Sarakki Lake judgment on Feb 17: Will the lake see a thousand birds again?

The lake of thousand birds has died a slow death over the years. How many more years before it is restored? Pic courtesy: SLAIT

Sarakki Lake in JP Nagar was a home for Savira Hakki (thousand birds) in the bygone days. Not only have the thousand birds vanished, but also the pristine water body is completely destroyed due to years of neglect, apathy and greed of the land sharks. Is there any hope left in protecting this precious water body?

To avert the impending environmental disaster from the daily garbage dumping, stench of the filled in sewage water fully covered by weeds, swamps of mosquitoes and rampant grabbing and encroachments on the remaining land, two years ago a group of citizens living in the area came forward and formed ‘Sarakki Lake Area Improvement Trust’ [SLAIT] to wake up the forces that be. The Government had dithered during the past 10 years and transferred the responsibility of this lake from KFD, LDA, BBMP and then now to the BDA. All this did too little, and there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

After relentless pursuit starting from the Commissioner Survey, Settlement and Land records,  Government of Karnataka, to the level of jurisdictional Tahsildar, a five-member survey team was constituted by the State Government, who carried out a detailed land survey and authenticated a map by the top survey officials of the state in April 2013. The survey map of the lake was an important document required for taking any legal action against the encroaching party.

A PIL (WP 17464/2013) was finally filed by SLAIT and another NGO (Peoples campaign for right to water) before the division bench headed by the Chief Justice of High Court for directions. Based on this, the Tahsildar finally issued eviction notices on more than 200 encroachers on Government lake land. They include several educational institutions like College, commercial buildings like TVS showroom, apartments like Nandini lake front, residential buildings and 16 places of worship like the Satya Ganapathi complex. Several public utilities like BBMP roads, bus shelter, milk booth and BSNL installations and latest the BWSSB pumping stations are part of lake land.

Encroachment continues

Even after the survey work and the matter being taken up by the High court, Shirdi Sai Mandira and a large compound wall on north-west side of the lake have come up without any resistance from the government. It appears that a quid-pro-quo has taken place between the babus and netas, the former building utilities /services and the latter going about land-grabbing unhindered for private profiteering. One can witness the lake lands that have been grabbed and levelled, being used for playgrounds, drills, melas, exhibitions, film shooting etc. while the cash-strapped BBMP is looking the other way.

The present CM had announced in May that all encroachments on Governmen lands including on lakes will be removed. In reality not an inch of Sarakki lake land in the 200 encroachments has been reclaimed, whereas fresh encroachments have taken place. The case is also dragged without any sense of urgency. Is the Government really serious, is the question people are asking.

Looking at it from another perspective, this lake area has a 4-time MP, 3-time MLAs and 2-time Corporators all belonging to the same political dispensation. While the lake has seen rapid progress in terms of unabated land grabbing, dumping of debris, letting of sewage etc. very little is done to clean and revive the lake to its pristine state of blue waters with 1000 birds. Similar to a political soap a few weeks back (December 29th, 2013), a group of volunteers with great fanfare swept the bushes without touching its waters.

As succor, the affected citizens are awaiting the verdict of the High Court on February 17th, 2014. Will the encroachers be able to further delay matters to consolidate their gain or the officials who colluded be able to protect their skin and the affected citizens be able to breathe fresh air?

The write up has been provided by Sarakki Lake Area Improvement Trust.

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