‘New Government, Old BBMP’ quipped a famous citizen of Bengaluru when I asked about her thoughts on the Government initiative of Brand Bengaluru, rightfully so it is a common feeling among most citizens who have made Bengaluru their home.
The idea of Brand Bengaluru was incubated by former Chief Minister SM Krishna, who took a holistic approach to build Brand Bengaluru and one big step on environment was to create Lake Development Authority (LDA), with a vision to have an exclusive agency for conservation of lakes in BMRDA jurisdictions.
In 2014 Siddaramaiah led Government passed a landmark Bill that led to formation of Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority (KLCDA), LDA was merged into KLCDA, eventually in 2018 KLCDA was done away with, there by transferring the responsibilities to Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority (KTCDA). Later in 2021 Bommai led Government handed over all the Bengaluru Lakes to BBMP Lakes Division, much against the suggestions of the experts, activists, and citizens as the move defeated the core of the city vision for lakes.
For Brand Bengaluru to become a reality the Lakes of Bengaluru that were once responsible for greenery, better air quality, biodiversity, flood control, good weather, aesthetics needs attention, with a greater focus on conservation and uninterrupted allocation of funds.
Decentralization of lakes management it effectively letting the local elected representatives make decisions on the lakes in their wards, thereby failing as none have a shared vision, nor the priorities of the elected representatives is common for every ward. Hence Bengaluru needs a sustainable uncompromising plan to reclaim the title of ‘City of Lakes,’ and here are some key ideas to begin with:
Strong Authority - create a separate authority or board to reclaim, restore, revive, rejuvenate, conserve the lakes. Separate authority can develop and implement a holistic and integrated approach for lake conservation. It can ensure that planning, development, and maintenance activities around the lakes are properly coordinated, including measures to address pollution, encroachments, and other issues. Dedicated authority can attract professionals and experts in the field who can effectively manage the challenges associated with lake ecosystems. In a separate authority, there would be clearer accountability for the management of lakes, that can ensure that decisions are made transparently and effectively, without undue influence from other agencies or interest groups.
Vision for Lakes - with overall Vision for Bengaluru Lakes must begin with re-establishing the network system and inter lake connectivity, which is a key step to mitigate floods as well. Lake revival and conservation should not be an isolated project, the failure of BBMP Lake Division is the isolated approach with lack of intent to consider the entire lake network, and non-involvement of the local stakeholders (citizens, fishermen, activists, farmers etc.) who play a major role in being the eyes and ears of the lake.
Recovery & Revival - implement suggestion of Justice N K Patil report, recovery of lake lands and buffer zones as per NGT guidelines and fence the lakes as an initial step to protect them. Revival of lakes needs a comprehensive plan on catchments area, inlets, wetlands, biodiversity, utilities based on the shared vision for the lakes.
Strategic STPs - treat the disease not the symptoms, cleaning the SWDs and stopping the flow of pollutants into the SWDs which are the lifelines of a lake should be the priority and not forcing an STP on every lake. STPs must be implemented as strategic interventions because maintenance and the land for STPs does not come cheaper. Treated water from the STPs should be allowed to flow into the SWDs, this ensures the lake inlets and outlets do not become redundant.
Policy Stability - Bengaluru Lakes have been a victim of constant policy changes leading to inconsistency and apathy, multiple experiments on lakes need to end, thereby making way to a clear and consistent sustainable conservation policy. Most of the maintenance is via ad-hoc contracts that needs to be done away with and a robust model of lake guards like forest guards could ensure better focus on conservation and protection of lakes.
Committed Budget - allocation of funds that can address the routine maintenance of the lakes has to be a priority, the social benefits and environmental impact of a revived lake exceeds its maintenance cost, hence there is a need for Government to consider lakes as social assets and invest in conservation and protection.
Success of Brand Bengaluru is directly dependent on the vision for environment and lakes and, city cannot thrive or boost of development if it leaves behind the core of its existence.