‘Commercial interest cannot drive lake conservation in Bengaluru’
The involvement of the private sector in the maintenance and restoration of Bengaluru lakes can be allowed only if there is no commercial interest involved, a panel appointed by the Karnataka High Court has said. A participation based solely on “consequential commercial interest” is not a solution for the development of the lakes in the city said the committee in its report recently submitted to the court. The report affirms concerns expressed in a public interest petition filed by the non-profit, Environment Support Group (ESG). The petition has challenged the management and conservation of the city lakes by private companies.
Begaluru’s Lake Development Authority (LDA), a non profit organisation, was set up in 2002 by the state government of Karnataka, to regenerate and conserve the lakes in and around Bengaluru. But it started leasing out the lakes to private developers from 2004 due to shortage of funds, staff and other resources.
The Hebbal Lake was handed over to the Oberoi hotels group, the Nagawara to the Lumbini group, the Vengaiahkere to Par-C group and the Agara to the Biota group. K S Saibaba, chief executive officer of LDA, was reported saying that with the rise in urbanisation and severe encroachment of the catchment areas, public-private-partnership would ensure the protection of the existing water bodies and would help in further maintenance of the water quality and surrounding ambience. Various initiatives like fencing the lakes, desilting, desludging and plantation of ornamental trees around the lake bed had been carried out for the preservation of these four water bodies.
Oberoi wants to develop private hotel near lake
Leo F Saldanha, coordinator of ESG says that the lake authority is only looking at the aesthetic aspects of the lake and not the overall development of the catchment area. ESG believes that lakes are a public property and belong to the local people. Hebbal Lake, originally is a bird sanctuary, where the Oberoi group proposes to develop a private hotel. S Vishwanath, president of a Bengaluru based non-profit, Rainwater Club, adds that the livelihoods of many people depend on these water bodies and hence fencing them and charging entry fees is against public interest.
ESG brought the issue of privatisation of the lakes of Bengaluru to the attention of the high court in 2008. In response to the petition, a nine member committee was set up in 2010. The committee was given the charge of examining the ground realities and preparing an action plan for the preservation of lakes. The committee is headed by N K Patil, a judge of the Karnataka High Court. A report on the long term sustainability of the lakes of Bengaluru was submitted in March this year, which was accepted by the court. In an interim judgement in July 2011, the court requested the committee to frame a policy on public-private-partnership for rejuvenation and maintenance of the lakes. The committee was also asked to frame separate parameters for cases where there is no involvement of commercial interest as well as where the consequential commercial interest was involved.
The committee held five meetings with the stake holders before preparing the policy report. The report was submitted to the court in October. The report gave recommendations for the sustainability of the lakes in the city. The most important of these said: “under no condition commercial exploitation of the lake can take place”.
Public access cut off
ESG welcomed the suggestion of the court committee. These lakes have been a source of income generation for people residing in the surrounding areas, says Saldanha. Water from these water bodies are being used for agriculture. Many fishers living near these lakes have depended on them for fish, making it a very important source of livelihood generation. These lakes were also being used for domestic activities like bathing and washing by area residents. The lakes have also been used over the years by the people for holding rituals and religious ceremonies. With private control, these practices would erode. Concretisation of the surrounding lake area, establishment of commercial activities like restaurants and eateries, removal of natural vegetation and planting ornamental plants and also setting up of recreational zones would further damage the existing micro climate and ecosystem, and hence further increasing chances of flooding, says Saldanha.
On November 3 this year, the committee submitted its views to the principal bench of the high Court. The next date of hearing is December 14 next year when final decision on the privatisation of lakes will be given.