Grazing, fishing and agriculture: these occupations conjure images of a village. But as a city spreads into the countryside, it results in the creation of a periurban interface where rural and urban livelihoods coexist. Around lakes in the new IT areas of Whitefield, traditional livelihoods continue to be practised even as apartments and offices spring up nearby.
Thus, as the software professional in Nallurhalli exits her apartment for work, the grazer leads her buffalos to graze at the lake! While cows are content drinking from the water’s edge, buffalos like a wallow while quenching their thirst. Fodder grass is collected from the lake edge and the water’s surface at Nallurhalli, while livestock are bathed daily in the lake waters. Residents of Kannur and Nallurhalli villages remember a past where indigenous fish species where caught for consumption at home. Today, both lakes are leased for fishing. Fingerlings, bought from nurseries by tender holders, are introduced into the lakes. On reaching maturity, they are caught and transported to homes, markets and hotels across the city. Wetlands downstream of Kannur lake are irrigated using lake water to cultivate paddy and ragi. Onagane soppu , a nutritious leafy vegetable, is gathered by local women of Kannur by scraping it from the lake bed using shells retrieved from the lake bed.
However, these livelihoods and methods of subsistence use are increasingly under threat. The fire on Bellandur lake and the frothing Varthur lake are examples of the extreme degradation of city lakes. Similar, but perhaps not so dramatic, changes are being witnessed in Kannur and Nallurhalli, impacting traditional livelihoods adversely. In both villages, once freely-available fodder and water need to be bought, an additional expense most grazers can ill afford. Paddy and ragi cultivation are declining in Kannur and have been discontinued in Nallurhalli as water-levels recede and the wetlands are built upon. Fish thrive in the extremely polluted Nallurhalli waters but locals stay away from consuming what they see as ‘poisonladen’ catch. The lake waters, once described by locals as pure and sweet, have turned unfit for human and animal consumption.
Degradation of lakes in the city makes the news often, but the impacts on these livelihoods rarely find mention. The call for lake restoration must recognise multiple uses of lakes by marginalised urban residents for Bengaluru to address concerns of poverty and become a more equitable, socially and ecologically smart city.