Bengaluru lakes can be saved, prove citizens

Rejuvenation of three lakes – Ambalipura, Kaikondanahalli and Puttenahalli lakes in south-east and south Bengaluru stand out as examples of successful projects undertaken by the BBMP. A common denominator in all three rejuvenation is the initiative taken by citizens living nearby to save them from extinction. Three concerned citizens started off the process – K Rajesh Rao, Priya Ramasubban and Usha Rajagopalan.

Weeding in progress at Ambalipura lake. Pic: Yogaraj S Mudalgi

Rao, a resident of Trinity Woods on Sarjapur Road and an IT professional, got the attention of BBMP towards the pathetic condition of the 7.4 acre Ambalipura lake. The lake was shrinking due to apartment complexes coming up on all sides. With no water inlets, the lake was nothing more than a big breeding ground for mosquitoes and weeds.

Priya, a documentary film maker living further along Sarjapur Road submitted a draft proposal to BBMP to rejuvenate the 44 acre Kaikondanahalli Lake. The lake lacked any fencing and encroachments had slowly begun and untreated sewage water was being let into the lake.

Two phases of Lake rejuvenation

  1. Desilting the lake, clearing the weeds and strengthening the bunds.

  2. Fencing, planting trees and installing facilities for the convenience of the public.

After coordinating with the Palike for several months and overseeing the rejuvenation process, the lake is now entering its second phase of rejuvenation. Usha, a resident of L&T South City in Puttenahalli kick started a movement in 2009, to rejuvenate Puttenahalli Lake (13.2 acres).

After much perseverance, Priya, Usha and Rao got in touch with B V Sathish, Chief Engineer, BBMP (Lakes). Satish, the trio say was a key player in lake rejuvenation.

Citizen connect

Rao says that as he spoke to more people about saving Ambalipura Lake, he realised that a lot of them were indeed interested in doing something to save it. Members of Federation of Residents Welfare Associations of Ward150. Bellandur Ward (FORward150) too pitched in. The same was with Usha who reached out to residents in her apartment and the neighbouring apartment complexes like Brigade Millenium where she found considerable support.

A section of Kaikondanahalli lake will be used by villagers around to wash their cattle. Pic: Yogaraj S Mudalgi

A group of few concerned citizens soon became Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust, now a registered trust consisting of seven members. In the Sarjapur Road neighbourhood, Priya got acquainted with Ramesh Sivaram, another resident who was also keen on reviving Kaikondanahalli lake and soon more residents stepped forward to join their initiative.

While agreeing that citizens’ initiative is important, Priya adds that citizen initiated lake rejuvenation is not a replicable model. “The ordinary citizen does not know how government procedures work, nor do we know anything about the ecology of a lake. To put the onus on us is not correct,” she says.

She says that the authorities need to come up with a model where the larger framework for rejuvenation is provided by them and the citizens can give inputs on the value-adds on the kinds of facilities they would like at the lake.

Sathish, has a different take on how citizens can contribute. He says that the general majority of the population living around the lake needs to visit it regularly. “The more people visit lakes, it sends us a message that it is important to them. If the lake is neglected (in terms of people not going there), then spending crores of rupees on it is a waste. Knowing that people are making use of the facilities provided, it motivates us to keep improving,” he says.

Sathish adds that if residents are passionate about lakes in their area, it can deter encroachments by rogue elements.

Puttenahalli lake before rejuvenation. File Pic

Rao says that for the citizens to feel that the lake is a part of their world, physical access to it is very important. “Ambalipura Lake is now landlocked. We have demolished a part of the Trinity Woods compound to make access for the lake, as there are no BBMP roads leading to it. If people cannot even access a lake, how will they visit it?” He also cites the example of Agara Lake where heavy traffic plies on the roads around the lake and is difficult for residents to even get to the lake.

Expert speak

Sathish mentions Dr Subbu Subramanya, an ornithologist based in Bangalore, as one of the key people who gave BBMP inputs on lake rejuvenation. Subramanya is also one of the members of the High Court Legal Services Committee for “Preservation of Lakes in the city of Bangalore”. He visited Kaikondanahalli and Ambalipura and suggested ways the rejuvenation has to be done.

Ducks at Ambalipura lake after the restoration. Pic: Sacha Greenwood

Speaking to Citizen Matters, Subramanya says lakes are crucial water resources and should be developed as more than just entertainment hubs. He says that lakes are hot spots of bio-diversity and even the slightest disturbance can affect the system. Lack of birds is a good indicator of the lake’s health, he says.

