Monday, March 27, 2006

'Adopt a lake' in IT city

'Adopt a lake' in IT city

BBC News

Unplanned and unregulated development of residential and office buildings in the southern Indian city of Bangalore has created a problem - many of the city's lakes have disappeared.

Out of 300-odd lakes that once contributed to Bangalore's temperate climate, only about 35 are left today. And many of these are threatened by urban growth.

A deluge last October, when 117mm of rainfall flooded large parts of the city, brought home the deplorable state of urban planning in India's IT capital.

There was a realisation that saving the lakes should be a priority.

Since then one of Bangalore's lakes, Sheelavantharakere, spread over 20 acres, has been restored, thanks to a citizens' initiative.

What was until a few months ago a dumping ground for garbage and rubble from construction sites has come to life again.

The birds are back, fish are breeding again and the water-table is getting recharged.

'Joining hands'

The lake was "adopted" by the Palm Meadows Residents Association from an exclusive leafy suburb, which has many people who work the IT sector.

Lake Sheelavantharakere's restoration has "set an example" for Bangalore, says BK Singh, the head of the government's Lake Development Authority (LDA).

The government does not have the resources to restore the lakes, he says.

"Even when a government agency does take up the task of preserving a lake it runs out of money after some time and the lake falls prey to neglect," says Mr Singh.

And that problem gave rise to the "Adopt a lake" policy.

Under the scheme, a group of residents, builders, and educational institutions can decide to save a lake. The LDA screens the applications.

'Do our bit'

RK Misra, of the Palm Meadows Association, explains the basic problem with lake Sheelavantharakere: "A wall had been built right across the lake bed by a builder."

He says he met cynicism and scepticism among some other residents about his ideas for restoring the lake.

"We wanted to do our bit for our environment and joined hands to make it a success," Mr Misra says.

The cost of restoring the lake, including de-silting and beautification, came to some $200,000 (£115,000).

In the last decade, the IT boom has led Bangalore's population to grow beyond seven million.

This resulted in a construction boom, even on places as unsuitable as lake beds.

Ansar Pasha, a resident of a thriving middle class residential locality, had a rude shock last year when his house was flooded one morning.

"We were never told that we were living on a lake bed. We spent a lot of money to buy an apartment but last year's rains once again showed how the contractors and politicians joined hands to destroy the city's eco-system," Mr Pasha says.

It was discovered that natural outlets of many lakes were either blocked or had disappeared over the years. That led to the lakes spilling over and flooding many parts of the city.

'Lake view'

The lake authority says six more lakes will be handed over to private organisations and real estate companies for restoration.

Environmentalist Suresh Heblikar calls this a "step forward".

"If the government does not have funds then it makes sense to hand them over to private organisations and residents," Mr Heblikar says.

But he warns that the government will have to keep a close tab on those are given management of the lakes.

He cites an instance when a big lake close to the airport was encroached upon and a few multinationals built their offices, only to discover later that the builder had forged land documents.

The LDA argues that real estate developers also have an incentive to save the lakes. If they help restore the lakes, builders can market "lake view" apartments at a premium, says Mr Singh, the LDA chief.

IT executive Suhas Nerurkar, a resident of Palm Meadows, is happy to see a dirty landfill being revived into a thriving lake in his backyard. But, he wonders if the idea to save lakes can be replicated all over Bangalore.

"Saving the lakes requires both (finance) capacity and willingness. I do not think it is easy to do," he says.


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