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Namma Bengaluru, the city which was once popular for its lakes and the thriving ecosystem around it, now bears the sight of the slow disappearance of many of them. The destruction done to the lakes in Bengaluru for the sake of developmental projects is clearly visible with their present-day deteriorating condition. But looking at this grave issue, is only the government along with the authorities to be blamed for the entirety of the situation? Keeping the indifference and ignorance of the concerned authorities aside, a voluntary citizen-led group named Jalamitra is working actively to revive one of the few living lakes left in north Bengaluru. As they call themselves ‘Guardians of Rachenahalli lake’, they work collectively with the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) towards maintaining the lake and have started many action plans to progress the cause of preservation of the lake ecosystem.
Inspired by the efforts of Jalaposhan, a citizens’ group which successfully rejuvenated Jakkur Lake, Dr Shobha Ananda Reddy, Former Additional Director, Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Rural Energy & Development (MGIRED) took up the initiative for the revival of Rachenahalli lake. Initially, she started mobilizing the local citizens to spare some time for cleaning of trash near the lake. A volunteer citizen group of eight active members was formed, which started to work with government departments, Bangalore Development Authority (BDA), BBMP and politician Krishna Byre Gowda for managing the lake. As they realized the need for a formal committee for working for their cause, Jalmitra trust was founded in 2015 with seven trustees. The jurisdiction of Rachenahalli lake which lies in the Hebbal Valley was transferred from BDA to BBMP in 2016. Since then, Jalmitra has entered a tripartite agreement along with BBMP and an NGO, UWbe (United Way for Bangalore) to work for its rejuvenation.
Talking with The Logical Indian about this initiative, the founder of this group, Dr Shobha Reddy said, “The concept of Jalmitra started with the idea that communities should come forward and take the ownership of lakes in order to protect and maintain them. After the thorough development of Rachenahalli lake in 2011, it was abandoned. The formation of our trust envisioned the involvement of the community for better management of the lake and its environs and we have been successful in the implementation of our plans. This kind of citizen-driven management of common property resources helps in the maintenance of our environment. Also, the dying lakes of Bengaluru require similar initiatives along with the coordination of the government authorities so that we could revive and restore them.”
Connected to the other water bodies both upstream and downstream, particularly the Jakkur lake in the north-east of Bangalore, it lacks its own STP (Sewage Treatment Plant) and receives overflowing monsoon rainwater from Jakkur lake. With the close connectivity of lakes in the Hebbal Valley, any major change or activity in the nearby water bodies would result in a cascading effect on all of them. This lake has also been home to birds namely Brahminy Kite, Spot Billed Pelican and Intermediate Egret. As the site for the thriving ecological system, it supports fishermen and receives treated waste from the nearby residences. The Jalmitra group has been constantly taking up clean-up drives and spreading awareness amid the local citizens to understand the issues surrounding urban lakes while laying a blueprint on how it could be resolved.
Sharing the progress of their group with The Logical Indian, Dr Shobha Reddy says, “We have organized a massive clean-up drive by engaging volunteering students, citizens and several other groups to keep the lake-bound area free from unwanted activities like open defecation or the garbage being thrown around by households. We have received an overwhelming response by the local citizens for this cause and with such collaborative efforts, we could surely go a long way in managing the urban lakes in the city. It’s my dream to make the lake a living laboratory for teaching and learning about the lake eco-system as well as environmental interactions.”
With the efforts of Dr Shobha Reddy and her group, Jalmitra, the lake has been completely renovated and the once abandoned site is now used by hundreds of people daily for walking, jogging and other purposes. With their work, they want to leave a message to fellow citizens to take responsibility for the few surviving lakes in the city. Although, they are posed with many challenges as such illegal settlements, encroachments, continuous monitoring of water quality or controlling the spread of aquatic weeds and so on near the lake. Even the absence of active authorities and failed co-operation by the government in the name of a lack of funds makes it problematic for the group to carry on with their work. But despite these obstacles, they are striving hard to change the scenario of the lake and ensuring that it would be maintained in the near future.
“Working for the restoration of Rachenahalli lake from the scratch has been a long journey for me personally and I am happy to see it being utilized by the public now. If we completely put the responsibility on the government, then it would not be possible for us to manage the ecological systems in our community. It is important to promote civic leadership by the government departments and the political leaders for conserving the fast disappearing lakes from the urban landscape. Maintenance and preservation of lakes in Bengaluru could come with such successful partnerships between the local citizens, the government and concerned NGOs. We hope to set an example for others so that they could also make a difference by doing their bit for the environment.” says Dr Shobha Reddy, a senior consultant at Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS) to The Logical Indian.
The Logical Indian salutes the efforts of Jalmitra group for taking up the cause of preservation of lakes and successfully transforming the Rachenahalli lake in Bengaluru.
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