Chat: How to save Bengaluru's lakes

A.N. Yellappa Reddy, former forest officer and environmentalist; Vinay Baindur, a researcher on Urban Governance and Reforms, and citizen activist Arbind Gupta joined The Hindu for a chat on saving Bengaluru's lakes on September 24, 2016. The following is the transcipt of the chat:

6:01 The Hindu: With the city and the state staring at a water crisis in the coming days, there is perhaps no better time to look at lakes in the city than now. Lakes (Hesaraghatta, for instance) had once been the lifeline of the city – and most of our drinking water came from a system of tanks conceived centuries ago. Now, however, many are reduced to cesspools of sewage, or their peripheries littered with garbage, or filled with silt reducing any chance of these water bodies recharging the depleting groundwater. Also, apart from affecting citizens directly, unhealthy lakes also seen flora and fauna of the ecosystem disappearing.

6:01 Vinay Baindur: Namaskaara Yellappa Reddy avarige

6:02 The Hindu: This week, we have A.N. Yellappa Reddy, former forest officer and environmentalist, who has also been a member of Lok Adalat, Regional Empowered Committee on forest clearances among others. We also have Vinay Baindur, a researcher on Urban Governance and Reforms, who can shed light on the structures that govern our lakes and how best to formulate them in the interest of lakes.

And finally, to represent the citizen voice, we have Arbind Gupta. Apart from being associated with various citizen movements around lakes – which put pressure on civic bodies to act on it – he is also among the few who has forward to become a Lake Warden (Madiwala Lake).

6:03 Vinay Baindur: and to all the participants, thanks for this opportunity to share views

6:04 The Hindu: Welcome Yellappa, Vinay and Arbind

6:04 Arbind Gupta: Hi Vinay and Yellapa Reddy sir, Namaskara.

6:05 Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: Mr. Reddy will be with us in a few minutes. Until then, we can start a question for Mr. Baindur. The state government believes that the KLCDA can be the solution to the issues of lakes. Do you think arming the organisation with legislative teeth helps?

6:07 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Hello to every one.

6:09 Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: Do our experts believe the new KLCDA ACT can be a solution to solve the issues afflicting lakes? The coordination of civic bodies around lakes, for instance.

6:10 Arbind Gupta: Yes, the KLCDA act is a move in the right direction and empowers it to address many of the problems faced for lake rejuvenation. However, it is the implementation and the free hand given to CEO KLCDA that hold the key.

6:10 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Public participation is vital to protect and to rejuvunate lakes

6:11 Pranav How can the public contribute?

6:12 Meera Which agency is responsible for our lakes? Will having a single agency make matters better?

6:12 Arbind Gupta: The act has given good power for oversight and authority to take steps and work in partnership with other agencies like, BDA, forest dept, BBMP, KSPCB etc. But it is the public who has to highlight and bring issues forward to it. And there should be a clear and transparent mechanism for corrective action.

6:12 Vivekananda What can be done when the fence eats the crop? Many govt agencies themselves are encroaching our water bodies.

6:13 Meera How much power does the lake development authority have really?

6:13 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: KLCDA has limited power to enforce water act and EP act. KLCDA has to seek the help PCB to enforce the act. I fully endorse Arbind Gupta views.

6:14 Arbind Gupta: As I said, implementation is the key - giving free hand to KLCDA and putting in place a system that looks up at systemic issues brought forward by people will be vital for its success.

6:15 Vivekananda : Asking my question again: What can be done when the fence eats the crop? Many govt agencies themselves are encroaching our water bodies.

6:15 Guest : Where does the public go when blatant acts of disruption are being committed and complaints have no impact?

6:15 Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: There seems to be no mechanism for coordination between KSPCB and KLCDA. Will this lead to redundancy of work?

6:15 Meera Nair : When there is immediate danger to the lake and someone needs to take action right then, who do we approach?

6:15 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Single agency with full powers and with public participation will help protect and preserve water bodies.

6:17 Arbind Gupta: I guess it is KLCDA but action has to be taken fast and seen by people to gain trust. The appointment of lake wardens is a move in right direction but it is moving very slow.

6:17 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Regarding fence eating parliament has empowered the citizen with RTI act which has t be scrupalously used to enforce accountability.

6:17 Tara Earlier, the city's lakes were all under LDA. It was later handed over to different agencies. Why is there such an indifferent attitude towards protecting the lakes in the city?

6:17 Meera Nair With all due respect sir, we have full public participation in Kaikondrahalli lake, butstill we are helpless to stop someone taking law into their hands and slowly killing the lake.

