Sunday 30 June 2013

Where have our lakes gone

Bangalore is a city which is full of surprises. The modern exists, perhaps a little uneasily, with the ancient. Though the urban onslaught on the history and heritage of the history continues, there is growing concern about the need to preserve, protect and even nurture our heritage.
Today, Bangalore is fortunate in having a vocal and growing group of conservationists and urban historians who leave no stone unturned to halt the senseless march of modernity and crass commercialization of the vast open spaces, water bodies, wet lands and green cover.
There have been umpteen number of surveys, studies, research papers, seminars and committees that have gone into and even at this point of time are seized with the issue of decreasing green cover of Bangalore and shrinking water bodies. But what is surprising is that within the Government and its agencies itself, there is no unanimity on a number of issue, including the number of tans and lakes in and around Bangalore.
It is really surprising that no less than sixteen different agencies of the State own or have a right over these water bodies and they range from our very own Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) to the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), Bangalore Urban Jilla Panchayat, Bangalore Rural Jilla Panchayat, Forest Department, Fisheries Department, Minor Irrigation Department, Horticulture Department and even Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Sewerage Board (KUWSSB), Lake Development Authority (LDA) and a few other departments too.
This multiplicity of ownership has resulted in a very peculiar situation with each having its own census and results of tanks and water bodies in Bangalore and around the city.
Thus if Bangalore City has a few active lakes such as Ulsoor, Madivala, Sankey, Yediyur, greater Bangalore area of which Bangalore is a part has many more.
Greater Bangalore comes under the aegis of the Bangalore Metropolitan Regional Development Authority (BMRDA) and its jurisdiction covers both Bangalore urban and rural districts and also parts of Kolar, Chikaballapur, Ramanagar and even Tumkur districts. Thus, BMRDA boundaries are bigger than BBMP boundaries. The BDA too has its own jurisdiction and it too manages a few tanks. 
To add to this confusion, we have the urban and rural jilla panchayats of Bangalore and both have their own records of tanks and lakes.
The many local bodies in and around Bangalore such as Anekal, Hoskote, Kanakapura, Magadi, Bidadi too have their own water bodies and some of them are directly under their control. 
Apart from these civic agencies, the departments such as Agriculture Horticulture, Fisheries, Minor Irrigation, Major Irrigation, Urban Development also have tanks under their jurisdiction.
Thus, we get a variety of agencies involved in the management and protection of water bodies. No wonder, there seems to be no common programme among the agencies or coordination among them to protect the water bodies and each has its own programme, plan and agenda. Thus, the lakes keep disappearing and the money spent in cleaning up one lake goes down the drain as other water body either upstream or downstream is not cleaned.  
If we go by the Government’s own surveys, we get varying estimates of the number of tanks and lakes in and around Bangalore. A case in this is the BBMP whose jurisdiction extends over almost 800 square kilometer which has 183 lakes. Of them, BBMP has jurisdiction over 55 lakes only and 123 water bodies have been handed over to the BDA for management and protection. The BDA has already taken up the development of 123 lakes in three phases, with an estimated cost of Rs159.71 crore even as the BBMP has its own programme. .
One of the earliest  surveys of lakes and tanks in and around Bangalore was undertaken during the time of Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), the ruler of Mysore. This survey was undertaken in 1791 and it was taken up in a scientific manner that had not been done earlier.
In this survey, the lakes were measured, the survey number on which they stood and the tanks beds numbered, their description entered into the revenue records and steps taken to keep them clean and rain fed. The first few man made lakes in Bangalore such as Kempambudhi owe their existence to Kempe Gowda.
After the fall of Tipu Sultan in 1799, Bangalore came under both Wodeyar and British rule and both took steps to augment water supply to Bangalore by building new lakes and tanks and renovating and repairing the existing water bodies.
Many of the lakes constructed by the British,Wodeyars and Kempe Gowda are either gone or are on the verge of extinction. The Minor Irrigation Department, a wing of the Government, which took up a survey of water bodies in Bangalore urban district said there are 608 tanks and lakes of all sizes and shapes and they have a command area of 12,877 hectares with a irrigation potential of 13004 hectares.
However, figures of the Directorate of Economics and Statistics contradoict the Minor Irrigation Department figures. They claim that there were only 652 tanks and lakes and that they have remained the same over the years.
The data in the Season and Annual Crop Report of the Government of Karnataka and the census carried out by the Minor Irrigation Department also do not match each other’s figures. Surprisingly, a report of the Lake Development Authority, which again is a government agency, claims that were 261 lakes in Bangalore till 1961 and that their numbers declined to 81 in 1986. Even the Lakshman Rau report, widely considered to be one of the best such reports, says there were 369 lakes and tanks in Bangalore metropolitan in 1984. The Lakshman Rau report is based on the Comprehensive development plan (CDP)  of BDA. These lakes accounted for 20.60 per cent of the Bangalore Urban and rural districts put together and 59.66 per cent of urban district in 1986-87.
Of the 389 lakes, 262 were in green belt area covering 839.72 sq kms and 127 in non-urban areas covering 449 sq kms.
As per the report, Bangalore north had 61 lakes, south had 98, Anekal 44, Hoskote 23, Magadi 11, Nelamangala 13 and Devanahalli 12 lakes.
An Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) survey has put the number of lakes in Bangalore urban and rural districts at 1888 and in BDA area at 608 with a water spread of 4573 hectares. This is exactly the same as the number of lakes pegged by the Minor Irrigation Department in its survey of  1986-87. 
Before 1986, Bangalore lakes were under the jurisdiction of sixteen departments, including defence, jilla panchayat, BDA, BWSSB, BMP, HAL, Horticulture, Fisheries and Minor Irrigation departments.
Strangely, while the agencies dealing with lakes and tanks have gone up, the number of tanks have come down from 262 in 1960 to 81 in 1986 and 61 in 2006.This means 195 tanks have disappeared from the surface. Where have they gone and which survey do we depend on?
With the lakes and their renovation getting short shrift, Bangalore looks headed for an ecological disaster, the likes of which it had never ever even contemplated. Apart from urban flooding, mismanagement of the inland water system has already led to severe water shortage, depleting water levels, contamination of eater sources and a higher level of stress on Bangalore’s aging water supply system.
The best solution would be to recharge the lakes, clear the storm water drians of all encroachments and ensure that there is no further encroachment of water body. Urban planning has to factor the water bodies and their preservation which so far Bangalore has failed to do.
(This is the third of the article on Bangalore flooding and urban planning) 

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