Yelahanka New Town has a great deal going well for it. A layout developed by the Karnataka Housing board in the ’70s, it is structured in the form of semi-circles that appear to radiate from a point, with pretty, well-kept roads lined with gulmohar and jacaranda trees.

Getting there (if you can look past its distance from the city centre and the vehicles that often clog the road leading to the airport at Devanahalli) is made easier by excellent bus connectivity. Long-time residents may talk about the significant increase in traffic in the area, and the skyrocketing price of real estate, but outsiders are likely to wonder what the fuss is all about.

With the University of Agricultural Sciences nearby, a generous number of lakes in the vicinity, 57 parks and the best bird habitat in North Bangalore to boast of, Yelahanka New Town is quite the envy of its neighbours.

Bird hotspot

However, there’s plenty to be done on the environment front, as Bangalore-based ornithologist S. Subramanya will agree: he says Puttenahalli lake, where over 124 bird species have been spotted, is overwhelmed by two major problems — sewage and weeds. “Sewage,” says Dr. Subramanya, who has been visiting the lake since 2000, “is the biggest problem there, but it’s still a good place for birding, if you overlook the stench.”

A nursery maintained on the site by the Forest Department and the trees surrounding the lake are the main draw for the birds, among which the spot-billed pelican, Asian palm swift and glossy ibis have been sighted. “Earlier, about 1,000 migratory ducks could be seen at the lake, some of them from Siberia and Central Asia, but because weeds such as water hyacinth and salvinia have covered the lake, lately, there hasn’t been a single one,” says Dr. Subramanya.

The BBMP had plans to develop the lake (for which Dr. Subramanya and other experts submitted a set of recommendations on how this could be done without affecting the ecology of the lake), and the Forest Department even drew up a proposal to have the area declared a bird refuge, but neither have materialised.

While it is the high-rise apartments near the lake that are rumoured to be letting sewage into Puttenahalli lake, the Karnataka Power Transmission Corporation Ltd. plant near the lake has tall chimneys spewing thick, dark smoke onto the horizon.

After complaints, the State Pollution Control Board ordered that four of the six towers be closed, but the fight is by no means over.

Enthusiastic citizens

Fortunately, many of Yelahanka New Town’s residents are keen to tackle issues that concern the community. Citizens’ Forum, a group of residents, is comprised of enthusiastic individuals of all ages and from a range of backgrounds.

A. Padmanabha, founder-president of the forum, says the concept originated when residents came together to address the high rate of crime in the far-flung area during the ’90s by volunteering to go on rounds of the neighbourhood at night, supported by the police.

“When we called a meeting to discuss the matter, we thought only 20 to 25 people would show up, but 200 came,” he says, adding that a gang was caught within a week. “This gave confidence to people that they could take matters into their own hands and make a difference.”

Since it was formed in 1997, Citizens’ Forum has focused on securing better amenities for residents of Yelahanka New Town, be it water supply, drains or parks. The Women’s Wing of the forum, set up in 2006, takes care of the forum’s social activities, spreading awareness about important issues, organising fundraisers for charity and promoting local artistes, among other things.

Big plans

Having tried to get residents to segregate waste for the last five years, Citizens’ Forum has set itself the task of converting Yelahanka New Town into a place that, in terms of cleanliness, “closely resembles something like Singapore,” says Padmanabha.

‘Green Glow’ — an impressive, well-planned initiative driven by forum member K.S. Sangunni, retired associate professor at IISc. — is a time-bound exercise drawn up for a ‘Green Clean Yelahanka’ by 2015.

“It is a Herculean task,” Padmanabha admits, but maintains that the forum will work together with politicians and officials in order to achieve its goals.

DEEPIKA SARMA