Lake encroachment is rampant in Bangalore. This time, it is the turn of Somasundarapalya Lake near HSR Layout. About three days ago, residents of HSR layout reported that several tractors were offloading debris into Somasundarapalya Lake, also called Haralukunte Kere. The once healthy lake is now headed the way of the many lakes that no longer see the light of day.
Repeated complaints to the police have failed to bring any attention to the matter. Concerned residents have written to several administrative bodies, including the Chief Minister, local police authorities, the BDA, BBMP and BMTF, in the hope that some action will be taken.
When asked why there were dumping the debris, the drivers of the vehicles stated that they were asked to dump it there. A comment on a discussion thread on Facebook stated that the debris was pushed into the lake every morning and at night, new debris would be dumped on the road.
Balasubramanian Thirunavukkarasu, a resident of HSR Layout and trustee of Somasundarapalya Lake Rehabilitation Trust, says, “We managed to keep the tractors at bay for the past 2 to 3 months. In the past 2 to 3 days, tractors have started dumping once again and they seem to be working in a hurry.”
CM’s office responds to complaint by citizens
In a desperate attempt to get somebody to take notice and respond, citizens from the trust appealed to the Chief Minister’s Office for help, by email on 29th January 2014. In less than 90 minutes, a mail was sent from the CMO to the BBMP Commissioner with this message, “Sri ****** has sent a mail regarding dumping the building debris in full swing at Somasundarapalya lake, HSR layout Sector-2, the same is herewith forwarded. You are requested to kindly look into the issue. The Person in charge may please be asked to keep the CMO posted on the action initiated with a copy marked to the sender.”
BBMP Commissioner said that action would be taken against those vehicles (KA 05 AB 2726, KA 51B 2595, TN 23 AE 0640, KA 51 T 2112) which have been dumping debris into the lake, if the offense was proven.
Victim of constant encroachment
The Somasundarapalya Lake is one of the few lakes in the HSR Layout area. The lake came to the attention of citizens in 2011. Nestled within an area that is now predominantly in between apartment blocks, the lake had seen rampant encroachment.
A citizens’ group called Somasundarapalya Lake Neighbourhood Trust (earlier informally called HSRX Federation) was formed to save the lake. They met local authorities including the MLA from the Bommanahalli constituency, Satish Reddy, to figure out what could be done. Bala says that many promises were made even back then, but nothing materialised.
In 2012, several lorries started dumping debris and pumping out water from the lake. Some parts of the lake bed were levelled and houses, temples and other structures came up in the area. Debris continued to get dumped into the lake, until there were enough to actually build a mud road that led to the new buildings on the lake bed and the Karnataka Compost Development Corporation premises.
In October 2012, resident groups organised a walkathon to bring the government’s attention to the plight of the lake. Following the event, the BDA stepped in and said that they would deploy security to guard the lake. At that point, the BDA Commissioner Sham Bhatt stated, “The order to provide security has been given and there will be a four-person security net around the lake. They will work in two day shifts of one guard each and one night shift with two guards”. The local MLA, Sathish Reddy, too proclaimed that he would fence the lake using MLA funds, if the BDA failed to take any action.
Since then, residents have appealed to various authorities to help save the lake, to no effect. The total area of the lake is said to be have been 16 acres, 29 guntas at one time. As per the survey document that was shared by the BDA, following a PIL filed in early 2013 by Kavitha Reddy, an active citizen of the area, the encroached area is said to be only 2 acres, 9 guntas. If one deduces from the images on Google Earth, it seems evident that the encroachment is so much more! Kavitha says that the Chief Minister has now directed the BDA Commissioner to resurvey the lake, so as to assess the encroachment.
Satish Reddy, when asked about the status of the lake, stated that while he has been actively involved in cleaning the lake, it was upto the BDA to take action against illegal dumping and encroachments.
Nobody to save the lake
The Somasundarapalya Lake Rehabilitation Trust has been reporting the atrocities and fighting for the reclamation of the lake for a good two years now. Their agenda is threefold:
1. BDA and HSR Police needs to put an end to the dumping to save the lake
2. Tahsildar should clear the encroachments
3. BDA should fence and revive the lake
The numerous mails, letters and appeals that have been sent/made by them to those in power, have gotten passed around and with them, so has the responsibility for saving the lake. A letter to the BDA in March 2012, resulted in the BDA Assistant Executive Engineer sending a letter to the Police Inspector, HSR Layout asking him to “take legal action against the people who are dumping the debris through your beat/ Hoysala staff“.
Another letter was sent to the the Tahasildar, Bangalore South, with the following, “The Surveyed map shows that 1 Acre and 18 Guntas of Land of the Lake has been encroached upon. As per the orders of the High Court, we have to fence the lake all around using Chain Link fencing. Therefore we request you to clear the encroachments of 1 Acre and 18 Guntas of the Tank Bed, enabling us to carry out the fencing of the lake.”
Inaction on the part of the Tahsildar prompted citizens to make a complaint to BMTF. The BMTF then intervened, stating that the complaint was transferred to Tahsildar South in January 2013. In April 2013, residents once again wrote to the BMTF, citing no progress and that the old Tahsildar had been transferred, and so had the BDA Engineer.
Whose lake is it?
To put it simply, Somasundarapalya Lake comes under the BBMP’s purview. However, it has been handed over to the BDA for development. The BDA claims to be waiting for the Tahsildar to clear the encroachments and the police authorities to take legal action against the perpetrators. Until the encroachments are cleared, the BDA cannot fence the lake.
Kavitha Reddy feels that the various governing bodies are hand in glove with each other and at some level know about the illegal dumping of the debris. She adds, “There is major activity taking place; activity that is obviously been well planned and agreed upon. Something like this cannot happen without collusion”
While there certainly seem to be enough letters and notices being passed on between the various departments to make people think that there is progress, there is nothing being done to remove the encroachment and stop the dumping. The rumours say an apartment complex is coming up on the lake bed. The vicious cycle of dumping and subsequent encroachment, only confirms the rumour.
However, Indraneel, another active member of the trust, feels there is some reason to be hopeful, considering that the CM is taking an active interest in the state of lakes in the city. Kavitha also had this to add, “If we let it go at this point, the lake could vanish in the next 6 to 7 months.”
The authorities certainly need to sit up and take action soon, else it willonly be a matter of time before Somasundarapalya Lake becomes yet another lake that used to be.