Monday, October 31, 2005

Wrath of the lakes

Wrath of the lakes
New Indian Express

Will someone be found guilty and punished for mauling the city’s soul?

A week before the 50th anniversary of the Karnataka State formation, the rightful ‘owners’ of Bangalore surfaced demanding their pound of flesh, rather bed. Nature put a grim signboard, reminding Bangaloreans that long before the City got rechristened as India’s Silicon Plateau, it was a paradise of lakes and gardens.

When the ‘plateau’ went down nose-deep in water, all that could be done was pray.

Was it just the record of 580 mm October fest of rain that was responsible for Bangalore logging out?

That’s just the small part of the story. Just reboot and the bigger and tragic picture would emerge: that of 200 lakes in the City vanishing, nay getting killed.

Bangalore has blood on its hands and the recent floods is hard evidence. Many lakes were killed in the name of development and many more succumbed to land-grabbers and real estate mafia.

Of course, while the lakes were being systematically killed, authorities looked the other way. You and I know why and how, so no debate needed.

Old timers fondly say that 20 years ago, the City had 267 tanks. Today it is a measly 74. Most of them have been filled, shut and levelled as plots and sold to the IT crowd or the new crop of dream merchants.

And as the info-tech fever started peaking, more lakes vanished.

When there is a boom, can real estate lobby be far behind? The real estate lobby converted tanks and landscaped them into plush office-cum-residential complexes.

In the rush to nut-bolt new and swanky workstations and homes, scant attention was paid to effective drainage.

If you thought that it was just the lobby and mafia at work in connivance with officials, you are wrong. In the name of development even the Government swallowed a few lakes.

For example, what was once Dharmambudhi Kere in Subhashnagar is today the BMTC bus terminal; Schuele lake is today a football stadium, Koramangala lake a sports village, Siddhikatte lake is a market and Chellaghatta lake a golf course!

Water obviously cannot use or does not want a bus station, shop or a stadium. It neither plays golf. So it did what best it can: flood these areas and play merry with the fear factor of citizens.

If the city’s gardens and tree cover were the lungs of Bangalore, the inter-connected lakes played the role of the kidneys, flushing out excess water when the city gets soaked to the bones.

The city had umpteen streams (nallas) leading to the outskirts. This is how Thippagondanahalli lake became a main source of drinking water for Bangalore.

While the violators have all made money and are home and dry, it is the gullible public who are paying the price and trying to dry clean their dwellings. Will people do a Koramangala to these land-grabbers and real estate lobby?

Concerned citizens of Koramangala recently approached the High Court pointing out that scores of storm water drains have been filled up to make room for car parks.

If lake-lovers do a similar act of knocking at the doors of justice, the culprits may have to own-up. It is time to identify each violation and take action against the builder, developer and the government officials who either granted permission to lake-bed real estate conversion or did not take action on encroachers.

And the guilty must be punished because they have played with the lives of the people and mauled a city’s soul.

It is easy to print glossy brochures, claim to take leaf out of nature and build a cluster of flats or spread a lay-out.

But can anyone build a lake? Rulers of Bangalore like Kempe Gowda built tanks like Kempambudhi Kere. Can today’s rulers - either Singh or Gowda - do the same?

Amidst all this flood of gloom, the good tiding is that work on restoring Venkaiahana kere and Nagavara lakes on the city outskirts has begun.

The State government has allocated Rs. 50 lakh in the budget for lake restoration and Central assistance of Rs. 12.72 crore has come in.

Several corporates are known to have responded positively to requests for sponsoring lake restoration works.

The Government of India recently set up National Disaster Management Authority. Karnataka Chief Minister must take advantage of it and seek their help to formulate a comprehensive policy for the city. Karnataka will then be the first State to do so.

Apart from punishing the people who killed the lakes, there is a dire need to either restore or build tanks and lakes - just as Gowda, oops, Kempe Gowda, did.


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