Water bodies in Bangalore are either natural lakes, man made lakes or tanks which have been built from the 16th century to meet the water requirements of the population. Bangalore lakes are also part of the local hydrologic system. It helps keeping monsoon waters for the drier periods of the year, to canalise these important flows preventing water logging, inundation and erosion, and to ensure the refilling of groundwater. They also support a rich ecosystem, with a great variety of animals and plants.
The increase in population in the recent decade has resulted in extension of residential areas on drained lakes. The pollution from the household and industrial wastes in turn destroys the remaining lakes. Thus these water bodies are unable to meet the growing needs of the population. The disappearance of Bangalore’s lakes started in the 80s. While in 1961 there were 262 lakes, official statistics today mention 117 lakes, but only 33 lakes are still more or less visible on satellite imagery. Over the last decades, lakes have been rented to private constructors. The authorities themselves have built their own infrastructures on lakebeds whereas other areas have been illegally encroached upon. Previous lakes have thus been transformed into residential and commercial areas, universities, bus stands, stadium or golf course. Some lakes are now used as dump for domestic and industrial wastes or open sewage.
Different individuals and NGOs have come forward to save the lakes time to time. In 2002, the state government constituted the Lake Development Authority for conservation and restoration of the lakes in Bangalore. The authority in turn leased out lakes to private parties in the name of development.
Padmashree Zafar Futehally was the first person to file a PIL in the HC of Karnataka to save the tanks in and around Bangalore. In 2007, Rudrappa, who is the founder secretary of a non-governmental organisation Vishwa Adhyatma Vikasa Prathisthana, filed PIL questioning the action of the state and its agencies in not maintaining the 81 tanks in Bangalore metropolitan area. In 2008, the Environment Support Group (ESG) and Leo Saldanha tried to stop the privatization of lake by filing a PIL in the HC against the state government. The court proceeding is still in process.
The lake is under PILs (W.P. No. 31343/1995, W.P. No. 13986/2007 and W. P. No. 817/2008) filed in the HC of Karnataka. The cases are under the consideration of the HC. Followings are some of the highlights.
Padmashree Zafar Futehally filed a writ petition in the High Court of Karnataka against the state for large-scale indiscriminate grant and unauthorized occupation of tank bed areas in and around Bangalore. He pleaded for interim direction so that the respondents protect the tanks.
The High Court issued a direction to the respondents “not to make any grant or allotment of the lands situated in the Bangalore Metropolitan area until further orders” with specific regard to tanks.
Norwegian Prime Minister Mr. Jens Stoltenberg inspected the Hebbal Lake as a part of a review of the Indo Norwegian Environment Programme’s support for the rehabilitation and rejuvenation of Hebbal Lake.
In July, the state government vide its order no. FEE 12 ENG 2002 constituted the Lake Development Authority (LDA) with immediate effect as a registered society per the Karnataka Societies Registration Act, 1960, as a “non-profit organisation working solely for the regeneration and conservation of lakes in and around Bangalore city”.
The Government of Karnataka issued a corrigendum tin December to the Department of Forests, Ecology and Environment stating that the jurisdiction of LDA had expanded to include -the metropolitan areas of Bangalore and would include the area notified under the Bangalore Metropolitan Region Development Authority (BMRDA). It would also cover lakes in the green belt of Bangalore. LDA would also have jurisdiction over the lakes in the other city municipal corporations of the state as well as the lakes in those city municipalities, which are the main sources for drinking water.
An agreement was arrived at between the Respondent 2, Lake Development Authority, and Respondent 15, M/s Lumbini Gardens Ltd., for leasing out to the latter the Nagawara Lake for a period of 15 years for a monetary consideration.
PIL filed by B. K. Bhat against the state government of Karnataka and LDA in in particular the HC of Karnataka to ensure that no sewage enters the lake and tanks of the state.
An agreement was arrived at between the LDA and M/s E. I. H. Ltd. Lin June for leasing out to the latter the Hebbal Lake for a period of 15 years for a monetary consideration of approximately 1 Rupee per square foot per year.
Two days later, Respondent 3, the Karnataka Department of Forests, Ecology and Environment, transferred the administration and custody of Hebbal Tank from the office of Respondent 5, Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bangalore Urban Division, to Respondent 2, LDA.
In April, an agreement was arrived at between the Respondent 2 (LDA) and M/s Biota Natural Systems (I) Pvt. Ltd. leasing out to the latter the Agaram Lake for a period of 15 years for a monetary consideration.
