Can citizens salvage the fortunes of a lake?

Less than seven years ago, Puttenahalli lake near J.P. Nagar was nothing more than a cesspool, with an abundance of weeds and other plants. For the casual viewer, the 13.5 acre lake may have looked like an undeveloped plot or an abandoned dumpyard.

But residents nearby decided it was time to revive the ‘lost’ lake. With the assistance of the BBMP, restoration started in 2010. The Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT) was formed. In 2011, after rejuvenation, the Trust was given the responsibility of maintaining the lake, the first of its kind in the city.

To understand why this is important, one only needs to look at Arakere and Hulimavu where the lake rejuvenation project was completely undone due to neglect. However, at Puttenahalli, citizens did not let down their guard.

“We raised money from residents for afforestation and maintenance, which costs around Rs. 5 lakh annually. For larger projects, we approached corporates and got funding under their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) schemes. Now, the lake is brimming with bio-diversity and residents are keeping a watch over the water body,” says Usha Rajgopal, one of the trustees.

Something similar happened in the case of the 41.23-acre Allasandra lake in Yelahanka. The Yelahanka United Environment Association (YUVA) was formed in 2013. In the first year, YUVA filed a Lokayukta complaint and approached numerous civic authorities with their petitions for rejuvenation. When work on the Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) eventually started, the association, which now has over 600 members, supervised and consulted experts on best practices. They even filed complaints with the Deputy Commission to remove encroachments on nearly three acres. Now, the lake is brimming with water and residents say the groundwater level in the area has gone up. Twice a month, residents clean the lake and its surroundings.

‘Pressure from citizen spurs officials into action’

Over the past decade or so, citizen action has been growing and the results are seen in many lakes. However, with 210 lakes in the city, much more needs to be done. Activists say lakes in the west (Doddabidarikallu lake, among others) and south (Begur, Chikkabegur, Basapura) have not seen strong initiatives from the local people. Consequently, they have been ignored by officials in charge of rejuvenation.

Officials have testified that incessant pressure from citizens plays a major part in spurring them into action, particularly when MLAs and MPs are petitioned to work on improving the lake.

Another way to fast-track large projects, including decentralised Sewage Treatment Plants (which costs upwards of Rs. 50 lakh), is to rope in corporates who can contribute under the Corporate Social Responsibility Act.

However, experts say this has seen a disparity in lakes adopted: those near IT parks are seeing corporate interest while those in relatively poorer neighbourhoods are being ignored.

United Way Bengaluru, an NGO which is trying to revive 16 lakes, believes corporates can be convinced to part with small amounts for these ‘ignored’ lakes.

‘Up to local residents’

The inclusive scheme to enrol citizens as watchdogs seems to have been hindered by the labyrinth of bureaucracy.

The Lake Warden project of Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA) hoped to enrol at least four persons per lake. Officials from BBMP and BDA — who are custodians for the lakes in the city — were identified (designated authorities) to monitor the lake as well as encourage citizens to become lake wardens.

However, many officials had little idea of the programme. Over time, many of them have been transferred, bringing the programme to a standstill in many lakes.

Experts say the programme must be tweaked to ensure that it does not lose relevance. Online registrations may help increase participation but an outreach is needed. Moreover, those working with lakes emphasise that the initiative should come from residents living close to lakes. A healthy lake does wonders to the local ecology and groundwater level in the area.

People Speak

“Allalasandra lake was in a terrible state four years ago. We formed an association and spent more than a year taking up the issue with the Lokayukta, KSPCB, BBMP, Urban Development Department and the Deputy Commissioner. The pressure worked. STPs were built, encroachments removed and gardens were laid,” says Jagadeesh Giri, Joint Secretary, Yelahanka United Environment Association.

“It wasn’t until Nusa Dua residents, builders and NGOs joined hands that rejuvenation of Sheelavantha Kere began. There were many issues to contend with, including picking battles with neighboring apartmentscommunities for letting sewage into the lake,” says Nitya Ramakrishnan from Whitefield Rising.

Expert Speak

“Companies are willing to adopt to lakes near their offices. But, in the long run, political will is needed to maintain lakes for which funds can be alloted from the area development fund of the MPs, MLAs, local councillor,” says Manish Michael, Executive Director, United Way, Bengaluru, which engages corporates to maintain lakes.

Reader’s Mail

“The local community has to get actively involved in ensuring that sewage doesn’t flow in, water inlets are kept clean, maintaining pathways and facilities. Everyone should think that the city belongs to them,” says Syed Muneer, ex-sub inspector, CRPF.

“Dedicated public involvement can bring about miracles. The best example is Yediur lake. A few years ago, it was in a depleted state. But now, it has been cleaned, trees have been planted nearby, eateries have been banned within lake premises, and Ganesh immersion tanks have been created,” says Gundappa Srinivas, a local resident.

Lakes that benefitted from citizen action








How citizens can protect a lake

Form an association

Petition BBMP, BDA, Urban Development Department, KSPCB, KLCDA, BWSSB about what is needed

Get support from councillor, MLA, MP

Supervise rejuvenation

Maintain lake

Mobilise resources to increase bio-diversity

Enrol as a lake warden

Download application from Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority website

Submit at KLCDA office or to designated official of BBMP, BDA

List of designated officials on KLCDA website

Term is 2 years

Warden to keep an eye on lake, report violations