Saturday, May 30, 2020

Why do we even bother about Puttenahalli Lake?

It is with deep anguish that we are sharing the news of a house in the slum on our lake bund collapsing in the rain on the night of 28th May. Fortunately there was no loss of life or injury to anyone. 


House collapse, 28th March 2020
The Hindu, 30th March 2020
After seeing how extensively the slum dwellers had damaged the revetment by leveling the slope for their kitchen gardens and planting by the edge of the water, we had alerted the concerned authorities in Sept. 2017. The boulders had become dislodged, the walking track was uneven and sections of the inner grill had fallen down.  

We are particularly upset because this would not have happened if only the slum dwellers had shifted to the temporary sheds that the Karnataka Slum Development Board (KSDB) had built for them in 2014 at Bettadasanapura. By now, they would have been staying in 1bhk flats.

Rejecting the temporary accommodation as too small, they had filed a writ petition in February 2015 in the High Court asking for 20 feet x 30 feet sheds or individual plots of land. However, this didn't stop them from taking possession of the sheds on 24.02.2017 even though they continued to stay at the lake premises. When the matter was in the court, they razed 114 out of 118 sheds to the ground in July 2018. KSDB filed an FIR at the Bettadasanapura police and left it at that. We learnt about this after reading a report in the newspaper.

Deccan Herald, Sep 2018
The High Court disposed of the writ petition on 07.03.2019 with a directive to Respondent 1 - Principal Secretary (Revenue), Respondent 2 - Deputy Commissioner (Urban) and Respondent 3 - Karnataka Slum Development Board that they "shall take a decision on the representations of the petitioners in accordance with law in an expedite manner in any event, not later than twelve weeks from the date of receipt of the certified copy of the order. The petitioners shall not be evicted from the property in question till the decision is taken by respondent Nos.1 to 3.”   

We personally handed over the certified copy of the judgement to each of the respondents and reminded them every so often about this order. The 12 weeks stretched to 14 months, the Respondents have still not acted on the judgment. Emboldened perhaps by this, by the fact that the Slum Board did not pursue the FIR at the Bettadasanapura police station, and by the direction in the judgement, the slum dwellers refused to cooperate with BWSSB and BBMP to complete the underground drain and divert raw sewage entering the lake. 

With some six or seven houses built right next to the pathway above the drain, BWSSB was constrained to lay a new line a few feet above the water (photo attached). 

On 11th June 2020, PNLIT will complete 10 years as custodians of Puttenahalli Puttakere. What have we achieved in these many years? 

  • We are the first citizens' group to sign an MoU with the BBMP and become official custodians of a lake in Bengaluru. 
  • We have encouraged others, individuals and RWAs, to become lake warriors. 
  • With permission from KSPCB filled the lake with treated water from an apartment complex.
  • Introduced a low cost water purification model with our Artificial Floating Islands that have since been introduced in some other lakes. 
  • Installed an aerator fountain in April 2019.
  • The once dry periphery of the lake now has rich green cover with  trees, shrubs and climbers.
  • Since 2010, the  lake has attracted over 100 birds (ebird link), insects, reptiles and more. 
  • Butterflies are swarming at the lake even as we write this.  

Aerial view, January 2020
Yet, when we look back we see the misery of a collapsed house, sewage killing the lake and weeds growing rampantly. 

Aerial view, May 2020

What we feel is the burden of challenges that seem insurmountable even after striving so hard to resolve them. And now, the deep worry that no more houses should collapse in the days to come.  

Ten years later, we are left with these questions:

If the government is not interested in protecting lakes, why do we worry about Puttenahalli Lake?

If they will not follow a High Court judgement, why will they listen to us, ordinary folks trying to save a lake in the neighbourhood? 

Why, indeed, should we bother about Puttenahalli Lake?


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