The Hosakerahalli Lake at Banashankari 3rd Stage was blessed with plenty of rainfall, deep catchment areas and crystal clear water. With the coming in of apartment complexes, land mafia, rampant corruption and mindless greed the lake was literally choked over time. Now it is full of effluents, detergents and mind numbing pollution choking the life of the inhabitants living close by.
The flip side is the Jakkur Lake which was rejuvenated and made to come alive with citizen participation, where they cleaned the lake on Sundays and planted trees. There are fish thriving with an off take of over 100 kg every day and probably sailing every so often.
Rekha Sampath concludes that if we join hands with the local government and work in sync with the administration we can dream the “Impossible Dream:” A healthy environment for us and for our children!
Garden City to Garbage City
Bengaluru (known as Bangalore earlier) is famous for its moderate weather. The geographical location of the city, its elevation of 900 meters above sea level, many parks in the city and plentiful trees – all factors contribute to the admirable weather of this city. Another major factor was the lakes and tanks of the city. Numerous lakes of all sizes dotted the city’s landscape. These lakes helped in keeping the air cool and summers mild. Water tables around the lakes were also helpful in cooling the earth.
Bengaluru was also known as the ‘Garden City’ of India. Bengaluru experienced rapid growth after the Second World War. Industrialization opened up many opportunities and immigrants came in big numbers. Next came globalization and Bengaluru established itself as an “IT Hub.” It is also the homeland for many startup companies in India. Now, with the expanding city and its associated problems, it is infamous as the ‘Garbage City.’
Swift growth of the city swallowed up most small and medium sized lakes. Urbanization has converted many lakes into bus station and stadium layouts and apartment complexes. Encroachment has made small lakes disappear without any trace. Huge trees have also vanished along with lakes. The natural air-conditioned weather in Bengaluru heating up is an example of global warming. Experts have warned that by 2020, Bengaluru could experience heat waves in the summer.
Soil, air and water pollution are also having an effect on Bengaluru’s population. Green zones of the city have been reduced. Air conditioning, innumerable vehicles, huge buildings with glass exteriors, extensive construction activities, shrinking park spaces and lakes are pushing the city into distress. Greenhouse gases are emitted in large quantities.
In fact, the city of Bengaluru –which had no other natural water sources –grew and expanded because of lakes. The same lakes are now dying a slow death due to rapid urbanization. Lakes were built with the main intention of supplying drinking water for domestic use, agriculture and dairy farming. The presence of lakes helped in retaining high water levels in the villages around Bangalore. It is indeed tragic that the lakes have now become sewage collection areas.
The very few remaining lakes and tanks of Bengaluru are in a highly polluted condition. They are fast being encroached upon. One well known beautiful lake that is now in a bad state is Hosakerehalli Lake. It has become a garbage dump yard. Decades ago, this was a life-giving source of water for the surrounding villages. Now, it is on the verge of being damaged beyond repair. There are no aquatic fauna, birds or any creatures around the lake. Hosakerehalli village was known for dairy farming.
How Hosakerehalli Lake used to be
Fisher folk, washer men, dairy farmers and small farmers who had built their livelihood around the lake are not to be seen anymore. Just a handful of them, like Narasamma and Lakshmidevi, are rearing cattle at home.
Many senior citizens, who still remember the lake in its old glory, are nostalgic when they talk about it. Narasamma (75) has been a resident near the lake for the past six decades. Their family was into agriculture and dairy farming. Their family farming land was at a nearby hillock called ‘Yesu gudda.’
She recounts, “the lake had water during summer months. It was a deep, wide lake. There were boulders in between. The lake boundary was marked with stones. The bund was broad and spacious.” The bund has now become a road.
Locals believe that the lake was built by a queen. The story was orally recounted in earlier times and handed down to people spanning generations. The Queen, they say, would sit on a big stone nearby and supervise the work. Every day she stood nearby when the work was going on. It is believed that she was happy creating this lake, as she wanted many people to benefit from this perennial source of water.
Hosakerehalli Lake is located at the base of ‘Yesu gudda,’ near the ring road of Banashankari Third Stage. The total area is 59.25 acres. Clean water sparkled here a few decades ago. It was a life source to villages surrounding that area. The lake was situated at a low point, with elevated ground all around. Rainwater from the high areas would flow down and fill the lake. Three other lakes in a radius of about 3 km were connected to this lake. Water was abundant all year round. The depth was about 30 feet. Overflow from the lake would flow down to the Vrushabhavati valley.
