Bengaluru now has an actionplan to restore its waterbodies after the Karnataka High Court accepted the report of a committee appointed to prepare a framework for the preservation of the city's lakes. The court had appointed the committee headed by Justice NK Patil in November last year to examine the ground realities while formulating a framework for restoration of lakes.
Accepting the committee's report on March 3, the court ordered the state government to restore 189 lakes in the city by 2014.
The committee was formed in response to a public interest litigation filed by Environment Support Group in 2008, a non-profit, seeking better management of lakes. The court's order sets a legal framework to carry out restoration work in the lakes. It also indicates the extent to which the lakes have been encroached, polluted, and protected. “Such information is being made available in the public domain for the very first time,” said Leo Saldanha, coordinator of Environment Support Group.
The report, submitted on February 21, 2011, made several recommendations, including prevention of sewage from entering the lakes and developing some of them to augment city's water supply (see box). The high court by accepting the contents of the report has upheld the rights of traditional users for example, if the lake is used traditionally for washing clothes, dhobi ghats, are to be constructed when the lake is taken up for restoration. The action plan also called for enhancing buffer zones and removal of encroachments in the lake area and catchment. This will be identified by a survey to protect the entire watershed. "Buildings, resorts, hotels are nowadays being constructed at the edge of water bodies, and result in the loss of lake frontage," said Saldanha. The action plan has called for a 30 metre buffer from the lake bodies. If the lake is spread beyond 40 hectare, the buffer will increase by two metre for every five hectare of the lake body, he added.
The court in its order noted that the report satisfies all prayers, except the one pertaining to leaseholders, who have made construction in the periphery of the lake, or are in the process of making such construction. “As a custodian of lakes, it is unjustified for the state to make them a subject of private ownership,” said Saldanha. The decision on the validity of these lease agreements is to be decided on April 7.
The petition sought to protect lakes as commons with free right of access for the public. It questioned the validity of four lease agreements that the Lake Development Authority of Karnataka had entered into with private companies for lake restoration.
Guidelines to conserve the waterbodies of Bengaluru were established more than two decades ago by an expert committee constituted by the state government. But little was done to implement the guidelines, until the high court order, to protect their catchments from encroachment and stop the incessant discharge of untreated sewage.
Highlights and recommendations (excerpts from report):
- Selected lakes to be developed for augmenting water supply to city as city cannot draw water beyond its allocation from Cauvery. Sewage has to be stopped completely and tertiary water treatment has to be installed
- Notes unless sewage entry is restricted, based on the experience of lakes developed so far, no lake improvement is to be taken up, except survey, removal of encroachments, fencing and watch and ward. There is no point in desliting if lake continues to receive polluted water
- Calls for survey of lake area and removal of encroachments
- Lake management committees have to be constituted with representatives from resident welfare associations and NGOs
- Suggests boundary stones in three to four corners to facilitate future re-survey work
- Does not restrict lake preservation to the area itself but extends it to the catchment and drains that bring rainwater to the lake
- Calls for survey of the canals interconnecting lakes and encroachments therein be removed
- Review of the buffer limits. Suggests increasing the 30 metre buffer progressively by 2 metre per every 5 hectare of increase in lake area beyond 40 hectare
- Minimises desilting. Says the present saucer shaped desilting should be given up as it is cost prohibitive and leads to huge bund making and creating storage capacity beyond the need. Saucer shaped deeping of lake bed will affect the wetland formation in the foreshore region of the lake, which is essential to filter water
- Diverting sewage is not an option, as this has led to drying up of lakes. Bengaluru Water Supply and Sewerage Boards action plan to have sewarage in place by 2015. This being the case the agencies developing the lakes may have to invariably go for a sewage treatment plant for an individual lake in consultation with the Board to ensure that they fit into their larger plan of sewage treatment
- Traditional users of lake such as dhobis and fisher's interests are to be taken care of. If lake is used traditonally for washing clothes, dhobi ghats are to be constructed when the lake is taken up for restoration
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