In Bengaluru, citizen groups lead the way in revival of lakes

A view of the rejuvenated Sarakki lake at J.P. Nagar in Bengaluru.  

The words “Bengaluru lake” on online search engines inevitably lead to autofill suggestions of fire, foam, and pollution. The fourth in the list of suggestions is revival, and further down is community.

As lakes in the city unfurled into cesspools, citizen activism mushroomed all over. The impact is telling, with model lakes of Jakkur, Puttenahalli, Kaikondrahalli, Madivala, and others having seen active participation from the community in their revival.

Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT) was started in 2010, and by 2011 had signed an Memorandum of Understanding for the maintenance of the lake with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). Usha Rajagopal, chairperson of the Trust, said they first formed a ‘Save the Lake’ team and started collecting donations for the development of the lake. “There was only one tree in 2010. Now, there are 375 trees, countless shrubs and climbers. It makes up for everything we fought for,” she said.

The success of other lakes has created a snowball effect, galvanising other communities into action. At Sarakki lake, which had become the focal point for a court case that led to evictions and demolitions, it was a meeting with PNLIT that started the process of community revival of the lake, says M.P. Manjunath, founder of Sarakki Lake Area Improvement Trust. “The main challenge we faced was coordinating with different agencies. Each civic agency looks only after one part of the rejuvenation and not the whole process of revival,” he said.

It was in 2011 that V. Ramprasad founded Friends of Lakes, which has become an umbrella organisation working with groups and citizens in 22 lakes. “Our group was initially started on a volunteer basis. Though we are an informal group, we have helped in clean ups, awareness programmes, and even aiding citizens with knowledge to revive their local lakes. We have experts to help out in this,” he said.

Bottom-up approach

These interactions between various citizen-led lake groups is described in a study by researchers from Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and African Climate and Development Institute at University of Cape Town, who looked at 23 groups across 29 lakes of the city. Is this “bottom-up” approach to lake rejuvenation a good socio-ecological fit, asks the study published in “Ambio”, a journal of the Human Environment earlier this year.

Before the introduction of MoUs by the BBMP in 2010, there were nine active lake groups. In the years since, 14 active lake groups were formed. A total of 92% of the newer groups collaborated with each other, while engagement with lakes was on a perceptible rise, notes the study. “MoU groups are presenting an integrated understanding of the lakes’ ecological functions, historical role as water harvesting infrastructure, recreational uses for a growing middle class, livelihood importance for less affluent residents, and cultural significance in traditional rituals,” notes the study.

This ecological fit is being bolstered by the participation of scientific institutions in lake revival and maintenance. Former Indian Institute of Science professor K.S. Sangunni spent decades fighting for the 24-acre Puttenahalli lake near Yelahanka and his ideas — being implemented by IISc. research teams and Forest Department — are instrumental in the lake’s revival.

Cultural role

It isn’t just the revival of lakes where citizens play an important role. At Kaikondrahalli lake, the Kere Habba attracts hundreds of residents; while Puttenahalli lake has numerous hobby classes being undertaken on its banks.

Jagadeesh Giri from Yelahanka United Environmental Association said a group of residents came together to prevent anti-social activities, encroachments and dumping of garbage in the then deteriorating Yelahanka lake. The lake has since been revived by the State government. “We collect funds from residents to maintain the lake. We even conduct events such as two-day lake day and workshops on water conservation and composting. Now, the lake is safe for everyone to use and the civic body should encourage others to conduct campaigns in lakes,” he said.

Among the most active groups are those involved in Bellandur and Varthur lakes. Whitefield Rising and other residents attend the National Green Tribunal Committee meetings on Bellandur lake where they keep a tab on promises offered by civic bodies.

Jagadish Reddy, a member of Varthur Rising and a lake warden for Varthur, has kept an ever vigilant eye on illegalities in the lake. “We have even gone to court to conserve and develop the lake. Despite this, there has been little effort from the government,” he said.

This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Apr 14, 2021 9:36:56 AM |

Next Story