On one side above the lake was the village and farmlands. Ragi (finger millet), Corn, Mustard, Fox millet, and Tur dal were grown as intercrops. Every farm had at least two trees of Tamarind, Neem or Pongamia. There were also paddy fields. So much greenery contributed to cooling the air. Another senior citizen, Bhairegowda, recollects, “It was a beautiful sight around the lake. The breeze was always cool. The soil in the surrounding fields was always moist.”
Narasamma remembers that the lake was full during monsoon months. “All villagers would offer puja during the time when the lake was full. We would offer sheep too (animal sacrifice). It was a time for celebration by everyone in the village community.” Now “there is no celebration – see how our lake has become,” she says. During the rejuvenation of Yediyur Lake, which is about 4 km away, its water was routed to Hosakerehalli Lake. Water was already polluted and more polluted water flowed in. How, she says, “is it justified to pollute one lake while cleaning another lake?”
The pollution of Hosakerehalli Lake
Hosakerehalli Lake was messed up due to many reasons. Locals report that the water got polluted first. Next was encroachment. Canals that brought rainwater to the lake have become sewage canals. Sewage from Jayanagar, Chennamma Kere Achchukattu area, Padmanabhanagar, Chikkalsandra, Ittamadu, IGS Layout, etc. flow to this lake through ‘Raja Kaaluve.’
This Raja Kaaluve belongs to BBMP (Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike), which is not taking any action to clean or clear the encroachment along the Raja Kaaluve. Sewage is directly connected to the lake. Polluted water has resulted in excessive growth of water hyacinth and algae.
Residents from other areas are dumping waste here. All waste from the surrounding areas finds its way to the lake. Debris from old buildings is dumped here. Pigs are thriving. “There is a terrible stink around the lake and the mosquito menace is unbearable. I cannot open the windows at my home,” complains Jayaratna, a resident near the lake. The stink is spread to a large area around the lake. One cannot walk near the lake without covering their noses, and the whole lake looks disgusting.
Some residents, who live near the lake, have tried to stop people from dumping garbage in the lake. Some of them are Jayaratna, Seenanna, Guru Murthy, Ramaiah and Vasudev Murthy. But the garbage-dumping people abuse these people and continue to dump garbage here. “How can we safeguard the lake 24 hours, when it is stinking like this?” they ask helplessly.
The lake was under the Forest Department earlier. The department officials turned a blind eye when encroachment was happening. The encroachers pulled out even boundary stones. Next, the lake changed hands from the BBMP. The lake development authority directed that it should be handed over to BDA for cleaning and then later handed back to them.
BDA has done a couple of surveys of the lake and nothing much after that. Lake rejuvenation is done based on some yardstick, which measures the lake area, its current condition and an assessment to see if the rejuvenation helps the groundwater. BDA has rejuvenated a few lakes of Bengaluru, but took no action here. In fact, the lake worsened after handing the authority over to the BDA. Whenever the local people questioned, BDA somehow managed by giving evasive answers. The belief is that Bengaluru, the Garden and Lake City, was spoiled by BDA. It has let many people encroach this area. Many other lakebeds have been encroached and converted into land areas for development.
BBMP had committed to pay 50% of the amount to BDA for rejuvenating the lake. Not a single rupee was given. Local people are unhappy about the corporator. BDA’s letters to BBMP have not been answered.
The Water and Sanitation department also fails in planning for the future. By the time its projects are implemented, the sewage flow would have doubled. For example, by the time it sets up one STP unit, the sewage flow will be much more than the unit’s capacity. Hosakerehalli Lake has yet to have an STP unit. Lake development has now become a distant dream.
Chittibabu, Bairanna, Narasimhababu – all were farmers earlier. They have now become real estate agents and helped in lake encroachment. About 4.37 acre is encroached by NICE Company and toll roads are built. Locals strongly name some of the political figures that are hand in glove in this encroachment scheme. Unofficial figures show that about 23 acres of the lake area have been encroached so far.
Hosakerehalli Lake water is so polluted now that it is full of toxins and unfit to use. As a result, even groundwater is contaminated. The water supply pipes and sewage pipes run next to each other. Lakshmi, resident of Mukambika nagar, says, “We never drink the Kaveri water. Sometimes it smells bad, as if mixed with sewage water. We get drinking water from a bore well much above the lake. That water is good.”
Following are the pollution causing factors:
- Phosphates: Bath soap, detergents, and dishwashing soap – all contain phosphates. High levels of phosphate in lake water encourage water weeds to grow rapidly. More plant growth in the lake water means higher phosphate levels.
