Friday, October 23, 2009



Highballing towards a megapolis status, Bangalore faces an acute shortage of water in its path. And, if the most important reason for all this is to be singled out, it is the wanton destruction of our once bountiful waterbody network.
Scores of eco-lovers and limnologists (experts on fresh water bodies) say the vanishing of Bangalore's lakes began in the early 1980s.
Of the many reasons, anti-malarial action, spraying toxic chemicals to kill mosquito larvae, was the beginning.
A swelling population following industrial growth, leading to exponential rise in realty price, made it worse. Unreal property prices made encroachment and waste dumping sickeningly profitable. The trend continues till date.
As per civic records, Bangalore had 262 lakes and tanks in 1961.
Today, the city has only 91 lakes in Greater Bangalore, and just 17 in the erstwhile Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BMP) limits. Of these, only 33 are barely visible via satellite imagery, and most of them are in an unhealthy condition.
"We have lost some 50 lakes in recent years. Where will the rainwater go?," bewails Bharat Lal Meena, commissioner, Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagar Palike (BBMP), in an answer to the outcry after the rain havoc in Bangalore earlier this year. The heavy rain, which dro-wned two children in separate incidents, created a public outcry.
"Ad hoc solutions are harming the city in every sphere of planning," says Rajiv Chandrasekhar, MP and Agenda Bangalore and Infrastructure Development (ABIDe) convenor.
"The vast wetlands and waterbodies make Bangalore city airconditioned," writes a German, Bjorg Hussoung, in his travel magazine.
But that was 1978.
With realty prices going through the roof, water bodies have been converted to housing colonies and dumping grounds. Surviving lakes like Varthur and Bellandur are being killed with untreated sewage and chemical effluents.
And Varthur valley, which the comprehensive development plan (CDP) 2015 expressly states as an ecological buffer zone, is witnessing rampant land-filling by the builders in the city.
"Already 250 acres of wetlands near Varthur Lake are filled with mud, obviously for construction," points out MA Khan, an ecologist who has braved death threats from land grabbers. What goes on, he says, is the "cruel rape of Bangalore's lakes."
TV Ramachandra, head of Centre for Ecological Studies (IISC), calls it a catastrophe. "Wetland is an ecosystem that keeps the city's groundwater cleansed and recharged. Tampering with it would be not just foolish but also dangerous."
In his report to the high court in June 2008, director-general of forests PJ Dilip Kumar termed lake management wholly misconceived. "It is not engineering what a lake needs, but ecological preservation. The city's lakes and tanks are not just water bodies but thriving ecosystems that are playing host to a variety of birds and animals."
All city lakes ought to be protected by the forest department as ecological assets, says Leo Saldhana, eco-activist and founder of Environment Support Group (ESG).
"From 114 lakes and tanks under its charge, the forest department has only 55 today, and the civic authorities are presiding over the auction of lakes," bemoans a senior forest official who'd opposed the privatisation of lakes.
As if that's not enough, the city's water bodies are overseen by various authorities at different levels of control. What is left of the lakes and tanks is being apportioned among half-a-dozen disparate governmental authorities. "Why wonder at the miserable state of lakes today?" asks environmentalist PS Ananthram.
Sewage water is proving to be another killer act. This mainly happens in Tamil Nadu's Krishnagiri district, where Pennar River and spillover from Varthur Lake provide the drinking water source. Frequent outbreak of cholera and other water-borne diseases among people living on the lake's fringes reveal that sewage-mixed water is the culprit.
The water board data says the city supplies 800 million litres per day (MLD) from Cauvery River, and another 500 MLD from groundwater (the city is perilously close to a water calamity as it sports some five lakh borewells draining out underground water for daily use). Of the total water supplied, 80 per cent is rendered sewage, which makes it 1,040 MLD. The city has just six sewage treatment plants that treat 408 million litres per day (MLD). Obviously, nearly 60 percent sewage goes to the water bodies.
"The only solution is decentralizing treatment plants ward-wise and reusing treated water to meet the non-potable needs of people. If this is done, and wetlands are protected, Bangalore could be a Singapore in hygiene, and a Dubai in riches. If not, it will be a ghost town by 2030," points out Ramachandra, the head of IISc's Centre for Ecological Studies.
"As far as civic planning is concerned, it has been a lost decade for Bangalore," says environment engineer RK Chari. "Most lakes should be opened to public. With modern technology, it is possible to keep big lakes lively and revenue-yielding. Water sport, gardens and amusement parks could be built around large lakes," he says.
Problems do exist as far as lakes are concerned. But merely depending on the political will may not suffice. For Bangalore, once a City of Lakes, must regain its huge network of water bodies to create a healthy ecosystem. But that responsibility has been thrust on Bangalore's custodians—you and me.


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