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The case of vanishing lakes

USHA RAJAGOPALAN, 06 Jun 2011

Once upon a time, not so long ago, our city with its salubrious climate, smooth roads and countless trees made it a pensioners’ paradise. Indeed, Bengaluru had at least two other names as well – The Garden City and the City of Lakes.

All this changed within the last three decades or so. The tree cover has been blown and the lakes are vanishing. If in the 1830s there were an incredible 19,800 lakes and tanks, by the 1960s the number dwindled to 280 and reduced further by 1990 to less than 80. They vanished as quickly as the population zoomed for, they gave way to residential colonies, stadia and office complexes.

Old timers like fellow PNLIT trustee Arathi’s mother Rukmani Manay remembers fondly, and with considerable sorrow, how as a child she used to fish in Akkithimnanahalli Tank in Richmond Town. Arathi used to call it “Mud Tank,” a name which reflects its degradation into a stagnant pool that was a breeding ground for mosquitoes. In the early 80s, under a malaria eradication programme, the erstwhile tank was filled up completely. A part of it became a playground and the rest was it was built over into offices. That was the end of the Akkithimmanahalli Tank.

Unlike cities that have a major river running through them, Bengaluru is fully dependent on rain water. The undulating topography guided the water into streams that were dammed into many smaller tanks. This meant that the water bodies were originally connected to each other; water from a lake at a higher level flowed to one lower down and still further down through a canal system called the kaluve. Since they were rain fed, only the bigger lakes had water through the year, the small and medium sized tanks dried up in summer.

Encroachments being the order of the day, buildings came up over many of the kaluves and inflow into those lakes and tanks was blocked. Consequently, flooding in low lying areas became common but the lake dried steadily, its boundary shrank and its bed rose with people in the locality throwing garbage into it. To compound matters, lorries and tractor tipped construction debris into these precious water bodies making it convenient for squatters to extend their hutments even further.

The slum, in turn, gave way to concrete buildings and the lake became a fading memory in people like Arathi’s mother.

This is the condition of all the lakes and tanks in the city. This was true of our Puttenahalli Lake too. The photo taken in December 2008 shows how the lake was becoming a dumping ground.

Dumping in Puttenahalli Lake, in 2008. Pic: Usha Rajagopal.

In the BBMP website, with a single exception of “Lake Inside BEL Campus” shown as a “Waterbody,” each one of the lakes/tanks is marked as polluted, dry or marshy. The list was compiled in 2009 and shows desilting work in progress in six lakes.

Our Puttenahalli kere is indicated as polluted. It was desilted in February last year but remains polluted. Sewage water from the adjoining Lakshmi Layout trickles steadily into the lake throughout the year but come monsoon, two of the six inlets let in rain water. The dirty water helps proliferation of aquatic weeds to such an extent that the water level may go up but its depth below the marshy surface will remain a mystery. “Where is the water in the lake?” is the question we are asked every so often.

Friends, it is there all right. If you look closely, you’ll see the ripples made by fishes darting in the water. You will see the purple herons, darters, coots and swamp hens thriving because of the food they get from the lake. Even though Puttenahalli Lake will never have sparkling blue water like a swimming pool, we have a lot to be thankful for. Most importantly because it has survived. It did not vanish like hundreds of other lakes and tanks in the city!


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