Karnataka revives dying lakes: Why a decentralised governance was long overdue

The High Court of Karnataka June 15, 2021 passed an order calling for decentralised governance of lakes in the state

By Shivangi Agarwal
Published: Thursday 17 June 2021
Madiwala lake, Bangaluru. The Karnataka High Court June 15, 2021 passed an order calling for decentralised governance of lakes in Karnataka. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The High Court of Karnataka June 15, 2021 passed an order calling for decentralised governance of lakes in the state, thereby recalling a 2012 order that allowed centralised management of lakes.

This was important to ensure biological as well as ecological security of water bodies across the state, it said.

The HC order — which will allow local public the access to lake restoration and revival activities — will help preserve and rejuvenate the dying lakes in the state, it said.

The condition of lakes

The lakes of Karnataka cater to the needs of both urban and rural population. The 2012 high court order allowing centralised management of urban lakes, along with the officials' unfamiliarity with technical matters related lake rejuvenation, led to the destruction of lakes.

As many as 40,000 lakes in urban areas were included in the 2012 judgement; the rural lakes were excluded. As a result, as many as 10,000 lakes in rural areas have now been lost.

Increase in population, industrial activity, waste dumping in lakes, etc. have polluted the urban lakes and led to their encroachment.

But why is decentralisation necessary for lake rejuvenation?

Leo F Saldanha, coordinator of Environment Support Group (ESG), a non-profit based out of Bengaluru, said:

“Centralisation has failed and it is clearly evident from the effects of the 2012 order. Decentralisation is necessary as all efforts are doomed without public engagement. The meetings will be open to all citizens and sustained advancement will help in the control and commandment of lake rejuvenation.”

Actions taken so far

The public interest litigation was filed in 2008 by ESG in Karnataka high court. The final judgement was passed in 2012, which directed the state government to ensure management and rehabilitation of lakes by forming a committee of officials at centralised level.

Following this, the Environment Support Group in 2013 issued a contempt public interest litigation, seeking directions for the framing of a scheme for effective administration, regulation and management of activities in and around the lake.

The PIL sought active participation of local elected governments and communities in public interest.

An apex committee, formed to look into the above issues in 2012 at the state level, failed to implement the guidelines and neglected public grievances associated with revival and rejuvenation of lakes.

“The 2012 order did not include lakes and water bodies in rural Karnataka. The amendment of June 15, 2021 includes revival and rejuvenation of lakes in both rural and urban Karnataka. This is a 15-year-old battle and many hurdles have been crossed in making it a milestone,” said Saldanha.

Why decentralisation?

In 2014, Citizens’ Action, a volunteer organization, filed a public interest litigation to bring to the attention of the court the ignorance of the committee: It underscored the “inefficiency, non-technical background and traditional wisdom of the officials”.

Later in 2019, Saldanha and ESG filed a public interest litigation seeking involvement of citizens in the rejuvenation of lakes by submitting a proposal. This proposal requested that three committees be formed at the state level, Bangalore urban mahapalika and district level.

The function of all the three differed from each other with regard to their constituencies. Karnataka Lake Protection and Rehabilitation was the apex committee that had to oversee the functions of Bangalore Metropolitan Area Lake Protection and Rehabilitation Committee as well as the district-level committee.

This would include surveys, rehabilitation, rejuvenation and maintenance of lakes, ponds and other wetlands, and would involve identification of legal area limit and prevention of encroachment of the water bodies alongside a grievance redressal mechanism.

The court, in favour of the Citizens’ Action group and Environment Support Group, recalled the 2012 order and opined to make amendments. The order released by court June 15 has taken note of inefficiency of the committee previously formed and directed to form new constituent committees.

This would allow citizens to engage in all aspects of governance and decision-making process.

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