Plants and trees that’ll attract birds and butterflies

  • Cherry Pies (Heliotropium arborescens) along lawn borders and Ornamental Lantana (Lantana Camera), will attract butterflies.
  • Neem, Peepal and Singapore cherry trees attract birds.

“We cannot just desilt, built high bunds and root out weeds and think that a lake has been rejuvenated,” he says while adding that there is no standard model for lake rejuvenation. “Each lake has individual characteristics and it should be looked at before chalking out an action plan.”

A desilting and depth profile to be maintained in a typical lake is illustrated in the diagram below. The lake should have varying depths with a main bund at the deepest end and shallow wetland area at the other end. “This model provides room for greater biodiversity as some birds prefer shallow waters and some deep,” says Subramanya.

Desilting Pattern and Depth Profiles to be maintained in a typical lake. Courtesy: Dr S Subramanya. Source: ESG.

Subramanya, however stresses that no amount of rejuvenation can save a lake if sewage is let in. “Any lake with water hyacinths growing in them has sewage flowing in to it. Unless stopped, inflow of untreated sewage will ruin any good work.”  He says that encroachments on the raja kaluves, which connected all the lakes, were a big blow for the lake network in Bangalore. “They not only replenished the lakes, they also drained excess water from a lake and prevented flooding in the low lying areas.”

While Sathish says that BBMP is lacking in funds to save all the lakes in the list, Subramanya feels otherwise. “The main ingredients for a healthy lake are clearing any encroachments, fenced perimeter and diverting all untreated sewage. This does not have to be expensive,” he says.

Contacts matter

Although there has been a rising concern about the lakes in Bangalore, when the rejuvenation of the three lakes started, the movement was still at a nascent stage. “Articulating the importance of a lake to the authorities and even the people was the most challenging task,” says Rao.

Puttenahalli lake after rejuvenation. File picture

Usha says that it was Ashwin Mahesh, member of the Agenda for Bangalore Infrastructure and Task Force (ABIDe) and her neighbour at L&T South City, who helped her get the lake included in the list of lakes that were to be rejuvenated by the BBMP.

Ramesh Sivaram too agrees. “Knowing someone always helps, otherwise how are we to know how the system works? The common man will give up soon while trying to deal with the bureaucracy,” says Sivaram.

However, knowing someone in the system does not always guarantee that everything happens smoothly according to the plan. “It is not enough to get a nod from an official at the top. Those below him can be a challenge to deal with as their intentions are not always in the best interest of the lakes. The bureaucracy is still a formidable hurdle to cross,” says Priya.

She adds that they were lucky that the lake came under BBMP jurisdiction. “Citizens have a stake in the BBMP as we directly elect representatives. This gives us voice to put forth our needs. However, in agencies such as the BDA or the Forest Department, where it is a closed organisational set up, it would have been difficult for us to assert our needs,” she says.

A perpetual endeavour

The continuous upkeep of a lake is as crucial as the rejuvenation itself. Lakes are constantly under a variety of threats such as vandalism, encroachment and fresh inlet of untreated sewage. The sewerage line running along Ambalipura Lake has been blocked for a few months. Overflowing sewage is threatening to ruin all the rejuvenation work. “We ran around for months to get the lake rejuvenated and just as it is being completed, this happened. Several complaints to the officials has not yielded any response,” says a worried Rao.

The onus of looking after a lake again falls back on the citizens. Rao says, “We volunteer time for the lake but it is a full time pursuit. There needs to be a body that can be entrusted with maintaining lakes.”

Puttenahalli Lake is the first lake in the city to be handed over to a citizen trust for maintenance. Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT) signed a memorandum with BBMP in May to that effect. However, fresh sewage inlets and encroachments adjacent to the lake is still a concern for Usha. “There is still so much to be done,” she says.

Residents interested in rejuvenating lakes in their neighbourhood can contact the following people.

B V Sathish. BBMP, Chief Engineer (Lakes) – 080 25593060
Amarnath – BDA, Deputy Conservator of Forests (Lakes) – 08023568331
Dr Subbu Subramanya – subbu.subramanya at gmail.com

and also visit – bbmplakes.info/lake to know more about lakes under BBMP.

About Yogaraj S Mudalgi 88 Articles
Yogaraj Mudalgi works in the educational training industry and takes an interest in all things happening in Bangalore.

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