The untapped leisure potential of Bengaluru lakes

In a concrete jungle, lakes can be precious lung spaces. The key is to find the right balance between development and commercialisation

With careful management, lakes can be converted into recreational centres, with boating activities, walkways and benches for visitors. Lakes sustain crucial ecological biodiversity and provide an important recreational space for residents of an increasingly concretised city. But barring a few exceptions, a large number of lakes in the city do not have such amenities.

Take for instance the 30.5-acre Kundalahalli lake in the heart of Whitefield. Surrounded by IT parks, the lake is now home to as much sewage as water and has been reduced to an eyesore. Residents say that at one point, the lake was home to 30 species of birds. While work is on to build a sewage treatment plant (STP) and clean the lake, there is no walkway for a leisurely stroll.

Arvind Keerthi, a resident of Kundalahalli, says, “The fact that work to revive the lake has begun is great news for those who live in the neighbourhood. I would love to see a walkway and play area created around the lake.”

But residents are wary of excessive commercialisation. “We don’t need boating and other destructive activities. Residents are also planning massive tree planting drives, which will bring back birds in large numbers,” Mr. Arvind adds.

Similarly, Mahadevapura lake, which has been dredged, has not yet reached its potential as a recreational spot for the neighbourhood. The 28-acre lake off Outer Ring Road is surrounded by large apartment complexes and is bang in the middle of one of the fastest growing suburbs of the city.

And it is not just the lakes. Tanks were once critical for fishing communities. For instance, Varthur lake had spawned an entire community that earned its livelihood through the fish found in the waterbody. Now, however, no one engages in fishing, said Jagadish Reddy, a resident. “Even the African Catla, a foreign species that is supposed to be resistant to pollution, has started to die,” he says.

Possible solution: Holistic development

Experts want holistic development of lakes and not just concrete walkways and fences. This should be complemented with planting native tree species as well as creation of islands.

The current system of development (of dredging the entire lake) has not taken into account the large number of species that thrive in shallow waters. The soup bowl design ends up excluding shallow water and shore birds.

A model that can be followed is the one at Kaikondrahalli lake off Sarjapur Road. Since its rejuvenation, the biodiversity at the lake has increased. “We have more bird species, frogs, toads, snakes, plant diversity, and lots of arachnids. Cormorants have increased while the rare Pheasant-tailed jacana has returned,” says Priya Ramasubban of Mahadevapura Environment Protection and Development Trust (MAPSAS).

The lake has been made accessible even for the wheelchair-bound. In the vicinity are an amphitheatre, gazebos and toilets. Making lakes recreational spots can help build a connect between people and nature. Having a walkway around lakes, children’s play area and open space for conducting events, such as Kere Habba, can go a long way in bringing people together.

In many places, instead of placing large concrete walkways on the bund, a gravel path could be paved to support shore plant life.

Expert Speak

“There were days when Lalbagh lake would get over 600 Garganey ducks during winters. Now, there are none. In lakes across the city, the water bird population has declined by more than 80 per cent. We have to protect the shoreline, which is the life of every lake. The current design of rejuvenation does not do that,” says M.B. Krishna, an ornithologist.

People Speak

“Munnekolala lake is in the process of being rejuvenated with walkways and a play area nearby. In a locality that does not have parks, lakes can help fill the gap. As a resident of Whitefield, I feel happy that something is being done about lakes in the neighbourhood. In a busy city, these places let you relax,” says Vaibhav Jain, volunteer at Save Whitefield.

“Lakes add to the scenic beauty of the area. They are centres of recreation and tourist attraction. Sadly, urbanisation has had a heavy toll on the beauty of our lakes,” says M. Syed.

Reader’s letters

“Illegal fishing is going on at Haralur lake. Fish are caught early morning after nets are placed the previous evening. I had filed an online complaint on ‘I Change My City’ portal, which was forwarded to the lake authority, but nothing has been done,” says Sudhir Nair.

“While it is fine to develop lakes into recreational places, such development should not end up destroying the waterbody. A green corridor should be created around the lake and it should be fenced. In case boating is being introduced, only row boats should be used. Sale of food around lakes should not be encouraged,” says Lakshmi Kumar.

Dead fishes floating around lakes, not a pleasant sight for morning walkers. @ANUPAMA75

What’s in a lake?

An Indian Institute of Science study says good quality wetlands can provide goods and services worth Rs. 10,500 a hectare every day

Socio-economic uses: Drinking water, agriculture and horticulture, fisheries, fodder for animals

Recreational uses: Walkways, community gardens, boating

A bird’s eye view

Presence of birds indicates the health of lake

55 species commonly found in the city have been estimated to have declined by 90 per cent

Hotspots: Hessarghatta, Jakkur lakes

Most affected: Bellandur, Varthur lakes

Birdwatchers have suggested 115 fruiting and nectar tree species that can be planted in gardens across the city to increase bird population

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