6:18 Vinay Baindur: We can look at a recent example of lakes and flooding which happened. The crucial issue is of safety of citizens and needs to be stressed that capacity of citizens be built up in a coordinated approach

6:19 Shivagowda Government says only 200 lakes. But previously, there were over 1,000. How to go about things now? Do we only look at lakes existing now or try to reclaim some of the older lakes.

6:20 Arbind Gupta: One thing KLCDA should do quickly (and it was promised by its CEO in a meeting sometime back) that govt officials will be educated about their role and provisions of act. That is yet to be seen to happen. KLCDA must make this happen ASAP.

6:20 Vinay Baindur: In addition the government has a number of committees like the lake protection committee headed by the DC and BDA commissioner for the Urban and rural districcts

6:21 Shivani Is there a single agency in the pipeline? And what powers should the agency be given? How can we avoid an LDA-like debacle?

6:21 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Even after rejuvination of jakkur and other lakes, lack of people concern has suffered a set back for this effort

6:21 Meera Nair Do we have to wait for lakes to get destroyed for some corrective action to happen? Is slow killing of a lake through sewage incursion acceptable? Why is there no action though citizens have been reporting the problem for more than four months? Who is finally accountable?

6:21 Vinay Baindur: Will these committees meet regularly if groups like the Kaikondrahalli, Puttenahalli and many other lake committees demand for it. we need to push them

Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: And how do you propose we push them? Policy through outreach programmes (such as lake wardens) or general outreach among the public themselves?

6:22 Guest who is charge of the buffer zone violations, the buck passes from one to another

6:22 Vinay Baindur: For Sewage to be diverted both the BWSSB and the LOK Adalat of which Shri A N Yellapa Reddy was a member can be the accountable bodies

6:24 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Land and water use policy to be combined and empowered fully to prevent abuse and to take action under the penal court provisions of culpable homicide.

6:24 Vinay Baindur: I feel we need to write to them and ask them to organise the meetings with public participation and the citzens and public agendas shd be taken up and we need to be able to make representations

6:24 Meera Buffer zone violations need to be dealt with strictly, which agency can handle such complaints, where should concerned people approach?

6:24 Arbind Gupta: There were about 264 lakes several decades ago and many of them have been converted into various complexes, a list of about 43 of them was made in the Lakshman Rao committee report. It has to be seen how many of them can be restored but let us first try to get back the 212 remaining lakes most of which are endangered.

6:24 Subbu Good evening Mr. Reddy, there's a fire that needs immediate dousing even as we are discussing the way forward. Kaikondrahalli lake is being assaulted by a landowner who has broken the bund and letting in raw sewage and huge amounts of debris since the past few days. All concerned agencies have been notified but the actions continues unabated. He even had his henchmen throw stones at workers who were trying to prevent the sewage from coming into the lake. Some of them had to be taken to hospital for treatment. So what do you suggest we do now?

6:25 Vidya Gomathi At kaikondrahalli lake, we've been seeing a series of buffer zone violations, illegal inflow of sewage. Even after complaining to all the authorities, no action is being taken. There is a huge pile of construction debris which has blocked the lake's inlet. Gallons of sewage flowing in. Whom should we approach and who can take swift action?

6:25 Tara Though there are enough people who are doing what they can to protect lakes. Why are the officials of various agencies so unwilling to help protect the lakes?

6:26 Abhishek tandon Hello Sir, Please visit and see the sad condition of Bellandur Lake. Biggest lake of Bangalore is turning into biggest septic tank of bangalore

6:26 Vinay Baindur: The issue could be what exactly needs to change

6:26 Subbu Our efforts of over 5 years is being destroyed in front of our eyes. We spoke with the Zonal officer who washed his hands off by saying that the owner can do what he wants in his private land. Extremely distressing to see each day pass without any punitive action taken by the authorities against such blatant violations

6:26 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: My suggestion is to lodge a complaint under the provision of water act who is responsible to contaminate the water body under provisions of penal act culpable homicide

6:26 Yogesh Joshi rain water harvesting can be done for this

6:27 Guest the whole process takes so much time the lake may not be in a condition to be saved

6:27 Arbind Gupta: You could also invite Mr Vidyasagar and Mr Lakshman to visit the lake. They had shown good intent and willingness to take action in several meetings with lake activists. It is time for them to talk the talk.

