Thursday, November 27, 2008

The recent high court order gives water bodies back to citizens

The recent high court order gives water bodies back to citizens
Jayashree Nandi | TNN

Bangalore: The Karnataka High Court’s interim order staying privatization of lakes brings new hope to citizens as it clearly prioritizes the rights of people to enjoy nature. The order also emphasized that protection and conservation of lakes is government duty. But the question is: Are people going to get back the three lakes already privatized?
The government is going to get back to the court in a few days with a proposal on how to proceed with the lakes. The parties involved suggest that there are fair chances of getting back the three privatized lakes. The Lake Development Authority (LDA) could also get a makeover with representation from the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) and the tourism department. KSPCB counsel S Basvaraj says the government has two options — i) terminate the contracts early and pay compensation that can add up to a few crores or ii) cancel the contracts straightaway. The chief scretary also proposed a facelift for LDA by adding representatives from other departments like the pollution control board and the tourism department.
There were no illegalities in the contract as such and cancelling it could invoke the damage clause. However, if the court orders cancellation, the government need not bear damages. Chief secretary Sudhakar Rao said the government would comply with “whatever the court says and whatever is good for the people’’.
Money involved
This is not just a landmark case in restoring the citizens’ right to access the beauty of the environment. The case has also revealed the huge revenue that these privatized lakes were generating for the respective companies and the LDA. Soon, there could be an end to this.
According to Sunil Dutt Yadav, the advocate fighting the case for the Environment Support Group (ESG), the report submitted by LDA during the case showed the companies were earning crores of rupees just by having the lake as part of their property, with the LDA contributing a part of it. While the Vengayanakere lake fetched Rs 15 lakh per month, Nagavara lake Rs 40 lakh, Hebbal Rs 72 lakh and Agara Rs 46 lakh. The Lumbini Gardens on the bank of Nagavara lake, for instance, generates up to Rs 2.5 crore per year. Raju Prasad, CEO, Lumbini Gardens, says of this amount, almost Rs 1.6 crore has been given to the LDA in the past four years. All contracts are for 15 years.
ESG filed the petition on January 14, 2008 for stopping privatization of lakes. Yadav says his primary argument was the development of water bodies should involve preserving quality of water to improve aquatic life, improving life and vegetation around lakes and maintaining them for the pleasure of citizens. There shouldn’t be any third-party interest like that of real estate people in the same.
“Though LDA said that leasing out lakes was a non-profit initiative for their development, their own report showed how much revenue these lakes were generating for the companies,’’ he says. The Supreme Court held that according to the public trust doctrine, natural water bodies should be preserved for future generations as representative samples of the ecosystem.
Section 67 of the Land Revenue Act that says state is the owner of lakes has also been flouted by privatizing these lakes. Agencies like the urban forest department, the state forest department, BDA and KSPCB had all supported the argument by filing statements of objection to privatization of lakes by LDA.
Impact of privatization
In 2006, researcher Rohan D’Souza did a study on the impact of privatization of lakes. According to him, the foremost problem with it is denial of public access to public space. “Water is a common property resource. Earlier, lakes supplied water for varied uses to people from all sections of society. The forest around the lakes was used for firewood. Now, these needs have changed to that of leisure or dumping of waste water. At least access to people’s needs from water bodies should not be blocked,’’ he says. Since privatized lakes are primarily for entertainment and enjoyment of the elite, the lakes have been turned into artificial aquaria to keep the water clean. Water bodies fail to retain their natural character. Once, there were over 3,000 lakes in Bangalore; now, there are only about 80.
HABITAT value of lakes
Principal conservator of forests Dilip Kumar says discussions are taking place to come to an agreement on privatized lakes. The government has to find a way of not damaging business, but at the same time take the lakes back under its wing. The forest department is keen on submitting an action plan for 60-66 lakes that have habitat value and can be considered wildlife spots. “Lakes like Puttenahalli, Hebbal and Agara have good habitat value for wildlife like migratory birds. We’ll fence them and post watchmen. I’ll appeal to the government to give funds to protect these lakes,’’ he says, while welcoming the high court order.


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