After the Karnataka High Court issued a contempt notice on August 29, the State Government has finally constituted a lake protection committee for maintenance and development of water bodies in the city. This three-member committee will be headed by the Commissioner of the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), the Chief Executive Officer of the Lake Development Authority and the Deputy Conservator of Forests, Bangalore Urban district.
The purpose of this committee will be to ensure wise usage, appropriate rehabilitation, protection and conservation of lakes and their canal networks as well as strict compliance with the directives. The Committee has also been instructed to hear any appeals on violation of the Court's directives and issue appropriate orders.
The committee has been constituted as per the Karnataka High Court’s orders on April 11, 2012 on a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by Environment Support Group (ESG), B. Krishna Bhat and others, seeking directions to the State on the preservation of lakes.
Leo F Saldanha, a full time coordinator at the Environment Support Group, says, "I'm sure this will help the lakes in Bangalore. Already, people have started filing complaints regarding lakes to the committee. Now all the State government has to do, is make sure that this concept works. If even now the committee doesn't work, it will clearly point to the pathetic state of governance in this city."
According to Saldanha, the main advantage of this panel is that now the people need not rush to the High Court for registering a complaint. And if the panel fails to give a ruling, an apex committee has also been put in place to take care of matters.
This allows the High Court to deal with wider issues, rather than work with specific lake problems.
"The real responsibility now actually lies with the people of Bangalore. They can't complain anymore and should finally take the onus onto themselves. The public needs to use the committee and get the surveys done of each and every lake in the city. And these surveys need to be done on the basis of legitimate maps that were made in 1907 and 1915 and not the bogus maps that are floating around these days. The surveys should also include the rajkaluves (canals) and not just the lakes, as it is the canals that ensure lakes are filled with water," says Saldanha.
In an effort to protect lakes, the Government of Karnataka had set up the Lake Development Authority (LDA) mandating it with the task of conserving them as they form a critical support system for extending water security. However, weak regulations led to widespread encroachment and pollution of lakes and this has resulted in a variety of environmental and public health impacts.
To stem the degradation of lakes across Karnataka, the Environment Support Group and several other individuals filed a PIL in the High Court of Karnataka. The Court responded by constituting a Committee under Justice N. K. Patil, to provide a series of recommendations and guidelines to protect, conserve, rehabilitate and wisely use lakes and their watersheds in the Bangalore region.
Following this, the Court instructed the State Government to immediately constitute District Level Lake Protection Committees and an Apex Committee at the State level in consultation and collaboration with the Karnataka Legal Services Authority.
However, action was initiated more than a year later, last week, after a contempt notice was served on the state government.