6:28 Subbu Who should we lodge the complaint with? These are long winding bureacratic processes. We need immediate stoppage using the laws that are already in place. Not one notice has been issued to the law breaker till date. No restraint order when he had started piling huge mounds of debris in the buffer zone which aggravated the sewage problem

6:28 Vidya Gomathi Sir, can you please suggest in which department the complaint has to be registered? The one under provision of water act.

6:28 Abhishek tandon Same is the condition of Varthur lake bcoz Bellandur lake drainage is flowing to varthur

6:28 Guest what is the time frame from the complaint lodged to any actionbeing taken

6:28 Meera Nair In the case mentioned above, its a criminal offence.Ordinary citizens like us wouldnt dare do such an act. This person obviously is well protected.

6:29 Guest Lake encroachment has resulted in havoc during rains in Chennai last year and ow i Hyderabad; severe flooding in Nizampet and Alwal as lakes breached

6:29 Subbu We must mention here that a couple of BBMP officials have shown great integrity and willingness to walk the talk. They have been trying their best to stop the violations but their remit is limited and with no support from the Zonal officers they are unable to take matters forward

6:29 Abhishek tandon Sir, if we still don't wakeup and start cleaning Bellandur lake it will be an serious threat for people staying in near by area. Under ground water will get polluted

6:29 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: FIR has to be filed with police and polllution control board

6:30 Guest After such complaints, officials come visit the lake and no action is taken later

6:30 Subbu be flooding the messages. But I am only venting our combined frustrations seeing a beautiful lake now at the mercy of a few vested interests who have no respect or regard for our water bodies

6:30 Meera Nair BBMP officials should have swung into action the moment it was reported. There is a video of the offence uploaded at the Kaikondrahalli facebook page also. Despite all evidence, he is free to continue while we citizens run from pillar to post to get action.

Vinay Baindur: have the groups here taken it up with the District lake protection committee set up last year, after court proceedings? This is the logical step now and that needs to be done with various groups in coordination to see it moves ahead. We may even need to activate the committees. The DC is very active with Legislature committee report. and he also has 50-60 other committees I am sure

6:30 Pranav Sir, is there any instance where action has been taken on a complaint which can serve as an example and motivation to people who want to complain?

6:31 Abhishek tandon

Nothing is happening on Bellandur lake. Even after so many complaints register with the authorities

6:31 Subbu The irony is that the citizens are running from pillar to post and getting guidance to go to newer agencies just because the existing ones have abdicated their roles

6:32 Subbu Mr. Reddy, can you with your personal influence as a senior official and such an impressive track record do something to reach out to the concerned people and help us?

Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Yes, I will surely try

6:32 Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: Can we also look at the Lake warden programme, which was supposed to be the coorindation entity between the government and the residents. There seems to be two issues with this:

1. It has not all been well-publicized, while going through BBMP/BDA officials has turned cumbersome.

2. Citizens do not seem to be coming forward.

Arbind has gone through the rigmarole and enrolled as one. how was your experience? And how can we fine tune the process to encourage more people?

6:33 Guest A simple task of cleaning the Ganesha idols has not happened at the KKH lake as the concerned official see no urgency in it

6:33 Abhishek tandon Lake is froathing n catched fire. Still everyone is sleeping. No action on Bellandur Lake

6:33 Meera Nair OUr zonal officers dont want to act on any encroachment . We have not seen action taken on any complauints given so far sir. We can present you with all the documentation. .

6:33 Arbind Gupta: Yes, unfortunately the action takes a long time to come, if at all it happens. We have the case for Arakere lake where a complaint to KSPCB was raised about discharge of sewage into lake. PCB did send a notice to BWSSB as to why action should not be taken against its chairman for violating water act. Possibly the recent action of laying pipes in all parts of south Blr is an indication that BWSSB is finally trying to address that.

6:33 Vidya Gomathi : If we have seen buffer zone violation in front of our eyes, we have also seen BBMP officials coming, taking measurement and noting down everything. After that, the construction goes on in full swing freely. No notice, no action. Why should we wait for a flood to take action against some violation happening in front of our eyes? Is prevention better than cure?

6:33 Abhishek tandon : Sir, if we clean Bellandur and Varthur lake it will solve all the water issue of east bangalore

6:34 Arbind Gupta: We have to yet see as to how effective it is. KSPCB chairman also talked of putting a forum for people to complain and has visited many lakes also. Reports have been submitted to him by each lake team - time to see if any action is taken.

6:34 Abhishek tandon : Team Hindu, pls raise the concern of Bellandur lake.

Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: Bellandur has been a long-pending issue, and the current answer is that STPs should be built. Do our experts think that will solve the issues? Or, would stricter implementation private STPs and monitoring sewage from apartments help?

Vinay Baindur: Yes Bellandur the STPs will help and exemptions for letting in sewage have to be curtailed

6:35 Subbu Mr. Reddy I repeat, can you help us with direct intervention and talking to people who can influence the landowner to restrain violating the laws of the land?

Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Surely yes as I said already

6:36 Tara is there any solution to the foaming of lakes?

6:36 Arbind Gupta: There is no option but to continue to raise issue and complain to right authority. Sometime it does make a difference as it happened for Madiwala lake where the construction of road taking part of lake land has been stopped.

6:37 Abhishek tandon : 60% of bangalore sewage is flowing into Bellandur lake. What a shame for Bangalore

6:37 Subbu: A beautifully maintained lake (Kaikondrahalli) with community support and years of dedicated work is being destroyed right in front of our eyes. Bellandur and Varthur will need a lot more time to get anywhere near that. Unless upstream lakes are cleaned, all the shit from them will continue to flow into these receiving lakes and stymie any efforts to clean them

Vinay Baindur: Yes the issue is the topography and water flow and the plan of flow from the 3 valleys in the city

6:37 Karl: the workers of the world unite as you have nothing to lose but your chains

6:38 Abhishek tandon: Bellandur Lake is stinking badly do we have any solution for that?

6:38 Arbind Gupta: The NGT ruling for protection of water bodies and its buffer zone is still making the officials think twice about violating it. A complaint raised with proper details and copies marked to all relevant govt agencies, possibly can have some affect.

6:39 Subbu : Mr. Reddy, this chat session is a god sent for us. If we can leave this evening with any kind of assurance from you that you can help us then it will be an evening well spent.

Vinay Baindur: We dont have enough capacity with the authorities or the people and though this is a long term issue an example of how just 2 people have taken up the issue of Bellandur from the 1990s

6:41 Vidya Gomathi : Unless all the upstream lakes to Bellandur are cleaned, there is no way Bellandur lake is going to get cleaned. The government should support the citizens who are involved in rejuvenating and maintaining lakes in their neighbourhood. If a rejuvenated lake goes back to becoming a sewage dump in front of govenrment's eyes, all citizen volunteers will lose hope in any good that can happen to our water bodies!

6:41 Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: Apart from Kaikondanahalli, are there any questions from other lakes or other issues? (NGT, for instance; or encroachment committee) We'd prefer if our chat did not end up becoming a slug-fest between two groups of people.

6:41 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Subbu, Yes as I have already specifically replied to you

6:41 Arbind Gupta: Bringing local representatives in support of issues should also be considered as some of them will support and certainly not oppose any lake rejuvenation activity. But constant follow up with people is needed

6:42 Subbu: Thanks Mr. Reddy. That is still not an immediate solution but we will go that route as well. Would help if you could take a lead in this matter as a well wisher of Bangalore Lakes.

6:42 Arbind Gupta: More importantly, different lake groups should also start working together, at least those who are part of same chain. Unity of strength always helps and increases the say.

Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: Why has this not happened yet? There are federations for every group (autorickshaw drivers, pharmacists, shopkeepers, builders.) Why not for lakes yet?

6:43 Rajesha: What next after dmeolition? All debris still there. no water reaching lakes.

6:43 Subbu: Mohit, thanks for giving us so much time. Appreciate it deeply

6:43 Guest : it would be very useful to get a list of depts that need to be contacted for various vioaltaion

Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: The information is there on the KLCDA website. Numbers of empowered officers can be taken for particular lake (list is in Kannada). However, the empowered officers are BBMP/BDA. Most don't even know they are empowered officers.

6:43 Vinay Baindur: Big ticket projects and other peoples solutions like the governments or the scientists etc have been highlighted and have worked to a small extent.

6:45 Abhishek tandon Bangalore biggest lake #Bellandur lake becomes the most polluted world of country

Vinay Baindur: But as you know what flows out of Bangalore in the Varthur side is also very badly polluted

6:46 Guest if the BBMP/BDA officials are not aware that they are the empowered officers, what results can be expected of them

Vinay Baindur: Its not the Ist time we need to create awareness about their roles also wiyth them

6:47 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: A comprehensive action plan has been prepared and submitted to govt covering immediate and long term measures for restoring lake by the committee.

6:47 Satya Sanjeevaiah

I do not think NGT order to demo,lish all properties within 75m is good. Half of bangalore must go. I have a legally brought property close to a lake. How can the court suddenly decide my property is illegal? It was not illegal when I brought it. how can you keep changing the goalpost in years to come. Will it become 100m later? Then 200m?

