The city has many faces. And if things continue the way they are, Bangalore will be left with only a grey silhouette bereft of its green and blue facets. In the first of our series on City Lights, Arun Prasad comments on what we did to Bangalore’s 400 lakes.
Bangalore once boasted a water body population of over 400 lakes which was the primary, perhaps the only source of drinking water for the city habitants. It has now dwindled to just 64. And the ones that remain are being encroached upon with experts commenting that they too shall vanish from the map of the city.
No wonder when it rains, the drains overflow and the water has nowhere to go except to the city dwellings in the low-lying areas. The city’s biggest attractions are proving to be its worst undoing.
City of lakes
It was imperative for the founders of Bangalore to discover a source of water to fulfill the needs of the habitants inside the township they erected. There were no major rivers flowing through the district. While Cauvery flows 90 kms southeast of Bangalore, Vrishabhavati is only a minor river which takes its nativity near Basavangudi and joins the river Arkavati.
Besides, the district’s geography is such that it had no natural wet lands. Consequently, many kalyanis (square-shaped ponds with granite steps) were hoed and tanks were excavated. Some of them were meticulously erected with sculptured parapet walls with the royal insignias. Herculean efforts were taken by the rulers to provide adequate water supply to Bangalore from the days of its founding.
The Great Kempe Gowda, a local chieftain, who architectured a new flanked township called Bengaluru proved to be a master planner. He began his township by erecting lakes like the Ulsoor, Dharmambudhi (presently Magestic bus stand), Kempambudhi, Sampangi (where Kanterava Stadium stands now), Siddikatte (near City Market) and also a tank inside the Old Fort (now in ruins). All these tanks were the only source of drinking water.
In 1870s, Bangalore had to confront a severe water scarcity. The Karanji system of supplying water existed in the fort area by which unfiltered natural water was supplied from Dharmambudhi and Sampangi tanks supplemented by the water from ponds and wells. There existed ‘water-bearer’ with tanned skin-container swung around him with brimful of life-saving water, by and large drawn from kalyanis and tanks. Affluent families employed them on a regular basis.
By 1873, a string of three tanks in a huge area known as ‘The Millers Tanks’ were erected, which was the primary source of water to the Cantonment area. The influx of people from various regions accelerated the ever-increasing demand for water and the authorities had to look for new source of water supply. Consequently, Sankey Tank was constructed in 1882. The tank located at Sadashivanagar was erected by the lone effort and endeavor of Col. Richard Sankey of the Madras Sappers and Miners to supply water to the Civil and Military Station in Bangalore. This was connected with Millers Tank and onwards to Dharmambudhi Tank through contour channels. When Sankey Tank overflowed, water would flow into Millers Tank and then to Dharmambudhi. This linking of lakes continued to save the city whenever there was a heavy downpour.
A proposal initiated by the then Dewan Seshadri Iyer was put forward to construct a tank across Arkavathi at Hessarghatta, 20 kms northwest of Bangalore, and with immediate effect a reservoir was built. Water was pumped into the city for the first time on June 23, 1896, and private taps with meters were laid for the first time.
By 1925, Hessarghatta reservoir dried up completely. Frantic efforts were made to restore water supply to the city from the Yelemallappa Chetty Tank, Byatha and Kakol Tanks. But still Bangalore’s thirst for water never quenched.
In 1933, yet another reservoir at Thippagondanahalli across Arkavathi about 28 kms from Bangalore was commissioned. By 1950s, the city began to grow industrially and there was a sudden influx of people from different parts of the country, which again caused water scarcity. It was only after the formation of BWSSB, that the Cauvery, a dependable source, was tapped. Bangalore got fresh Cauvery water from January 1974, which proved to be a new lifeline for the city.
However, the rapid development put a great toll on the lakes and tanks. In 1985, an expert committee headed by N Lakshman Rao was set up by the State Government to suggest ways to preserve and restore the pristine glory of the near extinct lakes of Bangalore. The committee recommended many steps and also suggested that the forest department, city corporation, BDA and the BWSSB be given an active role in restoring the deteriorating lakes.
The steady deteriroration of lakes continues in the city even today bringing the number down to 64 from 262 in 1960.
According to a study at the Indian Institute of Science, many dry tanks on the outskirts have been encroached for either real estate developments or for agriculture purposes.
The study also warns that due to conversion and encroachment of two major wetlands, connectivity between Yelchenahalli kere and Madivala Lake has been lost.
Bangalore seems to be loosing its soul. In another few years the ‘lakes of Bangalore’ may sound another cooked-up story for the next generation.
Once a significant tank, now extinct and transformed into the City Bus Station (Majestic). The ‘Big Tank of Vengaluru’ as mentioned in the Hoysala inscription dated 1247 AD was enlarged and renamed as Dharmambudhi by Kempe Gowda I in 16th century to provide water to the western part of the township inside the fort he erected. The tank extended till Subedar Chatram Road where Annamma temple was located on its bed. It irrigated the park and the fields of Thulasithota area.
Once a big tank existed attached to the Karanji Anjaneya temple. It covered parts of Chamrajapet and Gandhi Bazar areas of Basavanagudi. Decades ago the tank dried and new residential layouts sprang up on its bed. The National High School is also standing on its bed.
Excavated by Kempe Gowda II during the latter part of 16th century to provide water to the northeastern part of the township inside the fort. The tank is also linked with the Karaga festival as the festival starts off from here. Few decades back it was just an idyllic marshland amidst a sylvan surrounding where boys brought their buffaloes for bathing. There was even a kind of bull fighting at the old tank bund. Today, the tank has been transformed into a magnificent sports stadium, the Kanteerava Stadium. A tiny puddle from where the karaga festival commences is all that remains of the original lake.
The Millers Tank have been completely converted to layouts and now many sky-scrapers occupy the space. On its bund now stands the Ambedkar Bhavan, Jain Hospital, UNI office building, couple of marriage halls, and many other buildings, including few IT companies and other public organisations.
Flanked between the two forts once existed a trivial tank built at the disbursement of Siddi, a member of Kempe Gowda kindred. When the tank got withered in the latter part of 19th century, it was transformed to a well-organised market known as ‘Siddikatte Santhe’. The locale was once habited by many Brahmin officials and now a major part of the land is occupied by the new Krishnarajeendra Market (K R Market).
A completely dried-up tank with its bed covering an area of 41 hectares. Work for a regional park has been started in the area under the comprehensive development plan.
The lake behind old Binny Mills was once a big tank erected in 16th century by Gidde Gowda, the elder son of Kempe Gowda I. Now the southern part of the lake is getting filled up making way for highrises. On the eastern part stands an incomplete structure erected few years back surrounded by stagnant stinking water.