The recent Niti Aayog report indicates India could face its worst water by 2030 has put the most valuable non- renewable resource back in the spotlight. Metros like Bengaluru, once known for its expansive lakes, are set to face extreme water stress in the future.
Bengaluru has seen its urban population grown several folds in the last 150 years and this population explosion has come with its own set of evils. Several studies conducted by the Center for Ecological Sciences (CES) and Indian Institute of Science depict a grim picture for one of India’s IT hub.
The impact of urbanisation has not just resulted in diminished lake bodies but also loss of feeder canals. The water bodies have also reduced to less than 1 percent in 2013 from 3.4 percent in 1973. Even the number of trees are just around 1.5 million trees to a human population of over 9.5 million, indicating one tree for seven people in the city.
A field survey of 105 wetlands showed that lakes 98 percent have been encroached for illegal buildings like high rise apartments, commercial building, and slum. Also shockingly nearly 90 percent of lakes are sewage fed and 82 percent of lakes show loss of catchment area. “Every time close to monsoon we see city getting flooded and after that we see a period of drought and no water and people are struggling, this has become an annual feature now. And I think the whole issue is getting exacerbated because of poor governance and poor focus on for our city and the state”, said Revathy Ashok, CEO of the think tank Bangalore Political Action Committee.
While laxity on the part of authorities might be the biggest problem, citizen initiatives to save the cities lakes has literally turned into a movement. Many citizen groups have come forward to form Federation of Bangalore lakes to provide a better bargaining power and lend a stronger voice to save the lakes.
“I think the authorities are rally missing in action and there are plenty of authorities instead of one authority being in charge of all the water bodies in the city there are so many authorities like BWSSB , BDA, BBMP , KSPCB too many authorities and ball being tossed around , hence citizens are definitely ahead of with several corporates pitching in with their CSR funds, definitely citizens are in the forefront of saving this lake,” said Elangovan, an activist with Bellandur lake group, which is a part of the Bengaluru Lake Federation.
While many stake holders are doing their bit, several suggestions have been sent to the government by various representatives groups and academic and research institutes. There is a need for a good integrated governance system in place, with statutory and financial autonomy to act as the custodian of lakes for maintenance and action against polluters.
Some of the recommendations are as under: An effective judicial systems for speedy disposal of conflicts related to encroachment Access to information for the public through digitization of land records and availability of this geo-referenced data with query based information systems Removal of encroachments from lakes, lake water beds and storm water drains, regular cleaning of lakes Proper measures such as fencing to protect lakes and prevent solid waste from going into lakes
But there has been very little success.
“In our ‘Bengaluru dialogue, some very important recommendations were made from TERI's side on the institutional side on legislation what policy changes have to be made and what has to be done on the supply side and demand side, we had made several recommendations and on the institutional side and legislation side several changes have been implemented,” said D N Narasimha Raju, director at Southern Regional Centre, Teri.
Even as the state has been making budgetary allocation for lake development every year including this year, very little has translated into action. With a new coalition government in place in the state and the minor irrigation department now at the helm of maintaining lakes, effective governance still looks like a difficult proposition.With a bigger ministry now in charge and lack of a single dedicated task force with executive powers to take action against errant pollutants, the fate of Bengaluru’s lakes still hangs at the mercy of the government, who is yet to show its allegiance to the city’s lakes .