A US-based non-governmental organisation and a Bengaluru-based engineering firm have prepared a Vision Plan for restoration and regeneration of lakes in Bengaluru. The Vision plan titled ‘Better Lakes, Better Bangalore’ advocates a “sustainable water supply plan for Bangalore.” Curiously, many of the stakeholders mentioned in the report have denied involvement in preparing the report.
Bengaluru-based engineering consultant firm Invicus Engineering, along with San Francisco-based non-profit organisation working towards water sustainability—Sherwood Institute and an engineering firm based in San Francisco, Carollo Engineering, had signed a Memorandum of Agreement with the BDA on November 6th 2012 to provide a Vision Plan for lake rejuvenation in Bengaluru. Citizen Matters had written about it in July 2013.
Study funded by the NGO, engineering firms
The Vision Plan was an initiative by Invicus Engineering Managing Director Vivek Menon who is a member of the Board of Advisors of Sherwood Institute, the NGO that came forward to prepare the Vision Plan.
Vivek Menon is also a consultant for Confederation of Real Estate Developers Association of India (CREDAI) and various other developers including Mantri, Sobha and Prestige Group. CREDAI has also been listed as one among the stakeholders of the Vision Plan.
According to the MOA signed with the BDA, Invicus Engineering was supposed to prepare the Vision Plan comprising of research, recommendations, actions and metrics for the creation of an integrated water resources plan for the city. The study was to be totally funded by private firms with no money from BDA, and was to be submitted within six months of signing the MOA, by mid-2013.
Disconnect between BDA, report authors
According to Sherwood Institute, they submitted the Vision Plan to BDA on February 10th 2014. However BDA Commissioner T Sham Bhatt, to whom the report was supposedly given, said that he was not aware of any such Vision Plan for reviving lakes.
“I do not remember signing an MOA for lake rejuvenation nor have I received the Vision Plan,” Bhatt said and directed the reporter to contact BDA Engineering Department. However, BDA Engineer Member P N Nayak too said that he was not aware of the MOA and Vision Plan.
Invicus Engineering Managing Director Vivek Menon expressed disappointment over the BDA and the State government for not responding to the recommendations for a better future for Bengaluru’s lakes. “The report was submitted to the BDA Commissioner in February 2014. Even after one year and four months, nothing has been done. The initial enthusiasm of the BDA while signing the MOA had disappeared by the time we submitted the document. We made several attempts to reach out to the government, but in vain,” he said.
Local stakeholders deny involvement
Citizen Matters also checked with some other stakeholders from government, private sector and NGOs/academic background, mentioned in the document, who said they were not aware of such a report.
The report considers a public-private-partnership mode, for its implementation. The stakeholders listed among the private partners include private entities such as CREDAI, various developers and various multinationals. Former Miss Earth, Bengaluru-based model Nicole Faria has also been mentioned in this list.
While all the government agencies are listed in the public entities, organisations like India Water Portal, Environment Support Group (ESG), ATREE, the Centre for Ecological Sciences at the IISc, Save Our Lakes Group (sic. The name intended here is Save Bangalore Lakes group) and the Centre for Science and Environment are listed among the NGOs.
The report says that Sherwood Institute reached out to stakeholders, by means of interviews, feedback collection, digital campaigns and workshops. However, two of the NGOs that have been included in the list of stakeholders of the project said that they were not aware of the project.
Leo Saldanha from Environment Support Group (ESG) said that he was neither aware of the project nor the organisations behind it. “No organisation has consulted ESG for lake rejuvenation and improving water supply chain in Bengaluru. Our name has been included without consulting the team; we do not subscribe to their ideas,” he clarified.
Another name in the list of stakeholders is of Save Bengaluru Lakes Groups. Taking exception to the project, SBL Founder Balasubramaniam Thirunavakarasu said that Invicus Engineering had approached their team, but they were not convinced about the intentions of the project proponent.
“Taking into consideration that Vivek Menon is a consultant to developers, we were apprehensive about his motives to rejuvenate lakes. The project was not discussed with us in detail. We urged Menon to submit the Vision Plan, which he refused. Despite our name featuring in the list of stakeholders, the document was not shared with us, due to which we disassociated from the project,” he said.
A mail from Priyanka Jamwal, a fellow at Centre for Environment and Development at ATREE said that no one from ATREE was consulted directly regarding this report. Spokespersons from EMPRI were unavailable for comment.
On asked about ESG and SBL responses, Menon said that he did not directly consult ESG, but IISc might have consulted them. “We had consulted Save Bengaluru Lakes Groups and had shared Vision Plan document with BDA which was discussed in detail in a meeting at BDA in the presence of stakeholders. Since most of the groups work in isolation, we might have spoken to them in fringes,” he said.
Sherwood aims to work with citizen groups
“Since we did not get the much-needed support from the government, we have decided to collaborate with community organisations and work towards rejuvenation of lakes. We have already held a few informal talks with citizen groups like Whitefield Rising on the same issue,” he said.
