Cash-strapped BBMP proposes that BDA take over all lake development. That is not good news for the city
The notorious “soup bowl” approach to lake development, where wetlands are viewed as mere containers of water and not as dynamic ecosystems, has for long riled environmentalists.
Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the custodian of 135 lakes in Bangalore, has often drawn flak for its lake “rejuvenation” model which typically involves deep dredging, creation of ring bunds around the lake and construction of entertainment hubs on the shores.
But when the civic body proposes to pass on the baton of lake upkeep to an authority known for not much more than building residential layouts, it is bound to set alarm bells ringing. The Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), which is already developing 41 lakes, could soon be entrusted with all of the city's wetlands.
“Lack of funds,” a key BBMP official told The Hindu, is what has compelled the BBMP to propose a complete handover of lakes to the BDA. “We will be writing to the BDA asking them to take over 116 lakes. This excludes the 19 that we are currently developing,” the official said.
Flush with funds, the BDA is in a better position to muster up resources. However, it does not have much of a track record in dealing with common property resources, lakes in particular. In the past, its approach to lake development has drawn criticism on several counts. The Agara Lake, among the first to be taken up by the BDA, drew the ire of civil society and the State's own Lake Development Authority.
The BDA had “left out parcels of lake land outside the fenced area, thus leaving … valuable land vulnerable to encroachment,” reveals the minutes of a governing council meeting of the LDA held in March, 2009. The lake's dimensions had shrunk from 130 acres to 94 acres. The LDA noted that 36 acres of the tank land had been consumed by roads laid on the southern and eastern sides, serving the HSR Layout that itself encroaches upon Agara's catchment.
Critics point out that unlike the BBMP, which has an elected Council, a non-elected body like the BDA has less accountability or incentive to deal with complex issues of livelihood or ecology. Entrusting the BDA with this task is problematic on at least two counts: governance and management, explains Solly Benjamin, Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies.
While ring bunds — the starting point of current lake rejuvenation model — circumscribe the seasonal shifts in lake spread, its management model could disenfranchise several traditional user groups such as fishing communities, weed collectors and dhobis.
Indicative of things to come, a top BDA official told The Hindu that the authority did not favour commercial fishing or grazing.
“Fishing will pollute the lake,” said the official adding that there would be no grass to graze when the work is complete.
Govindappa, who rears cattle, knows this. Rachenahalli lake, where he has brought his cattle to graze for over a decade, has been witness to transformation under BDA development.
Part of the first phase of the BDA's 12-lake project (worth Rs. 104 crore), Rachenahalli will soon be embanked, fenced, landscaped, host a children's park, fountain, parking lot and boat jetty, with a watchman to boot.
Loss of livelihood
This might mean weekends of entertainment for the residential complexes around the lake, but for Mr. Govindappa, this amounts to a complete loss of livelihood. “If I can't come here to feed and water the cows, I will have to give them up.”
His wife, Muniamma, says there is barely any vacant land left for grazing in her village Srirampura.
“All the open land has now turned into layouts. They have told us that a big theme park will come up here. Neither the layouts with big gates nor this theme park will allow us in,” she fears.
Real estate boom
Notably, most of the lakes currently being developed by the BDA are in areas where a real estate boom is imminent or where newer BDA layouts are coming up. And a lake view, complete with entertainment, is a real estate deal clincher like no other.