Tall fences meet the eyes before one steps into the Sarakki lake premises. Most of the lake is currently dry. One can see the tractors busy removing silt from the lake bed. Walking around the lake can be unpleasant, as there are no walking paths currently and the surface is uneven. Garbage is sprawled across a certain section of the lake, and remnants of burnt garbage is present. Green patches of wetlands in the lake area stand out in the otherwise dry lake.
“Birds have already started to come back to the Sarakki lake,” says Professor K S Bhat, with a gleam in his eye. Bhat who had previously taught at IIM-Bangalore, is a core member of the Sarraki Lake Area Improvement Trust (SLAIT). He says that the lake was previously completely neglected and a cesspool of sewage. There were even talks of converting the lake into a bus stand or a metro station. The trust was formed to ensure the rejuvenation of the lake. “Our role is to facilitate and bring about convergence among different departments in rejuvenating the lake,” he says, adding that the aim was to bring back the ‘Savvira Hakki’ (thousand birds) that the lake was once known for, when birds used to migrate there en masse.
SLAIT constantly follows up with various departments in the process. Several key steps in the process of rejuvenation are expected to compete by the middle of this year.
Water will flow into the lake by mid-year
The plan is to pump treated sewage water daily into the lake. During monsoons there will be rain water entering through the storm water drain, says Bhat. This will ensure that there is clean water in the lake throughout the year, he adds.
“Currently we are setting up a Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) next to the lake. Once that is commissioned and running it will be able to treat 5 million litres of sewage on a daily basis and send it to the lake. We are hoping that this would start by the end of June,” says A Rajashekhar, Assistant Chief Engineer (Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board). Rest of the sewage is connected to a nearby pumping station which will send it to another STP to come up in Agara.
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) is currently trying to address the issue of sewage entering through the storm water drains and into the lake. A BBMP official who didn’t want to identified explained the rejuvenation work that the BBMP’s lake department is involved it. The officials explains that there are two storm water drains that carry sewage and rain water. “We have constructed drains that divert the incoming sewage into a storm water drain that leads to the Madiwala valley. The design is such that there are silt traps at the inlets which collect silt. The sewage that comes through the storm water drain, is diverted from the inlet. During heavy rains, the levels will rise and the rain water will enter the lake. The water that overflows and enters the lake will be a mixture of rainwater and sewage water, but sewage content will be meagre. The wetlands which are present within the lake area will clear the water before it enters the main water body.”
De-silting of the lake is being undertaken by the BBMP. The de-silting work has started since December and the lake is being restored to its original depth, says Bhat. He adds that due to the accumulation of silt over the years, the storage capacity of the lake had been reduced to a large extent, and in 2013 the lake was flooded. The BBMP official said that they expect to complete the process of de-silting by end of March-April, and added that the next step planned was to construct a walking track along the lake.
Getting the departments to do their work
“We have always had to push the departments to do their work. They always claim that they don’t have funds,” says Bhat. He adds that SLAIT got the Lokayukta involved as they believed that the departments wouldn’t attend meetings if it were coordinated by them. Currently the Lokayukta calls the monthly meetings where the departments are present and deadlines are set for each step of the rejuvenation process.
“Rejuvenation of the lake is a long term process and we don’t believe in any band aid solutions,” says Bhat. SLAIT has been working for the rejuvenation of the lake since 2012. They started with demanding the survey of the lake area. The survey was conducted by the Director of Survey and Land Records of Karnataka Government. It was found that around 20 acres of land was encroached upon, says Bhat.
SLAIT along with the NGO People’s Campaign for Right to Water (PCRW) filed a public interest litigation in the High Court in 2013. The High Court gave directions to clear the encroachments. As the administration didn’t act as per orders of the High Court, a contempt petition was filed, says Bhat. This time the government acted and the encroachments were cleared in 2015.
The custody of the lake land has been passed on from Lake Development Authority (LDA) to Bengaluru Development Authority (BDA) and now finally to BBMP, says Bhat. the work is happening but at a slower pace, due to delay by the authorities, he says.
He feels that the rejuvenation process that is expected to be complete by the middle of the year is being done in a holistic manner. Post that, the aquatic life will be rehabilitated, which will bring back the birds, he says.