Bangalore is known as city of gardens but it was known also as city of lakes. Most of the lakes in Bangalore were constructed in the sixteenth century by damming with mud bunds the natural valleys of various degrees of slopes draining rain water to the lower areas. Whatever overflow of the generally scanty rainfall the area received was dammed to form lakes which were the main source of water for people and animals in and around Bangalore area. As per survey there were 51 major lakes in 1985 besides numerous small and big ponds; but now there are hardly 17 of them. The uncontrolled urbanization and industrialization swallowed up 34 among them just in 37 years. More than 90% of the existing lakes in Bangalore are highly polluted. The result is Bangalore is already experiencing water scarcity: the depth of water table gone down beyond 1000 feet from an average of 300-400 ft about 30 years ago. So too the climate is becoming warmer. In the seventies there was no need of any fans in the rooms; but after 2000 sale of fans and air conditioners are on the increase. Destroying or encroaching on the lakes of an area is one of the greatest harm we can do to the environment and water system of a place: Invisible injustices.
What is mentioned about Bangalore is only one of the many examples of unscrupulous encroachment of inland water bodies in India. If the situation of inland water bodies in a city like Bangalore is what is described above we can imagine what is going on anywhere else in the country. Each state has numerous lakes big and small which are natural or manmade. Searches in the internet or enquiries in the government water or environment departments do not yield any information as how many inland water bodies are there in each state in our country. Nobody seems to have cared for documenting all the inland water bodies in each state. Though at the patvary level there is record of all water bodies big and small. But he is a small figure in the revenue department who can only keep records. So he records of all small and big water bodies under his area; if someone encroached upon any of them he is usually paid for recording it as having dried up or naturally leveled up etc. Invisible Injustices.
All the lakes and water bodies are very precious common properties and great water sources of a State or country. Manmade water storages are called percolation tanks or dams. Those huge dams are looked after by the electricity or irrigation department of the government. But the numerous percolation tanks were constructed mostly during the last two or three centuries; both construction and maintenance were done by the kings or local rulers of that time and place. After Independence our government willfully or unintentionally neglected all those percolation tanks of the erstwhile kings and local rulers. Very often the public were unaware of the yearly maintenance schedules and procedures of a percolation tank or a lake nor they had the know-how of it. Seventy years after independence we do not even have a size-wise list of the percolation tanks, lakes and other water-bodies with all the necessary details. Most of them are encroached upon and are in a highly neglected form; many are filled up with urban wastes or locations for high rise buildings; they are easily accessible to domestic and wild animals; the water-bodies near to the cities and towns have become final destinations of drainage channels. Nobody seems to bother about the water bodies in our country. Lack of information of the inland water bodies is advantageous to all those who would like to encroach upon them for private or public use. Today almost all of them are in abandoned status which is one of the main causes of acute shortage of water and climate change in our country: Invisible Injustices. Water bodies of an area are regulatory factors of water balance and climate change or stability besides harbingers of aquatic flora and fauna.
Chilka Lake is one of most beautiful and unique type of brackish water lake in Odisha figuring in the UNESCO World Heritage site list. But it is being encroached upon from all sides and its rich natural resources of flora and fauna including the dolphins are on the verge of extinction. Even in a state like Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh where one expects the least there are major 17 big lakes each. Dal lake and Wular lake in Kashmir and Loktak lake in Manipur are world famous; but they are slowly being leveled up from all around by neglect and by stealthy encroachment by the rich and powerful.
There are thousands of small and big water bodies in our country; even a small pond natural or manmade is precious because it harbours some water the most essential substance for every living thing. The slow and steady extinction of water bodies in our country is the main reason why the soil in our country is slowly drying up and increasing formation of waste lands and deserts in our country. Many of them have already disappeared as was reported about Bangalore in the beginning of this write up.
