Your neighbourhood lake where your mother and her siblings went swimming and fishing is now a multi-storied office complex with a sports stadium next to it. You yourself can remember the place as one where you sailed your little paper boats and from where you excitedly brought home guppies and tadpoles to put into your house pond. Thankfully, there is still some untouched space there – a playground with a few old trees, where boys and girls can play cricket, kick around footballs or just sit and talk. Yes, I’m reminiscing about the Akkithimanahalli “Mud Tank” in Richmond Town, which we let ourselves lose.
As children in the 70s and 80s, we were ignorant about the scientific thought that went into planning the city with its thousand lakes. The adults too, I guess, were not sufficiently environmentally sensitive. A vanishing lake here and there for “development” would not be missed. Sadly, our administrators and town planners (if there were any) seemed to have little regard for Kempe Gowda’s cascading tanks. Getting new infrastructure was exciting and a sign of progress.
With most of the original-Bangalore city lakes gone, the ones on the outskirts, in erstwhile villages have started falling prey over the last 10-15 years. For the government, it would be easy to fill up the lakes to create even more infrastructure. But things are different now.
In the last few years, Bangaloreans, both “natives” and “migrants” are more aware about the role of lakes in temperature and pollution control, maintaining ecological balance and most importantly, in water management (groundwater, water supply, flood control). They are more vigilant and observant to changes in their neighbourhood water-bodies – such as drops in water levels, water exploitation, unhindered growth of weeds, vanishing of birds and trees, dumping of garbage and debris, sewage being let in, sand mining, encroachments. And they also realise that government plans and decisions are not always the best ones, and can be influenced by constructive citizen involvement.
By mid-2012, several lakes on the outskirts of Bangalore had found saviours of varying intensities. A few had gone ahead with registering formal trusts/ societies for their lakes (such as PNLIT, MAPSAS, SLAIT, ANIT, etc.) while others had informal dedicated teams. Many had their own email groups, websites, Facebook pages, some of which are listed here, and were in touch with each other, offering mutual support in working around their lakes’ problems. In August 2012, Arbind Gupta and Balasubramanian Thirunavukkarasu, themselves working to save their neighbourhood lakes, arranged a meeting of various lake teams, and this resulted in the formation of a movement that is now working to make Bangalore the “City of Lakes” that it once was.
The Save Bangalore Lakes group is an active and informal group that offers a platform for all those interested in protecting and saving Bangalore’s lakes [googlegroup – SaveBangaloreLakes@GoogleGroups.com] / [Facebook – SaveBengaluruLakes]. Working along with mapunity’s bcity, the group now has a common portal bcity:Lakes where the activities and work of different lake teams are made available to all.
So what does one do when there is dumping or encroachment or any other disturbing activity that would result in obliteration of a lake? How does one revive or save a marshy dump that one knows was, not long ago, a lake?
How to revive your neighbourhood lake – Steps (not necessarily in strict order)
1. The following are some of the questions you need to answer that will help you proceed:
- What is the name of the lake?
- Where, in which village, is it located? Try to find it on a map / googlemaps.
- What are the nearby landmarks?
- Which governmental body is the custodian of the lake? It could be BBMP, BDA, LDA, Forest Dept. List of lakes under each authority
Much of this information can be readily found online (see bcity:Lakes) or through the Save Bangalore Lakes group.
2. Check if this lake is already being worked on.
To do this you could get in touch with the Save Bangalore Lakes group and ask around. Search online, on Google/Yahoo mailing groups and Facebook, if there are any enthusiastic residents working on the problem.
Some contacts can be found here. Join others who are at it OR if you find that no one is aware of the state of the lake, you should initiate the fight to save it.
Answers to the following questions will help you proceed further:
- What is the size of the lake?
- Is the lake area fenced or is it open?
- Is sewage from nearby houses/apartments being let into the lake?
- Are there any visible encroachments into the lake area?
- Are there any visible threats to the lake?
- Do you have any history of actions/ complaints/ requests for the lake?
Some of this information can be found online. Others can be obtained through a visual check and by talking to people in the lake vicinity.
3. With basic information in place, you need to mobilize support. There is strength in numbers. Some ideas.
- Form a group of 4-10 like-minded, interested volunteers who will be able to follow-up lake-related issues with the different authorities.
- Set up a communication medium to publish lake related information to the neighborhood and create/ increase awareness
- Create an email group for your lake – to communicate and work together with your interest group
- Create a Facebook page/group / Twitter account – post information, activities, pictures of the lake, etc.