- Potassium: Industrial effluents contain potassium and this too facilitates weed growth.
- Nitrogen: Domestic sewage water has plenty of nitrogen. Weed growth is promoted with increased nitrogen.
- Ammonia: Weeds on water flourish because of the above chemicals. Plant roots have bacteria that release ammonia. When weeds cover a large portion of the water surface, sunlight does not reach into the water, and aquatic animals die without oxygen. The dead animals release more ammonia.
- Hazardous waste in the garbage mixes with water and pollutes it more.
- Building material
- Waste water from the nearby garment factory
- Construction dust and garbage
Hosakerehalli Lake rejuvenation has many hurdles. The water board has tough bureaucracy.
BDA and BBMP are passing the buck to each other. The Small and Minor Irrigation department used to take up lake rejuvenation with Central government funds. But now, the central government has stopped these funds. ‘No funds’ has become the excuse for the rejuvenation work, which has never begun.
BBMP ward’s newly elected corporator, Ms. Rajeshwari Cholaraj is the new hope. She does not promise anything yet, but the residents are hopeful.
The lake’s rejuvenation has multiple benefits for the local community. In the adjacent areas, people living in about 6 or 7 locations would get a clean environment. The place could be developed as a community park; the place is ideal as a public place for walking and such related activities. Saplings can be planted along the lake border, ensuring fresh air. Aquatic animals would do well and birds would come back.
What needs to change:
- Encroachment has to be seriously checked. Areas already encroached upon should be cleared without fail.
- Raja kaluve encroachment has to be cleared at the earliest. This canal has to be maintained from time to time.
- Rain water harvesting for plots bigger than 30’x40′ must be made mandatory by law. This rule has to be strictly enforced. No one is implementing this rule now. This measure would prevent rainwater from mixing with sewage and flowing into the lake. Several studies have been made and have documented that Bengaluru gets plenty of rainfall and has enough to sustain the city for 3-4 months. Unless we learn to value rainwater, our water problems will not be solved.
- Several big apartment complexes let out their sewage water to the lake. STP should be compulsorily installed at these complexes. The Water Board is mulling over making STP mandatory for small apartment complexes (8 houses). Enforcing the rule is the challenge and it has to be strictly enforced. An STP unit is the size of a big refrigerator and costs about 3 lakh rupees. Treated water can be used for most purposes except for drinking.
- Untreated water should not flow into the lake through sewage channels. This has to be regulated.
- After the rejuvenation work, maintenance of the lake has to be done every year.
- The Lake Development Authority (LDA) was formed as per the orders from the High Court. This body is not efficient. This has to be reconstituted and should include experts in the fields of the environment, scientists, local residents, police, etc. These members should be given appropriate responsibilities. Sufficient funds should be provided to these bodies and all lakes in the city have to be developed. Dedicated work by such a body will make sure that all lakes of Bengaluru will be rejuvenated in a couple of years.
- Industries must be made to treat water before they let it out into the sewage channel. Nonconforming units should be shut down.
- Soap and detergent manufacturers should be directed to limit the phosphorous content to 10%. At present this is up to 25%. High phosphorous levels affect the water in a big way. Unregulated phosphorous content will cause white foam like that seen at Bellandur Lake.
- Lakshmana Rao committee has submitted its report about lake rejuvenation twice. As per the committee’s suggestion, many lakes of the city were handed over to the Forest Department. When Hosakerehalli Lake was handed over, there was not much pollution and all it needed was some renewing steps like tree saplings along the border, not allowing sewage water into the lake, not allowing new residential layouts, etc. Unfortunately, the Forest Department did not follow any of the guidelines. Just a few bamboo groves were planted.
- “Unless lakes are rejuvenated, a city cannot aspire to overcome its problems,” says IAS officer V. Balasubramanian (Rtd.). “We are trying to follow the Singapore model of city development. There more than 40% of sewage water is reused after treatment. We must implement it here too.”
Community partnership and participation in saving the lake
The local community should be made aware of the importance of the lake. They must feel that it is their lake, belongs to the community and they must take care of it. Those found dumping garbage should be heavily fined. Awareness on the importance of water management should be spread. Children and youth should be educated on these issues through schools and colleges. The Bellandur Lake issue is now on social media and a ‘Save Bellandur Lake’ group is now formed, with more than 20,000 members. Social media could also be used for saving Hosakerehalli Lake.
