For BBMP, even developing lakes mean building more concrete structures. In this year’s budget plans, BBMP has included the plan to install a 32-feet bronze Vivekananda statue in Yediyur lake in Jayanagar. Rs 1.5 cr is set aside for this.
BBMP is yet to call tenders for the project, but on November 22nd Yediyur Corporator N R Ramesh attempted to drain out water from the lake. He was stopped by about 20 local residents who were also members of environmental organisations Hasiru Usiru (HU) and ESG.
The workers with Ramesh had already destroyed the RCC concrete structure in a corner of the lake that separated it from the rajakaluve, when residents assembled at the spot.
T B Dinesh, HU member and a resident, says, "About 18 inches of water may have been lost. When we questioned the corporator he said that it was being done for a good project."
The corporator stopped the work when residents pointed out that draining the lake was in contempt of court, as per an interim order of the HC this year in a case filed by ESG. Though the order, HC had accepted recommendations of an expert committee on lake preservation. These include not breaching existing tanks and to retain them as water bodies. It also discourages building islands within lakes so that birds are not disturbed.
When the corporator stopped work, residents themselves filled the gap with mud to prevent the water from draining out. Overnight the corporator also had workers close the opening properly with mud and stones.
The next day Ramesh assured environmentalists that work would not be taken up now. A banner with details of the project signed by Ramesh was visible at the entrance of the lake on 22nd; this was also removed later.
The lake with an area of 11 acre 15.6 guntas was developed by BBMP in 2005-2008. Fencing the lake, building a walkway around it, desilting and diversion of the kalyani were done at the time. The expert committee report in the HC case says that Yediyur is one of the 13 lakes already developed by BBMP in the city.
For now residents are relieved that work has been stopped, but this can be taken up anytime when BBMP decides to start the work. When Citizen Matters initially contacted Ramesh, he was willing to share details of the project, but did not respond later. In his website, Ramesh says that Yediyur lake has a history of 1200 years, and with placement of the Vivekananda statue it would be a historic spot in Bangalore.
M C Prakash, BBMP Chief Engineer (South), who is in charge of the project, says that details have not been finalised. "The project has been approved in the budget and we have made provision for building the statue. But we have to consult with senior officials and get final approval from BBMP’s Standing Committee for Public Works before implementing it, which may take about three months." Prakash says that since the work was already approved in the budget session of the Council, there may be no hassles in getting the final approval.
R Ashoka, State Minister and local MLA, Padmanabhanagar constituency, says that the project is not damaging to the environment. "The statue will be in a corner of the lake and an open meditation centre – which can occupy about 20 people – may be built next to it. The lake has been polluted for about three decades due to ganesha immersions. So it will be desilted, and its depth will be increased by three feet to improve capacity," he says.
Ashoka was not aware of the desilting work already done by BBMP. He said that the issues currently raised by environmentalists were not serious, but that he would hold discussions with them if needed.
Dinesh says that the problem is that of BBMP’s concept of development. "During our meeting, Ramesh said that along with the statue, many mini-islands with fruit trees would also be built and an annual local event to commemorate Vivekanada would be held; this would make the place a tourism spot."
Greens oppose this idea as it would only make the lake aesthetically attractive, and would damage the ecosystem. "Such works and the distractions caused by local events would make the lake unfriendly to birds," says Dinesh.
In Puttenahalli, residents have managed to stop BBMP’s plan to build a bridge over the Puttenahalli lake. Residents here have been working with the BBMP for around two years to revive the lake and have formed PNLIT (Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust) for this.
Local Corporator L Ramesh had mooted the idea of building a bridge from the walkway of the lake to the island in the middle of the lake. "It would be nice to let people go into the island and get a good view of the lake," says L Ramesh.
PNLIT member Usha Rajagopalan says that the project would drive away birds. "There are about 45 bird species, local and migrant, that are visiting the island and areas around the lake. Presence of people will drive them away and also cause the lake to be littered," she says.
Usha says that PNLIT’s plan itself was to develop the lake as a bird sanctuary, and that trees were planted in the island for this. "The issue is of BBMP looking at lake development from the perspective of entertainment to public. BBMP does not consider the eco-perspective," she says.
L Ramesh says that the project has been dropped due to residents’ protest and also since there are not enough funds allocated in the budget for the lake. "BBMP has only Rs 25 lakh funding for the lake this year, which we will use for installing lights around it. The bridge project has been completely dropped," he says.
In contrast to these two lakes, Madiwala lake, which is managed by Karnataka Forest Department (KFD), has no construction projects planned within the lake. V Ganesh, KFD Range Officer in charge of Madiwala lake, says that BBMP’s plans to build artificial structures in lakes is a bad idea.
"BBMP’s focus is on building concrete structures, which affects biodiversity. Greenery should be maintained for birds to thrive. In Madiwala lake even the island was made by depositing silt that was removed from the lake. Trees were planted in the island and now around 65 bird species visit it," says Ganesh.
However Madiwala lake has its own problems. De-weeding is done here continuously, but weed so removed is deposited around the lake due to difficulty in transporting it, causing mosquito menace. "We have a big development project planned – to expand the boating and vehicle parking facilities, and to develop children’s play area, cycle tracks, kiosks, drinking water facility etc. in the park. No works will be done in the lake," says Ganesh.⊕
So is Vivekananda the new hot ‘ticket’ to personal riches through building statues for these illiterate corporators? We already have one in Ulsoor Lake and there’s another statue nearby in Basavangudi. Why do we need more statues anyway? Plant a tree and it’ll benefit thousands; a statue just benefits pigeons and the contractors who build it. We need more enlightened individuals representing us. I doubt that Yediyur corporator has even read one line of Vivekananda’s teachings.