Vinay Baindur: This issue needs to be discussed also. It cannot remain a unilateral decision making reg the demolition

6:47 Abhishek tandon Any STP is under construction for cleaning water entering Bellandur lake?

6:48 The Hindu: We will be moderating a few comments that are repetitive.

6:48 Arbind Gupta: NGT order does not say to demolish all properties within 75 mtr. It only says - no construction allowed

6:49 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Number of STPs in catchment area has been initiated

6:49 Satya Sanjeevaiah Then, you are saying when my house gets old and I need to rebuild, I cannot do that? What is the value of my land then?

6:49 Abhishek tandon multiple action plan prepared and submitted to govt for Bellandur lake. But nothing is happening on ground

6:50 Arbind Gupta: Reddy sir, I also feel it is important to separate sewage from storm water drain. BWSSB must work on this on war footing. If we can manage that then the SWD can become a good mechanism for rain water to be channelized to lakes

Vinay Baindur: Arbind this has been in the Lok Adalat for ages, but action is not yet speeded up! Can we take it up jointly in the district lake protection committee

6:51 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: Already several meaningful steps initiated by the concerned civic authorities includding bbmp bwss bkspcb and bangalore urban DC

6:51 Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: During today's interaction, the KLCDA Chairperson said the BWSSB had assured him that all STPs will be built by December 2019. Do any of our experts think that is a viable deadline (considering that STPs are being designed for the sewage outflow of the present).

Vinay Baindur: Yes it is certainly reasonable, but we need to add more monitoring from the public and authorities. And we should take it up steadily and not expect only quick results

6:53 Abhishek tandon

What happened to the money released by central govt for cleaning Bellandur lake.

6:53 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: BWSSB has committed to complete 80% of sewage will be treated by 2020. Because of legal impediments work has suffered

6:53 Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: Last five minutes until this chat window closes. Any last questions or thoughts?

6:54 Guest

by 2020 most the revived lakes will be destroyed once again

6:54 Arbind Gupta: It is very unlikely. But more importantly, Govt should also plan and budget for running and maintaining of STPs. Just building them is not a solution. Let us not look at STP as the solution. Managing sewage in distributed manner (by community) and creating separate sewage line from SWD is the key

Vinay Baindur: After so much mobilisation on the issue can we still think of the Govt as seperate which can provide many of the solutions

6:54 Vinay Baindur: The role of ward committees and ward level actions plans for sewage diversion with 3rd party audit but also monitored by the public and citzens groups

6:55 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: I will fullyagree with Arbind and Vinay

6:56 Satyaprakash How to get these big companies to also invest in lake as CSR? Can BBMP force them to?

6:57 Satya Sanjeevaiah I am asking my question again. Under the new NGT order, you are saying when my house gets old and I need to rebuild, I cannot do that? What is the value of my land then?

6:57 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: It is mandatory obligation on the part of all corporates

6:57 Arbind Gupta: Many companies came out for support thro' CSR fund during the "Bring back the Lakes" seminar organized a month ago. Companies are interested but they should have a clear plan for the same.

Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: Do you see any issues with policy that may hinder CSR?

Vinay Baindur: The funding announced recently by the GoI also needs to be used properly

6:58 Vinay Baindur: The Hindu could initiate a series to create more awareness about the power of the committees and the accountability structure

6:58 Arbind Gupta: NGT ruling does not say anything on that. But it does say that constructions are not allowed.

6:58 Mohit M. Rao, The Hindu: Las two minutes for the chat. Any closing comments from our panelists? It is a broad topic, but what should be the next step?

6:59 Vinay Baindur: The capacity building of citizens, also the role of the accountable organisations

6:59 Dr. A N Yellappa Reddy: I welcome such initiatives to involve intellectuals in taking care of urban ecosystems

7:00 Arbind Gupta: Lastly, people have to take more interest. Today, you just get one or two people from an apartment complex of 1000 people who actively come out to do something. The day this number becomes 10, govt will get the message and things will start moving.

7:01 Vinay Baindur: need to revive the water resources and support more such initiatives

7:01 Vinay Baindur: like lakes and streams and rivers

7:02 The Hindu: Thank you Mr. Reddy, Mr. Baindur and Mr. Gupta for joining the chat and for your valuable comments. We also thank our readers for their active participation.

7:02 Vinay Baindur: Thanks to Hindu newpaper and all the panelists and participants

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