What could be a better start to a bright Sunday morning than visiting a lake? Unless you end up looking at a stretch of water full of decaying garbage and have to inhale the resultant stink.
This was the case of Agara Lake, near HSR Layout, in south-east Bangalore. Once known as a beautiful water body with chirping birds, over a period of time it was transformed into a garbage dump. Recently, however, the lake got a welcome makeover when an annual cleaning drive was organised.
Held on 15th February, the cleaning drive, led by Major Pramod Kapur, President of Koramangala Initiative. Also supporting were the Swami Vivekanada Sevabivridhi Samaste of Sarjapur Road, Indian Awakening Society and Tanishq (a jewellery store), along with a number of residents’ welfare associations from the neighbourhood and school children.
There was an air of enthusiasm and camaraderie. Hiroo Advani, of Bangalore Environment Trust (BET) formed in 1987, who was at the venue said, “It is a good thing that so many people volunteered for this cause. More than awareness, if people generate civic sense it will help society get better faster.”
Advani felt that today everyone wants their own home to be clean but no one cares about their surroundings. He added that even after the lake had been designated as a paid entry area, since there is no one to collect fees at the entrance, people walk inside without any hindrance. “There is no one in the area to guard or check that people do not dirty the place,” he claimed.
V Radhakrishnan, another member of BET, agreed. “There are wonderful rules made by Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BBMP) but very few are followed. This kind of citizen action is the only thing that can bring some change,” he remarked.
Major Kapur felt that this annual event is a way of “doing our bit” for the environment. “We are looking at forming an organisation which will do this cleaning and maintenance drive throughout the year, not just once. It is impossible to clean the muck in just one day,” he explained. The group is also planning to take the initiative further and form a committee that meets regularly and does more than just cleaning the lake.
Since it is ignorance and lack of civic sense that has resulted in this sorry state, the plan is to create ‘Agara Lake Citizens Working Group’. “Though we haven’t decided about committee members yet, a representative from every neighbourhood area will be a member. At the same time we are trying to get an environmentalist to become a part of this. An organisation will give better results than desperate individual efforts,” was Major Kapur’s opinion. Furthermore, this organisation is planning to petition the court to provide them permission to take care of the lake.
The common view of the people present at the drive was that the Lake Development Authority (LDA) is not taking much initiative in maintaining lakes. At the same time, private organisations that were supposed to clean the lakes are also not making an effort. In November 2008, the High Court of Karnataka directed the LDA not to enter into fresh agreements that would enable private parties to own lakes. The bench delivered the verdict during the fifth hearing of a PIL filed by Environment Support Group and Leo Saldanha questioning the order handing over the ownership of Hebbal, Nagavara and Agara lakes to private parties, thereby, commercialising the lakes and destroying its beauty.
The drive also saw the presence of environmentalist, Dr Yellappa Reddy, a retired officer of the Indian Forest Service (IFS), who is chairman of the Sustainable Development Empowered Technical Advisory Committee, constituted by the BBMP, which is primarily looking into road widening work. As chairman of an environmental committee, he has promised his support to citizen groups working on lake maintenance.
Along with the grown ups, there was active participation by school children who were busy filling sacks with garbage. A five year old girl, who refused to give her name, had joined the drive with her parents and was collecting plastic bags and putting them in a sack. Twelve-year-old Nikita from Bethany School in Koramangala said, “I feel proud about participating in this cleaning programme.” Along with her were her friends who looked equally enthusiastic about collecting garbage. Many of them had knowledge of biodegradable and non-biodegradable material and were separating the two.
All the garbage collected was put into in four dumping areas within the vicinity. But the BBMP van arrived only the next day to collect as the day of the drive was a Sunday and a weekly off for BBMP employees. “We will make it more organised the next time,” assured Major Kapur.
Whatever the ills that plague Bangalore, this is the kind of effort that gives a bright picture of citizenship. If such drives continue, we can think of visiting lakes in the city and be enthralled by the sight of beautiful surroundings and migratory birds.