Letter issued by the Deputy Conservator of Forest (Bangalore Urban Division) in August to the Conservator of Forests (Bangalore) seeking initiation of proceedings under the Wildlife Protection Act (1972) against M/s EIH Ltd. (Respondent 16) for destroying aquatic life in Hebbal Tank.
A city-based advocate, Rudrappa, who is also the founder secretary of a non-governmental organisation Vishwa Adhyatma Vikasa Prathisthana, filed PIL questioning the action of the state and its agencies in not maintaining the 81 tanks in Bangalore metropolitan area.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Cyriac Joseph and Justice Ashok B. Hinchigeri asked the government advocate to verify facts on the issue and place the material before the court.
Respondent 5 (Karnataka State Forest Department) by way of a letter No. A7-Lake-Transfer-CR/-7-08, issued notice on Respondent _ per Section 9 r/w Section 51 of the Wildlife Act to show cause why criminal action should not be initiated for destroying the Hebbal tank habitat, in particular “the nests and eggs of many birds and animals which are listed under schedules of The Wild Life (Protection) Act 1972”.
In April, the Environment Support Group (ESG) and Leo Saldanha brought this controversy in front of the Justice as it filed a PIL against the privatization of lakes in the High Court. It asserted that only the Government was entitled to lease out on bail, whereas the LDA is not. LDA had therefore overstepped its authority and had not fulfilled its task of rehabilitating the lakes. The ESG demanded the cancellation of the three leases (Agara, Hebbal and Nagawara ) and opposed the decision of the LDA to lease out 12 more lakes to private real estate and hotel builders.
In May, A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Cyriac Joseph and Justice A.N. Venugopala Gowda asked Biota and Lumbini Gardens and its Managing Director to file their statements within a week on petitions by Environmental Support Group and Leo Saldanha.
In June, ESG and Leo Saldanah file a rejoinder against the objection of LDA on the issue whether the writ petition should be allowed.
In a new protest against privatisation of lakes in the city, almost 500 residents had signed appeals —online and in person — urging Principal Chief Conservator of Forests Dilip Kumar to “abandon” the programme of handing over lakes to private companies to develop them into recreation hubs.
In response to B.K. Bhat’s PIL, the HC directed that no sewage should flow into the lakes or tanks, the lake area would be surveyed by the revenue department and fencing would done at the expense of the respondents, the forest department was ordered to plant trees and saplings and member secretary of state legal services was directed to coordinate the work of the respondents.
In November, HC passed an interim order. HC of Karnataka had restrained the government and private parties from proceeding with any further investment or development of lakes based on the privatisation (PPP) model. The HC gave two weeks to state government to file a comprehensive plan for the protection of lakes and gardens.
In February, the court directed the state government so that the Department of Ecology, Environment, and Forests file a comprehensive report on March 4 about the preservation of lakes.
In March, The petitioners filed a rejoinder as the report was filed by LDA instead of Department of Ecology, Environment, and Forests as directed by the court. Hon'ble High Court had specifically asked the state, in particular the 3rd Respondent (Department of Ecology, Environment, and Forests) who was present in the hearing on 17 February 2009, to conduct a meeting of Petitioners and Respondents with due dispatch and report back to the Court the details thereof. According to the petitioners the mere fact that the Principal Secretary of the Department of Forests, Environment & Ecology chaired the meeting did not constitute a process of the State as directed by the Court, since the meeting was called by Respondent-2 (LDA) and not Respondent-3 (Department of Ecology, Environment, and Forests) as should have been the case.
The first phase will include 31 lakes around Bangalore, of which, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) will begin the work on 12.
Oberoi Group’s misinterpreted the High Court Order that restrained “further development” of four lakes, including Hebbal, leased to private companies. The court order only stalled further development in the four lakes. But each leaseholder seems to have interpreted the order in a different way. As a result, it has been nearly a year that the lake was de-weeded, something that could undermine the wetland ecosystem.
In August, the HC directed the government to provide details about all the lakes in Bangalore, steps taken to protect them and also the future measures to preserve them. The division bench headed by Justice D V Shailendra Kumar and Arvind Kumar has also directed the government to furnish details about the officers of the Lake Development Authority, (LDA) who are responsible for protecting the lakes.
In November, the HC constituted a ten member committee in an order dated November 26, 2010, to examine the ground realities and prepare an action plan for the preservation of lakes in Bangalore. The committee is headed by Justice N K Patil of Karnataka High Court and Chairman of the Karnataka High Court Legal Services Committee.
According to the report, ‘Action Plan for Preservation of Lakes in Bangalore, submitted by the committee, Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board would only send treated water into the lakes by 2014.