According to their website, Sherwood Institute that has funded Vision Plan, deals with helping cities to achieve their water needs, assist communities in becoming water resilient and introduce water technologies and processes. Sherwood’s official website says that “the Vision Plan for Bengaluru outlines the next steps we see as critical for Bengaluru to move through the 21st Century in a sustainable manner. We are now circulating and advocating for the adoption of this Vision Plan.”
Though information is not available about the projects successfully completed by Sherwood Institute like Better Lakes Better Bengaluru project, the organisation is simultaneously sponsoring other projects in USA such as New Orleans Sustainable Water Management and Greenline Parks and Commons at Minnesota.
Why this Vision Plan?
Vivek Menon said that the prime objective was to introduce a sustainable water supply plan for the city. He elaborates, “We cannot rely on Cauvery and borewell water for consumption in the long run. Hence, there is a need to open up for an alternative like lake revival, where only treated water enters the lakes which keeps the lakes pristine and also helps in meeting water needs of the city.”
Pointing at the lack of proper sewerage network in Bengaluru city, he said the Vision Plan emphasises on building a proper BWSSB sanitary network across the city. He added that the Bellandur watershed which includes Bellandur lake, Agara, Kasavanahalli, Kaikondrahalli, Madivala, Doddanekundi and linked lakes was the focus area.
“Extensive research was carried out with the help of USA-based agencies and Centre for Sustainable Transport and Urban Planning (CiSTUP) of Indian Institute of Science (IISc),” he said.
Menon said the study was taken up at a cost of Rs 1.3 crores, and was funded by Sherwood Institute and its benefactors. He said that only macro-level issues have been looked into till now and they will continue the study in micro-level.
Real estate body CREDAI a stakeholder
Vivek Menon told Citizen Matters that real estate developers in Bengaluru will be the major stakeholders in implementing the Vision Plan, and they are supporting the initiative.
Curiously, the Karnataka division of the Confederation of Real Estate Developers’ Associations of India (CREDAI) had roped in Invicus Engineering to work on reviving Bengaluru’s lakes, way back in 2011. A news item published in August 2011 in the firm’s website states:
“CREDAI Karnataka has brought on board Invicus Engineering to draft a policy paper and engineer the connectivity between a system of nested lakes, to serve as a model for future lake connectivity. Working with the BDA, several nodal agencies and the Indian Institute of Science, Invicus has engineered the connectivity between Bellandur and Varthur lakes addressing the issues of water securitization and flood mitigation.”
Incidentally, at that time, Mantri Developers founder and chairman Sushil P Mantri was the President of CREDAI Karnataka. Mantri Developers is building a Special Economic Zone with residential apartments and commercial complexes, on the land that lies in between Agara and Bellandur lakes. Many citizens’ groups are against this project and litigations are pending against the project, in the National Green Tribunal. The Vision Plan focuses mainly on Bellandur wetland area.
CREDAI describes itself as “the apex body for private Real Estate developers in India,” that “builds relationships between developers and the government through representations, debates and active participation in all meetings called by the government to take feedback from the industry.”
CREDAI is listed as a private stakeholder in the Vision Plan and Menon explains CREDAI too is concerned about lakes and water scarcity issues.
CREDAI-Karnataka CEO Naresh Suvarna said that he recently took charge as the CEO and he is not aware of the Vision Plan.
What’s in the report? PPP mode, water supply plan
The document under the title “Better Lakes, Better Bangalore” that runs for 34 pages, takes note of the existing challenges for lake regeneration and proposes a solution that revolves around the preparation of a Sustainable Water Supply Plan for the city of Bengaluru.
The report gives a few case studies on lake rejuvenation in Bengaluru, India and abroad, and proposes a process for the implementation of a comprehensive plan. It focuses on three key-elements, namely wastewater management (ensuring only treated sewage and treated industrial effluent enters the lake) stormwater management and Lake and Nala restoration.
The report proposes a sustainable water supply plan for the city, that involves lakes. It then describes how the polluted Bellandur lake could be problematic to its surroundings, and can cause public health issues. Explaining Bengaluru’s potential to emerge as a global city in 2035, the report emphasises that the city should plan its resources better to meet the demands of a global city.
The report proposes that the Sustainable Water Supply Plan be created for use by the BWSSB, in collaboration with all agencies that have responsibilities affecting the water resource portfolio of Bangalore. “The Sustainable Water Supply Plan will guide short and long-term policy in Bangalore as related to water management,” says the report.
The report also proposes that the Sustainable Water Supply Plan should be funded by the State of Karnataka, administered by a Steering Committee headed by the BWSSB and supported by the BDA, LDA, BBMP, KSPCB, and EMPRI, and should be written by an outside expert consultant with past experience writing water supply plans for cities / communities.
In a section on Open Space and Public Access, the report highlights two examples—the bay trail around San Francisco bay and right of the public to access ocean in California, in the USA. The report says that public access to open spaces is important.
The entire report can be read below, or can be accessed via this link.
Shree D N contributed to this report.