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City of foaming lakes and fire
Bengaluru will be an unlivable, dead city in five years. Thanks to senseless urbanisation – 525 per cent growth in the built-up area in the last four decades - the city has lost 88 per cent of vegetation and 79 per cent of water bodies.

By the deadline, 94 per cent of the city’s landscape will be under concrete, signaling two dangers: new constructions mean more of the lake areas occupied and, secondly, with proper sewerage infrastructure never keeping pace with the new developments, sewage let into the lakes in callous disregard of the consequences to humans and the water bodies. 

This chilling reality was brought into focus by Prof T V Rama- chandra of the Indian Institute of Sciences’ Centre for Ecological Sciences. Ramachandra was speaking at a Spotlight programme organised by Deccan Herald to discuss ways of “bringing Bellandur and Varthur lakes back to life.”

These are not just figures, he explained, adding “the lakes and trees that surrounded you have quietly disappeared as a result of the urban sprawl.” He was his crusading self, not sparing anyone for the sorry state of affairs as Karnataka’s Minister for Bengaluru sat on the dais and listened. 

The passionate professor lamented the fact that the garden city had become a garbage city. He disclosed that wherever he went around the world, scientists these days recalled Bengaluru as “the city of foaming lakes and fire.”  

The main culprits have been the land sharks who, with the tacit support of the political class and officialdom, have paid scant respect to building rules, encroaching on lake beds and raising structures on drains. With industrial effluents being let in and garbage dumped indiscriminately, it was only a matter of time before things went out of hand. 

 

Garden city to garbage city...

Concerned citizens and activist groups have been campaigning for years against these unlawful trends. Last year, the government displayed a sudden burst of civic responsibility and ordered demolition of encroachments. Apartment blocks were bulldozed down mercilessly, despite the owners possessing valid sanctions for construction and all the needed permits. The fault was not theirs, but their only recourse was to the builder, provided they could find him. Following public outcry, an action of sorts was taken against officials who had granted permission for such patently illegal constructions. Soon, however, all focus vanished as rapidly as it appeared. In April this year, after a fire broke out on the Bellandur lake surface, the National Green Tribunal took suo moto action and in a series of orders shut down over a hundred industrial units functioning in the vicinity till a review was undertaken. Most of these were garment and electroplating enterprises. 

 

Governance woefully in short supply...

The fuming lakes and the fire may finally result in some good. The government has taken up programmes to clean the two lakes and resolved to implement its rules and regulations. Measures are being put in place to check dumping of waste and inflow of untreated sewage. That surveillance cameras are needed to try and catch the culprits is a measure of the determination of the land mafias and the forces that the government is up against. Governance is  woefully in short supply. 

Another example of incomprehensible inaction relates to rainwater harvesting. The city receives 70 per cent of its water requirements through rain, and the Bengaluru Municipal Corporation mandates all residences to provide for rain harvesting. This is yet one more rule that is flouted with impunity, much like another laudable initiative, garbage desegregation.

In his no-holds-barred speech at the Spotlight programme, Dr. Ramachandra blamed the government for waking up late, reminding them that it was time “to step out of the era of excuses.” Underlining the importance of saving the wetlands from the land mafia if one were to save the lakes of Bengaluru, he said, “buildings and developers have caused severe damage to the fragile wetland. These wetlands act as kidneys of the ecosystem as they filter surface water.”  

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