In recent years, a number of Bengaluru’s lakes got a second chance at life by undergoing extensive renovations, which has left them pristine and healthy ecosystems. But the work is not over yet. The newly rejuvenated lakes require a lot of maintenance to ensure their survival. And most of the times, all of this is put on the shoulders of community lake groups made up of passionate citizens.
For many groups the hard work is just getting started, as they must raise a continuous amount of funds, fight encroachment and petition for improvements to solve sewage problems that continue to affect some rejuvenated lakes.
Confusion over ownership of lakes
Until now there has not been one single owner or custodian of Bengaluru’s lakes. Every lake in the city was overlooked by its specific government custodian which was the body responsible for rejuvenation plans.
The varying lake ownerships have caused more complications in the overall plan to rejuvenate Bengaluru’s lakes. Until now government bodies that own lakes desperately in need of rejuvenation draw up their plans and submit them to the Lake Development Authority (LDA) that employs a technical committee to revise and sign off on the rejuvenation.
“There are 210 lakes in the BDA (Bengaluru Development Authority) limits and they are in different ownerships. We do receive the DPRs (Detailed Project Reports) we approve them but whether they have actually carried out the rejuvenation or not we are not having a very clear picture,” said Seema Garg, Chief Executive Officer of the Karnataka Lake Development Authority. Adding that citizen lake groups and trusts are also consulted.
The state government recently handed over ownership and maintenance responsibility of Bengaluru’s lakes to the Minor Irrigation Department.
With the differences in custodianship, the process of rejuvenation has been less efficient than what it could be. Over the next few months all of Bengaluru’s lakes will be transferred to the state’s Minor Irrigation Department and the BBMP will stop development of 26 lakes and return Rs 79 crore rupees to the government. The Minor Irrigation Department maintains lakes throughout Karnataka, and is seen by some people as having more expertise and funding to put toward lake rejuvenations in Bengaluru.
Who maintains the newly rejuvenated lakes?
The final piece of the puzzle is the aftermath of lake rejuvenation. So far BBMP has rejuvenated 56 lakes and of that 18 are maintained by citizen groups or lake trusts.
Mahadevapura Environment Protection and Development Trust (MAPSAS), a community non-profit, maintains four of Bengaluru’s lakes. There are three aspects to their model of post-rejuvenation maintenance. The first is activity, which includes basic cleaning, gardening, funding and beautifying projects. The second is working with the BBMP to establish guidelines of what is in the power of MAPSAS and what the BBMP must be responsible for. The third is bringing in the local community including volunteer clean ups, hosting lake festivals and promoting active involvement from citizens.
“Over the last few years what we have noticed is when we are doing these community events we are also able to tap into resources who are able to volunteer at the lake to bring it to full capacity and these events not only help raise funds for maintenance but also increase the efforts to reach out to a larger audience,” MAPSAS member Krishna Kumar said.
Need for a holistic lake rejuvenation plan
The idea of a holistic plan is not a new concept and is in fact supported by the High Court. In 2012 the Karnataka High Court ruled that lakes could not be privatised because they are public commons and supported a plan for lake development and protection for all of Bengaluru lakes. The plan has not yet been fully implemented.
“Society is waking up to it,” said said Leo Saldanha, coordinator of the Environment Support Group (ESG) whose petition to the Karnataka High Court in 2008 stopped the privatisation of lakes and developed the court supported lake development plan.“It should have woken up to it 20 years ago we could have done something better but now there is no water, we have tall buildings coming up everywhere.”
The plan gives authority to the LDA to enforce laws on encroachment and pollution while focusing on protecting the watershed or network of canals connecting Bengaluru’s lakes and surrounding areas. The proposal is to rejuvenate all lakes from the top down, introduce water purifying plants into the ecosystem, to only allow treated sewage water into the lakes and to solve encroachment issues by moving slums farther from the lake but not completely displacing the people currently living there.
It will be the responsibility of the ward committees and neighborhood groups to oversee the protection of their neighborhood lake, corporates are encouraged to donate funds but are not allowed to privatise lakes. Right now appointing lake wardens, establishing a lake protection committee for each lake and getting citizens involved could make the most impact while the full plan is waiting to be enforced.
Challenges faced by citizen groups
Convincing the city government to follow their suggestions during rejuvenation and afterward is a challenge faced by lake groups like the MAPSAS, PNLIT and Friends of Lakes (FoL). The lake’s government custodian completes the rejuvenation process and building of pathways, recreation areas and benches with the lake groups putting in their two cents.