- Get people living close to the lake, including children and senior citizens involved.
Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT) set up its website as soon as it was formed in 2010. It has a blog and google mailing group, besides being present in several social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, Treetle, Pinterest.
4. Formalise the group
Once you have a group of people who are willing to work for the lake, consider registering the group (such as a trust or society). Your voluntary effort will need financial support and being a registered group will make it easier to get people to donate to the cause. Your requests and complaints will also be seen to be from a “group” rather than individuals.
A sample trust deed can be found here.
5. Consolidate the issues of the lake.
For this, do a walk around the lake with volunteers, discuss/ decide what needs to be done and who will take up what responsibility.
6. Regularly take pictures.
They will be useful in both getting initial support and also later, during the effort to save the lake. Circulate the pictures online on Picasaweb/ email/ Facebook/ Twitter, etc.
7. Get contacts
Get the contact information of the agencies responsible/ involved with the lake –BBMP/ BDA/ LDA/ Forest Dept., BWSSB, KSPCB, Tahsildar,etc. Contact information that has already been collected is available here and here.
8. Collect lake related documents
- Apply for the survey map of the lake, village map – from the respective Taluk office
- Apply for the Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the lake (if prepared) – from the authority that is the custodian of the lake. If not prepared, you could participate in its preparation.
To figure out if there are real encroachments, the survey map that marks the lake boundary is an essential document. The concerned Tahsildar office would have the survey maps of all the lakes in its geographical jurisdiction. Getting the survey map is often where obstacles are faced, but it is possible, with patience and perseverance. For example, Sarakki Lake Area Improvement Trust (SLAIT) was instrumental in getting the boundary map of Sarakki Lake signed off by the Tahsildhar in April 2013, after several months of continued effort
9. Ensure the lake is fenced
If fencing is not done, pursue the authorities to do it. Once the boundaries are secured, revival becomes easier.
10. Check what is coming into the lake
If there is sewage entering the lake – follow-up with BWSSB and KSPCB.
Look at other inflows into the lake, like the nearby storm water drains and take steps to clean them by working with the authorities – like BBMP and BWSSB. See if inlets can be better fed.
11. Documentation is important!
Document your findings, follow-up on them regularly and publish the progress in a visible medium periodically (monthly/ quarterly/ half yearly, etc.). Use blogs, Facebook groups and newsletters to share information. Residents feel a sense of ownership as they start following the posts.
12. Get people involved
Promote activities to increase people’s participation in saving the lake. Make the lake area a well-patronised place – for morning walks, gardening, playing, bird watching, photography, children’s nature activities, etc. Revival of a lake largely depends on the local community. So it is necessary that the local people need to be informed and motivated on a regular basis through activities and events that bring them together.
13. Network online too!
14. Talk to your MLA
Try to get the support of your local corporator, MLA.
15. If nothing happens?
If there is no progress, pressurize the authorities by complaining to BMTF, file a PIL in the High Court/ Water Adalat, etc. Other ways to fight encroachments, are listed here.
16. Save Bangalore Lakes group can help
Share your experiences and progress with the Save Bangalore Lakes group, and don’t hesitate to ask for assistance.
Here are some of the ways in which the Save Bangalore Lakes group can help lake groups, depending on the availability of resources at hand:
- Guiding lake teams in reviving their lakes
- Getting lake-related documents from different government agencies
- Finding the contact information of responsible agencies for follow-up of lake revival
- Registering your lake trust
- Filing consolidated PILs in High Court/ Water Adalat
- Filing consolidated complaints to different government agencies
- Organising meet-ups with different interest groups like Council for Social Development (CSD), Environment Support Group, IISc, India Water Portal, NGOs, lake enthusiasts, environmentalists, etc. to chalk out how we can work together towards lake revival
- Interacting with bodies like JnNURM, National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP), etc. who are stakeholders in reviving lakes
- Publishing progress reports of lake revival and issues pertaining to them.
Once “saved”, it won’t take long for the positive effects of a live water body to be experienced by the neighbourhood. Vigilance is the key, and everyone needs to keep their eyes and ears open at all times. Read a recent report of how MAPSAS has been working, with success, to protect Kaikondrahalli Lake here.
There are a few successful lake stories in Bangalore and your lake can soon be one of them too! Your neighbourhood community can make it happen. Go for it!
Published on Citizen Matters here.