Little-known body gets down to restoring Bangalore’s 600-odd lakes

first_imgCLEAN UP: Restoration work on the Ulsoor lake is already under wayIt is difficult to think of the Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore as being anything other than what it is today: a veritable landmark teeming with sports activities. It was once the Sampangi tank, a vast expanse of shimmering water,,CLEAN UP: Restoration work on the Ulsoor lake is already under wayIt is difficult to think of the Kanteerava Stadium in Bangalore as being anything other than what it is today: a veritable landmark teeming with sports activities. It was once the Sampangi tank, a vast expanse of shimmering water, home to rare flora and fauna.”The fish have been replaced by land sharks,” says one citizen, referring not just to Sampangi but scores of other water bodies that have met with the same fate in the garden city. The Dharmambudhi tank is now the Subhashnagar bus station and a sprawling golf course built by the Karnataka Golf Association stands on the Chalaghatta tank. To put a count to it, 181 of the 262 tanks identified in 1961 have dried up and, of those that remain, only 34 still hold water. The result has been a drastic depletion in the water table, evident by the fact that a quarter of the 1.2 lakh borewells in the city are now defunct.The dismal statistics, however, are only part of the story. In what has come as a reprieve, the little-known Lake Development Authority (LDA) is actually acting upon them. The first of its kind in the country, the LDA was set up under the Department of Environment and Forests by Karnataka Chief Minister S.M. Krishna in July 2002 to work on boosting the water table in Bangalore and other parts of the state. CEO A.K. Varma elaborates, “It is an autonomous body for the protection, conservation, restoration, regeneration and integrated development of lakes, both natural and man-made.”The LDA has so far identified 608 water bodies within the Bangalore Development Authority and 2,000 others under the Bangalore Metropolitan Regional Development Authority for recharging. It is working with the Indian Space Research Organisation to prepare an atlas of lakes on the basis of old and recent remote sensing data.Under the Centre’s National Lake Conservation Project, the LDA has received Rs 24 crore (including Rs 12.72 crore from the Centre) to clean up 12-odd lakes in Bangalore. One of Bangalore’s biggest lakes – the 50-hectare Ulsoor lake – has been drained out and sewage lines have been blocked. The LDA got another Rs 40 crore from the Centre, which it has allotted to the Water Supply and Sewerage Board to lay sewage pipes and link it to a treatment plant.Known to be the barometers of the ecological health of a city, water bodies also determine its climate. As Karnataka Pollution Control Board Chairman J. Alexander explains, they help control humidity and temperature levels, recharge aquifers and also act as instruments of rainwater harvesting. In Bangalore, at one time the lakes formed a hydrological chain and during the monsoon, surplus water from an upstream lake flowed into the next lake.But rapid urbanisation has led to the loss of the wetlands. “The biggest problem has been encroachment and disposal of untreated sewage into the lakes,” says Latha Krishna Rao, secretary, Department of Environment and Forests. “The LDA is framing by-laws to tackle these issues.”The need for such legislation is pressing. According to T.V. Ramachandra of the Bangalore-based Centre for Ecological Sciences which, along with the Indian Institute of Science, conducted extensive studies on the condition of the water bodies, lakes have become full-fledged sinks for domestic sewage, effluents from industries and agricultural run-off of silt and pesticides that are wrecking havoc on the ecosystem. “The task of restoring them means returning this system to its prior condition,” he says.The process is a long-drawn one. The first step is to identify the sources and entry points of sewage discharge into the lake and divert it. At Ulsoor, the LDA has already directed the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board to divert sewage. Catch-water drains will also have to be built to collect water runoff. That done, the water has to be purified using hydrophyllic plants that absorb dissolved pollutants and toxins. Desilting and removing accumulated organic sludge and sediments from the lake bed are just as important. Bunds too are being strengthened with stone pitching and conducive conditions are being created for aquaculture.The need for restoration of wetlands has been felt for a long time. Way back in 1985, the state appointed former Bangalore City Corporation administrator N. Lakshman Rau to submit a report on the condition of the lakes. Rau reported that 132 of the 262 main water bodies in the city had simply vanished. In 1995, a sudden rise in the death of freshwater fish in lakes like Sankey and Lalbagh sounded an alarm. But it was not until last year that a comprehensive plan for restoration was drafted.A few lakes, however, have benefited from individual civic initiatives over the years. The restoration of Hebbal and Madivala, for instance, was taken up under a Rs 6-crore Indo-Norwegian project. With things looking up, a Rs 12-crore project for the Nagavara, Jaraganahalli, Venkayyanakere and Kamakshipalya lakes was recently approved by the Centre. Last month, Bellandur in Bangalore and Kamigere lake in Belgaum also got funds sanctioned.The LDA is now considering the modalities of raising external and internal funds on the lines of the World Bank-aided programme for integrated statewide tank development in irrigation. It may also involve corporates as guardians and key stakeholders of lakes. It is a strategy that has worked in Ulsoor where the Madras Engineering Group is the guardian and in Bellandur that has been taken up by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. Lake management committees will also be set up to monitor the progress of work. One just hopes they will not be disappointed.advertisementadvertisementlast_img

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