There are policies and guidelines galore regarding conservation and maintenance of inland water bodies. If anyone goes into internet and search on “Inland Water Bodies Conservation Policy in India” he will get access to more than 76,00,000 entries just in 0.36 seconds. Going through just a few of them one will notice that all possible aspects policies and directives are covered by the government. However like most of the policies in our country the percentile of executions never reached even 50 per cent. The public is often unaware and uncared of the basics about the conservation of inland water bodies. Most of the policy implementations are caught up in the numerous bureaucratic hurdles for decades and thousands of inland water bodies disappeared for ever from the face of our country since Independence as we saw in the case of a metropolitan city like Bangalore. I believe it is only the public demand that can force the politicians and bureaucrats to implement the policies that are in place on Conservation of Inland Water Bodies in our country. This small write up tries to highlight the most important conservation practices everyone should be aware off. For practical purposes few additional management practices like demarcation of the average maximum and minimum water levels etc. are also included. If people can themselves follow and insist the authorities to follow the following basic norms all the water bodies in our country can be preserved intact and the yearly recurring water scarcity can be mitigated.
The most important conservation practices for a natural or manmade water body are the following:
1. Demarcate in a contour line the level of the water body and the buffer zone around the water body. The demarcation should be permanent with deeply set stone or concrete pillars. Mainly three contour lines of demarcation should be included. a) the annual average minimum water level, b) the annual average maximum water level and c) the buffer zone to be left free upper to the line of maximum water level.
2. There should be a well constructed, durable double-line pedestrian road going around the buffer zone so that people can walk around in both directions freely. At suitable locations on the side inner to the road kiosk like halting places with suitable structures for resting and relaxing should be built up for people to come and relax any time.
3. Outer to the buffer zone and inner to the pedestrian road there should be a strong wall going around the lake area on a contour line. This strong wall ends up on the top into a strongly built parapet beyond which people are forbidden to enter into the lake area.
4. Wherever possible selected trees could be established and maintained in such a way not to hinter the view of the water body from the people walking around the lake or resting on the designated spots constructed around the lake.
5. For big and tourist frequented lakes there should be vehicle parking areas just outer to the pedestrian road.
6. Outer to the pedestrian road or the vehicle parking areas around the pedestrian road a strip of perennial trees should be maintained with a width proportional to the area and size of the lake.
7. Then comes a two way motorable road going round the lake area and also connecting to other roads coming from surrounding areas of the lake.
8. All the canals, channels and drainages of rain or spring water coming into the lake should be lined properly with cement and fitted with enough number of silt catching mechanisms so that no silt should come into the lake. Proper culverts should be constructed while they cross the roads and paths to join the lake.
9. No domestic or industrial urban drainage or liquid waste should be let into the lake before it is completely treated and purified. In many places the water bodies of the area becomes the storage of sewage from the residential and industrial areas. All liquid or semi-liquid wastes should be treated before it is let into the lake.
10. No domestic or urban solid waste should be thrown into the lake. No solid or semi-solid waste should be dumped or let into the lake.
11. Periodic de-silting and cleaning of the lake should be done once a year when the water level in the lake is at the minimum level. Summer seasons are the time best to observe the condition of the ground level of the lake and to do the necessary repair works. Make the bottom of the lake as impermeable as possible.
12. Fisheries and aquaculture practices could be part of all the water bodies and should become a source of income for the maintenance of the lake.
13. There should a local board of supervision and maintenance for every water body which can raise funds for maintenance by conducting lake parties, fairs, festivals, fetes, funfair etc.
14. All the areas within the motorable area should be considered as integral part of the lake eco-system
15. Wells can be dug up around the lake at suitable location for drinking and domestic purposes taking advantage of the percolation that occurs naturally from the lake. However all the wells should be kept covered to ward off sun light and to avoid growth of micro-flora and fauna causing pollution of the water in the well.
16. No domestic animals should be allowed to enter into the lake either for drinking or bathing. Water may be pumped out of the lake to a secure place for such purposes.
In the case of small ponds or water bodies also there should be demarcations of the yearly minimum and maximum level of water. The sides of the water body should be built up-wards strongly and permanently ending into a parapet. The rain or any other sources of water coming into the lake should be as far as possible silt free. The pond should be free any solid or liquid pollution.
If the thousands and thousands of big and small water bodies in our country are preserved as they should be, the domestic water shortage in our country can be solved easily.
(The writer is a specialist in Water Management. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 03th July 2017, Volume XXIX, Issue 27)