Catch Every Drop: Puttenahalli, the People's lake

By Usha Rajagopalan

22nd Feb 2013

Bangalore had 262 wetlands in 1962, and by 2007, these had already declined by a whopping 58%, according to a study by the Centre for Ecological Sciences, Indian Institute of Science. A fallout of Bangalore’s rapid development, a significant number of lakes have been converted to residential complexes, apartments, playgrounds and the like, while many more have been lost to sewage dumping, garbage and ground water mining. Lakes are an integral part of water conservation in a city. Usha Rajagopalan talks about how one such lake was restored to its former glory, all due to citizen action.

Puttenahalli Lake in J.P. Nagar 7th Phase is an example of what people can do to rejuvenate a lake, thereby recharging the water table in the area. Seeing a 13 acre lake misused to the point of becoming extinct, four of us living in the area got together to “save the lake.” Spreading awareness in the neighbourhood of the importance of the lake we built a strong base of goodwill and support. After campaigning for a couple of years, we succeeded in getting the BBMP to take up the lake for rejuvenation with the help of Dr. Ashwin Mahesh.

We registered the Puttenahalli Neighbourhood Lake Improvement Trust (PNLIT) in June 2010 and assumed the role of custodians of the lake, albeit unofficially. Even the presence of the workers did not stop miscreants from trying to steal the metal, stones, etc. especially at night. We therefore sought donations from the community and hired security guards to ensure that the work proceeded smoothly. In May 2011, PNLIT signed an MoU with the BBMP and became the first citizens’ group in the city to officially maintain a lake. We meet expenses mostly from donations made by well-wishers.

Our goals for the lake were:

• Ensure that no sewage or pollutants are let in.

• Divert rain water from all possible sources into the lake.

• Transform the lake into a secure avian habitat.

• Make people living in the neighbourhood stakeholders in the lake by contributing their time, effort and money.

• Spread awareness of the importance of rain water harvesting and other water saving methods.

• Encourage citizens’ participation in the restoration of other lakes in the city.

Accordingly, we got the BWSSB to divert grey water entering the lake flow instead into an UGD. We did a survey to assess the topography and got the BBMP to initiate steps to harvest rain water from alternate sources. Work on a diversion channel is under way.

Over time we’ve planted over 300 trees around its periphery. More than 60 species of birds have been spotted in the lake vicinity this past year. We intend to plant shrubs that will attract butterflies, bees and small birds. We conduct nature trails, and bird watch sessions regularly especially for schools.

With two gardeners and a sweeper maintaining the plants and the lake premises, the number of people who visit the lake for walking, bird watching or simply to enjoy the fresh air is increasing steadily. We do not permit misuse of the lake and are physically there for long periods of time every day to enforce discipline.

Given that we are a five member team, we rope in volunteers in various capacities such as supervisors, garden help or to assist in our activities which are predominantly aimed at spreading awareness among children and adults of the importance of nurturing the environment.

Water harvesting in a lake might seem unnecessary but we collect water from the roofs of the Gazebo, security cabin and toilets and use it for our plants. Likewise, to reduce use of plastic, we make and sell cotton shopping bags.

Protecting an open public space is fraught with challenges. Our biggest concern is the continued presence of encroachers living on the lake bund. This is a problem common with most lakes and needs not just government support but also political will to tackle it. With the Puttenahalli Lake model encouraging individuals and RWAs to follow suit and restore more lakes, the onus is on the government to do their share. It is only by working together can we win our war for water and make Bengaluru the city of lakes once again.

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Catch Every Drop is a campaign on sustainable water conservation by The Alternative, sponsored by Arghyam, with partners India Water Portal.


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