PNLIT is not an isolated example. There are many citizen groups forming around the city and dedicating their weekends to cleaning nearby lakes. Some like the Kaggadasapura lake group are hoping their cleaning efforts will motivate the city government to act on saving the lake and other groups like Hulimavu lake group are working every weekend to clean up the lake with a the help of their corporator.
With the need for a holistic top-down approach favored by development teams it is difficult to say when exactly these lakes will be professionally rejuvenated. The court-approved plan was developed thinking of the future of Bengaluru’s lakes which means it may be a while until progress is seen on every neighborhood lake.
Fundraising remains a problem
MAPSAS volunteers raise most of the funds, which goes to the Rs 1.5 to 2 lakhs per month it costs to maintain a lake. Corporates do provide some funding but are hesitant to donate to maintenance solutions and instead are interested in supporting innovative projects. Maintenance funds go to hiring gardeners, security guards or new plants.
As for the big jobs like setting up sewage treatment plants (STP), fencing, pathway construction and other work that requires a large amount of funding is the responsibility of the BBMP, inside BBMP limits. As ownership of each lake varies, the custodian or government body that oversees the particular lake outsources and funds the project. Community groups also have a role in this. They act as the eyes and ears of the lake going to the custodian when they notice work needs to be done.
“Maintenance of the gardens and all, we are asking them to get involved and some of the very good examples like Puttenahalli Lake where the citizens almost treat it like a background garden,” Seema said. “Everyday they will be there trying to trim the plants and all that sort of maintenance they do for the garden portion. Whereas the painting and all the custodians take care of it they try to do it depending on the availability of the funds.”
The PNLIT is also solely responsible for raising maintenance funds from the community and the upkeep within their capabilities relying on the BBMP for bigger sewage related issues.The group receives some funding from corporates for certain projects for example artificial floating islands. Their current challenge is handling the ongoing encroachment problem and taking it upon themselves to educate the surrounding community on maintenance protocol.
These efforts align with the court approved plan to encourage local citizen groups to maintain their neighborhood lakes as well as establish a strong citizen ownership of the lakes.
“Without citizen involvement it is somebody else’s job,” Krishna said. “In this area whether it is traffic, whether it is waste management, whether it is lake upkeep, where there is citizen involvement it is working.”
Clear and present danger: Sewage
Issues of encroachment and pollution still taint the future of rejuvenated lakes. As apartments continue to go up and slums are pushed around lake bodies are experiencing problems with untreated sewage flow from neighboring slums and waste management problems.
Problems lake rejuvenators face are many. Anand B Yadwad, a resident of Anjanapura, is involved in rejuvenating Avala Halli lake. He says that Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) is refusing to take responsibility of diverting the sewage from the lake, because the lake falls in the area newly added to BBMP in 2007, which the BWSSB doesn’t cover yet. Now there is no government department responsible for the sewage entering this lake.
A video showing deweeding mechanisms, at Avalahalli lake.
“The challenge in all of the rejuvenation processes has been the unfortunate lack of standard procedure,” Pabbisetty said. “We have been called into lakes where BBMP projects done, crores of rupees spent, but there is still encroached land so encroachments have not been removed and still crores have been spent in the rejuvenation of the lakes so we are against this idea of a fancy detailed project report intervention.”
Installing a master plan for all lakes will hopefully stop the pollution inflow. Recommendations for this holistic plan are taken from professionals and other organizations that do work on the lake as well as successes and failures of past rejuvenations. Top of the list is decentralizing the city’s sewage treatment plan.
Can Bengaluru’s lakes be saved?
There is no quick fix for Bengaluru’s lake problem. While complications in ownership, maintenance responsibilities, and citizen powers shove a wrench in lake development plans, the an awakened citizenry is proving to be the catalyst for change.
This is not the first time people are noticing the state of Bengaluru’s lakes but this time more and more people are doing what they can to solve the problem. Implementing the master plan, protecting the watershed areas and creating a working relationship between volunteers and the city government is an ongoing process but one that seems to be on the right track.
“One-hundred-years down the line when we look at the city and say ‘oh wow there were people then living that actually understood how to protect the lake system even though they got urbanized’,” Saldanha says.
With many hands stirring the pot, Bengaluru’s lake crisis is receiving much-needed attention. It will take a lot of cooperation from a number of bodies, enforcing a holistic approach and channeling citizen passion for Bengaluru to regain its title as the “Lake City” and to ensure a steady water supply and healthy lakes for generations to come.