Tuesday, June 24, 2008

‘Declare lakes as nature preserves’

‘Declare lakes as nature preserves’

Divya Gandhi

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests status report submitted to High Court

— Photo: K. Murali Kumar

AS it stands: A view of the Hebbal Lake in Bangalore on Monday.

Bangalore: In an assessment of the impact of privatisation on Bangalore’s lakes, the State Forest Department has described the Lake Development Authority’s (LDA) programme of leasing out lakes to private developers as one that “seems to be taking all the ills of modern, built-up and paved-over, urban life into these hitherto natural spaces”. It has recommended that the lakes be declared as “nature or bird preserves”.

The status report on three privatised lakes — Hebbal, Nagarava and Agara — was submitted to the Karnataka High Court on Monday. The court had directed the Forest Department to visit and report on the lakes, following a public interest litigation petition filed in January, that challenged the legality of lake privatisation. The petition contended that these lakes were “common property resource”, which the State was obliged to maintain.
‘Habitats destroyed’

Last week, the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests (PCCF), Dilip Kumar, visited four lakes — Agara, Hebbal, Nagavara and Vengaiahnakere — which have been leased out by the LDA to private companies for a period of 15 years, for their “development, beautification and maintenance”. Lake Hebbal was leased out to East India Hotels (the parent company of the Oberoi Group of Hotels) to create a recreational centre. The PCCF’s report on it observes that “dredged material (has been) piled on the lake margin to extend the land margin, thereby damaging the shoreline vegetation which is critical wildlife habitat….” Nagavara and Vengaiahnakere lakes, developed by Lumbini Gardens and ParC Ltd., respectively, have no habitat left for water birds, the report says.

Lake Agara, which has been leased out to Biota Natural Systems and is yet to be developed, supports a richer diversity of aquatic vegetation and birds, and also supports a community of fishermen and weed collectors, it observes.
Nature preserves

The report has recommended that the lakes that have not yet been developed “are well worth declaring as nature or bird preserves”. These bird preserves will be a tourist attraction and will serve as “a shining example of ecologically-wise integration of civic interest and biodiversity,” the report adds. As there will be no “commercial bias”, it would be possible to maintain these facilities with reasonably low entrance fees so that the lakes are accessible to everyone.
‘No food courts’

Referring to food courts, boating and other recreational facilities, the report recommends that “none of these commercial and tourism activities (should) be envisaged in the ‘development’ plans”. While “commercial activity should be avoided completely”, the department has recommended “a modest entry fee” to make up the cost of maintenance.

“No further structures, buildings and lighting need be contemplated, apart from minimal facilities at the entrance for the gate, regulatory entry and exit, watchman’s shed, plant nursery and security,” says the report.

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