A lake is a public property. Along with government bodies, local community involvement plays a major role. No projects can be implemented without partnering with the local community. The government has realized this and has let public groups take care of lake management. The best example is Jakkur Lake.
Karnataka Jnana Aayoga has made several recommendations for lake development:
- Lake water has to be tested.
- Silt removal should be done on a regular basis.
- 5-8 meter-wide bamboo groves should be planted along the periphery of the lake.
- The surface of the water should be cleaned and the accumulated debris removed.
- Initiatives should be encouraged for growing herb gardens, butterfly gardens and orchid gardens.
- An artificial island should be created for birds.
- Safety measures should be made mandatory for those taking boat rides.
- Unauthorized activities around the lake should be stopped.
- The areas surrounding the lake should be properly maintained and kept clean.
- Measures should be taken for preventing lake water pollution.
- There should be an increase of trees around lake.
There should be a good jogging track along the periphery of the lake with seating arrangements for those seeking to pause and take a break. Facilities for good lighting should be in place. The local community must fight hard for their lake. Every citizen must join hands for this purpose. The public must be ready to take up responsibility for its regular maintenance. It is not a difficult task for the community, if they have a genuine concern for the wellness of their locality.
The success story of Jakkur Lake rejuvenation
Jakkur Lake was one of the interlinked lakes in Bengaluru. Water from upper Yelahanka Lake flowed here. Yelahanka Lake is quite clean and unpolluted. By the time it poured into Jakkur Lake through Rajakaluve, sewage water from the surrounding locality and from apartment complexes got into it and became highly polluted. The Sewage Board had also made channels into the lake to let out sewage from the surrounding areas. The lake was in a highly polluted state.
Excess levels of pollutants – phosphate, nitrogen, and ammonia – were choking the lake. Mosquitoes were in the thousands. No aquatic creatures or birds were present. The entire lake was stinking. It was so unbearable that the local people decided to do something to save the 168-acre lake. Most people there were immigrants from other parts of the country. They came together and formed ‘Jal poshan’ – a civic group. The chief of this group, Dr. Anuradha Kamath, says, “The local people who had been residing here for a long time did not support us initially. But, impressed by the efficiency of our group, they joined in.”
The lake was once developed by BDA and handed over to BBMP. With no maintenance and negligence, it had sunk into a bad condition. That was when the Jal Poshan association was formed and took up the community partnership contract.
The members began with continuous programs bringing in awareness about garbage dumping and waste management. A specified place near the lake was marked for garbage collection. BBMP workers picked up the garbage from there. This system was put in place after sustained follow up and many phone calls. Every Sunday, members of the association would clean the lake.
Local tree varieties have been planted along the lake bund, with help from the Forest Department. They include Pongamia, ‘Hoovarasi,’ etc.
The Water and Sewage Board set up a 10 MLD capacity STP unit. This treatment plant receives wastewater from Yelahanka and from areas around Jakkur. The plant is currently able to let out 8 million liters of treated water. To purify this water further, a wetland was created with guidance from experts. This man-made wetland, with waterweeds, further purifies the water through a natural process and then lets out clean water into the lake. Therefore the lake is fed with 8 million liters of treated water every day, which in turn recharges the ground, increases the water table, and fills up the bore wells and the beautiful old open wells. The constant water inflow has helped the lake become a hotspot for biodiversity. It also ensures that the lake is always full.
- The groundwater levels are good and the lake is clean and serene.
- The entire area is cool and green without the pervading smell that used to lurk here earlier. The walking track is a mud track, which ensures absorption of rainwater.
- Plastic is strictly prohibited.
- A separate small tank is built for Ganesha idol immersion and other such activities.
- Fishermen catch up to 100 kg of fresh fish every day.
Jakkur Lake is the shining example for urban water management, where participation from the local community has worked wonders. There are still small issues like the lack of capacity for STP. The Water Board is burdened with the running and maintenance cost of STP. These are being worked out.
Jal Poshan Association hopes that the good work will be carried out by the next generation. The next downstream lake is Devarayasandra Lake. Inspired by Jakkur Lake, locals around Deverayasandra Lake have come together to save their lake.
Urban water management is the best way to address water woes. Jakkur people are indeed laudable for their involvement and interest. Similarly, the Hosakerehalli local community has to come forward to save their lake and improve the environment. If the local community stands strong, all government and other agencies will cooperate to make the change happen.
This article is originally written in Kannada. Translated from Kannada to English by Divya Sharma, and edited by Suresh Mathew.