In less than two years after having received some ‘teeth’ to protect lakes, the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA) has been given the marching orders without even a consultation. In its place comes the Minor Irrigation Department, which has been given the same mandate as the KLCDA: to become the custodian of all lakes and to supervise rejuvenation.
In a matter of minutes, amid sparse attendance at the Legislative Assembly, the amendment to the Tank Development Act was adopted on Thursday. On Friday, without discussion, it was passed in the Legislative Council. In effect, the KLCDA Act of 2014 has been repealed, and lakes will be transferred to the Minor Irrigation Department (MID) in all urban local bodies, including Bengaluru.
The logic given by Minor Irrigation Minister T.B. Jayachandra was to end confusion over ownership of lakes and to ensure development is done through the ‘better trained’ engineers in the department.
Reduced to a paper tiger
However, KLCDA was set up in early 2016 to do exactly the same job. It has since barely got off the ground with personnel and funding being major constraints.
Out of 96 posts, just 14 had been filled up. The police and revenue wings, which are critical to investigate complaints of encroachment of lakes, are vacant. Subsequently, officials said KLCDA has not filed a single case so far while low resources and funds meant it could not become the custodian of all lakes.
In August 2016, the State cabinet had ruled that cess had to be collected from Urban Local Bodies and given to KLCDA for development of lakes. Only Davanagere and Chitradurga districts remitted the cess — amounting to less than ₹1 crore — while Bengaluru had not paid up ₹65 crore it owed.
Several schemes and plans come to nought. For instance, a recommendation to declare 176 lakes as wetlands, which would put lakes under the Wetlands Rules, has not proceeded while the programme to involve citizen volunteers as lake wardens stuttered after local politicians attempted to get on the list.
There is uncertainty over its projects. While the Agara lake rejuvenation is nearly complete, the ambitious nearly-₹25 crore Madivala lake biodiversity park will take another two years to execute, said officials.
KLCDA has yet to receive any information about the bill or its role in the coming days. “We found out through newspaper reports that the Act has been repealed. If it has been repealed, then the Authority ceases to exist,” said an official.
Is minor irrigation any better?
Minor Irrigation officials said once the rules of the new Act come into effect — expected in the next three months — they will have to merge with KLCDA and assume the role of a regulatory body that will oversee the work of local authorities. However, the same problems persist. It does not have adequate staff for Bengaluru, even with the merger of KLCDA. Funding is also a problem. For 3,607 lakes across the State, the department currently gets ₹150 crore — or, less than a quarter of the money required to rejuvenate only Bellandur and Varthur lakes.
“The Minor Irrigation Department will be a custodian of lakes while the local authorities will continue to work on the lake. Since we have a division of engineers only for lakes, we have the necessary expertise for this,” said Govindraju V., Deputy Secretary, MID.
Community participation is out of the window
A careful reading of the amendment brings out a disturbing detail — the public is kept out of lake development.
Unlike the KLCDA Act of 2014, which will be repealed once the Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority and Certain Other Act (Amendment) Bill, 2016 gets the final assent, the new law does not have clauses that encourage community participation in the development, maintenance of lakes, nor does it encourage lakes to become tools to learn about biodiversity.
“This is a retrograde step. The KLCDA Act 2014 was imperfect, but in principle, it allowed for community participation and provided teeth for policing and management. What the Minor Irrigation Department has are engineers. But, building tank bunds and weirs is the easier step in urban lakes. For tackling waste water and sewage, which is the biggest challenge in lakes here, you need ecologists and those specialised in wetlands,” said S. Vishwanath, water conservationist.
Ram Prasad, co-founder of the informal group Friends of Lake, said the Bill ran contrary to the 74th Amendment, which encourages local participation. “This is purposely killing an institution (KLCDA). Citizens now do not have role in lakes, nor do local elected representatives,” he said.
The group will write to the Governor not to sign the Act, he said.
CAG says KSPCB has failed
Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB), which is to analyse lakes, has failed in its duty to identify and take action against those polluting lakes in the city, says a Comptroller and Audit General (CAG) report, which was tabled in the Assembly on Thursday.
The report notes that KSPCB did little to implement the orders of the National Green Tribunal on cleaning up Bellandur and Varthur lakes, particularly in identifying and taking action against domestic and industrial polluters.
Similarly, with just 10 out of 19 million litres of tertiary treated water being used daily by industries, CAG states that the KSPCB failed in enforcing guidelines.
On air quality and regulating industries, CAG notes that KSPCB had reduced the number of inspections done by up to 44% lower than it should be doing while not enforcing compliance of the legally-mandated Environmental Audit Reports. Up to 97% of industries had not been submitting reports to KSPCB.