two flanks of the Hessarghatta Road represented unspoilt sheets of greenery till a few years ago.
Several city folk who had their farms in Chikkabanavara village have chosen to reside there amid their farms or workshops. Pressure on land therefore needs to be seen to be believed. People who had had their childhood in the village remember that this lake used to be just around 700 metres from the railway line. The encroachment over the lake can be gauged from the fact that it has been pushed almost 1.5 km away from the railway station
Over the last two decades the entire area has seen a construction boom and every conceivable patch of land has been taken over by the builders.
The nearby Chimney Hills is being dwarfed by multi-storeyed structures of several engineering colleges and elite hospitals (Sri Krishna Institute of Technology, R.R. Polytechnic, Sapthagiri Engineering and Medical Colleges and Hospital, NRR Hospital, being some of them).
Chimney Hills used to have a helipad for the Air Force and there were several villages nestling under the foothills. The Eshwara Temple there used to have “Oore Jathra” annually till a few years ago.
Unfortunately, all these have become events of the past. In fact the Hills and the surrounding areas constituted the catchment area for the Chikkabanavara lake. A deep gorge from the hills that led to the lake acted as the natural flow channel for this water. But sadly, the gorge is being filled up with rubble and the lake is being deprived of its replenishment source.
Varadarajan, a former Air Force pilot, who now lives in Chikkabanavara and runs a small-scale industry, recalls that water used to come storming through the railway culvert behind his farm to pour into the lake a decade ago during monsoons. But it just trickles in as a small stream now as the entire catchment has been vandalised. But more significant is his observation about the great number of large birds that visit the lake every September-October and fly with their chicken to their respective land of origin.
A fortnight ago Varadarajan took us to the lake where pelicans, herons, spoonbills and black cormorants could still be spotted, either nesting on the trees around or simply floating over the lake waters. Says Varadarajan, the lake with better management could have been turned into an active aviary or a bird sanctuary. But pathetic neglect is gradually turning it into a turbid pool and a hatchery of mosquitoes.
The lake is ringed by several villages such as Soladevanahalli, Ganigerehalli, Somashettihalli and Abbigere Halli. In fact, the Abbigere Road connecting Abbigere from Chikkabanavara Circle was constructed across the lake. It severed a portion — as large as five to six acres — of the lake which is steadily turning into a swamp.
Several shops and sawmills and workshops that have come up on the Abbigere road have obviously come up on the land obtained by filling the lake. And being unguarded, the severed portion is vulnerable to encroachment from land sharks.
Unless this portion of the lake is clearly demarcated and fenced, there is every possibility that it will be gobbled up by the urban sprawl.
Following the metalling of the Hessarghatta Road, land prices have shot up in the area with an acre that sold for merely Rs. 5 lakh a decade ago is fetching Rs. 4 crore today. According to the Lake Development Authority records, of the 170 acres of water spread of the Chikkabanavara lake, 4.6 acres has already been encroached.
To make matters worse, the Chikkabanavara Gram Panchayat does not have an underground sewerage and only about a third of the houses have a sanitary pit (soaking pit).
The domestic waste is let into the lake directly and untreated. This is a sure recipe for the death of a lake that is a source of drinking water, irrigation for surrounding villages and farm and a source for keeping the ground aquifers charged besides hosting a great variety of aquatic and avian life. A lot of flotsam could be spotted on the fringes of the lake which resembles a cesspool.
The lake requires immediate mapping, fencing and construction of bunds to save it from encroachment. Unless this is done, yet another water body dotting the urbanscape of Bangalore will be lost to man’s greed.