‘Kereyannu katti, maravannu belesi, nadannu ulisi’ is an old local proverb said by the mother of Kempegowda, the founder of the city Bengaluru, in language Kannada which translates into, ‘Build the lake, plant a tree, save the nation’. Bengaluru, a city in India was named ‘city of lakes’ which gardened this city with its beautiful tanks 200 years ago. Citizens built artificial tanks for their survival, now it returns back to the citizens to save their own lakes.
Lakes in Bengaluru were built by the citizens of the city 500 years ago for their daily activities; for drinking, farming, agriculture, washing clothes, washing utensils, and bathing animals and humans. The ‘kere’ or lakes were built in a cascading system called ‘raja kaluves’ due to their geography. It is worth to note that Bengaluru is the hills made of metamorphic rocks, which later citizens ploughed through to be converted into a livable city under the rule of Kempegowda in the 1500s; which poses the challenge to create lakes and greenery around. But citizens were successful in creating this vision.
Due to its high altitude and lake systems, the microclimate always remained cool irrespective of summers. Hence, the British, when they invaded India (1700-1947) felt connected to their home country in Bengaluru making it their cantonment. British India changed the entire governing system of the city which eventually led to changing and overwriting the system of lakes in Bengaluru. The plague in 1800 caused this system a huge disruption. Due to the occurrence of the plague, British rulers relocated the commoners to another location. Water in the kere was the main reason behind the rapid spread of plague and malaria, hence it was drained out to other locations.
The city was no longer the ‘city of lakes' once the whole system of lakes was handed over to British India to govern the system. The knowledge of the ‘keres’ and ‘raja kaluve’ eventually died along with the responsibilities of the Bangalore citizens.
British India converted the ‘city of lakes’ into ‘garden city of India’, with the help of the lakes by introducing non-native decorative plants and trees; most of which consumed more water.
Now, due to the rapid urbanisation of the city, the kere and raja kaluve was encroached and built upon; which killed the entire system of water connections. The city once had 2100 lakes reduced to barely 800 drainage lakes. The groundwater availability got reduced due to urbanisation, over usage of water, overpopulation, and the introduction of non-native plants and trees. This posed the threat of water scarcity by overflowing researchers questioning and warning the current situation.
But the citizens of the city had an awakening. They recognized the danger of their current situation and decided to save their city from water scarcity, in order to do so, they decided to revive their adjacent lakes from dying. This revived the whole system of ‘community lakes’. This led to many initiatives to save the lakes and groundwater system of the city.
Case of Jakkur Lake
Jakkur lake is a classic example of transformation. The once dead lake was revived by the citizens with the help of the government. Citizens formed a trust, called ‘Jalaposhan’ (Jala meaning Jakkur Lake, poshan meaning nurture), for the maintenance of the lake in 2015, which functions till date.
The lake currently has 2 islands that host bird living majorly pelican, painted stork, cormorant and duck. It hosts 100 different species of butterflies, 10 species of snakes, more than 200 species of birds and more than 500 species of trees. It also gives employment and livelihood to fishermen, home guards, gardeners, lake maintainers and grasscutters.
Since the involvement of citizens, the ecology of the lake has boomed. The housing around the lake has increased due to its beauty, hence helping in the housing economy. The lake has become a spot for various ecological research to be conducted, various water research to be conducted and a tourist hot-spot. The lake water also caters to non-edible agriculture.
The groundwater level around the lake also has increased by 10 feet since 2011. Citizens around the lake conducted many awareness campaigns for saving lakes and water, now every school, house and community is aware of their water resource, their responsibility towards the lake and their resources. The re-birth of the lake, which not only gave birth to ecology and economy, but also brought the community around together, representing the classic example of resilience.
Case of Puttenahalli Lake
Puttenahalli citizens created the trust called PNLIT(Puttenahalli Neighborhood Lake Improvement Trust) 10 years ago to revive and rejuvenate the lake with the help of the local government. The lake was filled with drainage water that was entering the neighbourhood area. This was stopped by citizens to convert the lake into a rainfed lake. Flora and Fauna of the lake are thriving at the lake with 100 different species of birds, and more than 250 species of flora. One of the rarest birds, Striated Heron is found at this urban lake.
The lake is also a house for the cultural boom in the city, it caters too many cultural activities such as ‘Silver Talkies’ and ‘urban folk projects’. The cultural gatherings otherwise missing in urban life are celebrated at the lake premise, which is at the centre of the city.
The details of the trust can be found here.
NGOs working for the revival of lake and groundwater
There has been a campaign for groundwater recharge by BiomeWaters in Bengaluru called ‘Million Wells Project’, that focuses on building million recharge wells by 2022. This project has given employment to the local well diggers of the city called ‘mannu vaddaru’, meaning the ones who dig the soil.
This recharge well ranges between 15-30ft deep with a 3-5ft diameter, which directly recharges the groundwater. These wells are put along the stormwater drain and in all public places. “Bengaluru sits on a ridge spanning two river basins. Only 3 to 10 % of the rain that falls reaches our aquifers. Through recharge wells, the city can up it to 50 %. That would be equivalent to 1400 million litres per day of water”, says the man behind this project, Vishwanath Srikanthaiah. As of 2020 December, there are around 72,000 wells that are dug with groundwater recharge working on the force.
The city’s elderly formed a trust called ‘Friends of Lakes’, who have taken an oath to restore all the lakes around the city. So far they have successfully helped revive 80 lakes with the help of citizens. With the help of their team, they have conducted many citizen science campaigns for citizens to become aware of the lakes and their importance in Bengaluru.
Through such initiatives, Bengaluru’s water scarcity threat has been released and pushed further by holding the bare integrity of the city.
‘From the community to the community, is the quote for the transformation of Bengaluru by reviving the lakes, with the hope of being called ‘city of lakes’ once again.