This is a guest post by Praatika Prasad, an intern at CLPR from Smith College. In her post, she analyzes the Karnataka High Court’s directions to form an Apex Committee to oversee the lakes in Bangalore and she finds that there has been a lack of implementation, even though a year has passed since the order.
Bangalore was once known as “The City of Lakes”. Up until the middle of the last century, it had 262 lakes, ponds and wetlands. Today, the number has gone down to a mere 127, out of which only 81 are said to be alive. Most of the lakes were converted into structures that we see today – Kanteerva Stadium, National Games Village, Bus Stands, etc. The lakes which are existing today face the threat of being encroached in the name of infrastructural development. The growing concern for the fast depleting water bodies and their accompanying biodiversity led the Government of Karnataka to constitute an Expert Committee in 1985. The Committee, headed by N. Lakshman Rau, studied the problems and suggested remedies for the preservation and restoration of the existing lakes. Despite their recommendations, encroachments of lakes have continued, causing deterioration of lake water quality, sedimentation, and shrinkage of the lake area, loss of flora and fauna, shortage of drinking water, pollution and depletion of groundwater, growing mosquito menace and resulting health hazards, and decrease in tourism potential, amongst other problems.
In 2012, several petitions dealing with similar issues of lake conservation, protection and preservation were heard together and the High Court of Karnataka passed a common order (WP 817/2008). The Court directed that lakes and tanks be surveyed and demarcated, that unauthorized construction be removed and biodiversity restored. It also ordered that different authorities will form four different committees for each area, to remove encroachments; and an Apex Committee is formed to oversee the four sub-committees. The Bangalore Bruhat Mahanagara Palike (BBMP), the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), Lake Development Authority (LDA), Commissioners of City Municipal Corporation, Urban Development Authority, Municipality, and District Water Resources, are some of the authorities appointed by the Court to form the four committees. The Apex Committee was given the responsibility to examine quarterly reports from each sub-committee to ensure that appropriate action to remove encroachments was being taken. It was also given the power to entertain complaints and give directions to the sub-committees.
Although a year has passed since the Order was given, very little has been done to improve the condition of the lakes. 25 lakes out of the 55 under the control of the BBMP are still encroached, with 5 of those encroached by slums and 12 others with pending litigation. It does not seem like any of the Committees have met or submitted any reports to the Apex Committee either. This is extremely worrying because not only have the orders of the court not been appropriately followed but also because the lakes’ conditions are continuing to deteriorate, causing a great loss of biodiversity and exposing the people of Bangalore to problems, such as those to do with health, shortage of drinking water, groundwater and mosquito-borne diseases.