How a retired professor rejuvenated Sarakki Lake

The following is an account from Professor Bhat, a retired professor who spearheaded the initative to clean up Sarakki lake.

Two young I.T. professionals living around Sarakki lake area since year 2000 called me on a last sunday of November 2011 and requested me for a recce of our neighbourhood lake.They had heard about me being the President of Brigade Millennium RWA. I joined them on the north east corner behind the Satya Ganapathi Temple.They were full of enthusiasm for restoring the lake to its pristine condition being appalled seeing the utter destruction of the lake which had become a septic tank for sewage,breeding ground for mosquitoes and dumping ground for construction debris from the fast growing layouts around.Being a senior citizen ,professor of Public Policy and associated in the rejuvenation of Hussain Sagar Lake in 1980s in Hyderabad,they sought my guidance.A few weeks earlier I too saw news reports of two young children aged 6 and 9 drowning in the lake who had gone for playing.These are the trigger for us to do something after expressing to these young civil society enthusiasts the onerous tasks ahead.

The first task was organising a group of like minded persons from the neighbourhood. Being the President of a RWA and had established an active senior citizen forum, broached the subject around and got spontaneous response from citizens living around the lake.Thus instead of an informal group, decided to form an NGO naming Sarakki Lake Area Improvement Trust[ SLAIT] and regd it as a non profit voluntary organisation to facilitate in the task of’’ Protecting,Restoring and Preserving’’ this lake for use of the commons .

The ‘‘best practice’’ was the process of constitution of the Trust and its members all being apolitical, like minded,a heterogeneous group of self motivated persons with homogeneous outlook,living around the lake area,Thus we formed 8 Trustees,all having vast experiences in Public Administration,Public Policy, Legal,Finance,Engineering,Geohydrology,Limnology,Wild life,and in IT fields.They were distinguished persons in their own fields aged 35-75 years.

We then set out on ‘’ Know your lake’’ journey and fine tuning our objects both ST and LT to cherish our dream of bringing back 1000 birds [Savira hakki] which the Britishers called Sarakki.Trustees assumed individual responsibilities and myself volunteering to be the coordinator. SLAIT decided to play the role of a facilitator with multiple public agencies , watch dog to caution errants and social entrepreneur to initiate appropriate steps.

We found out that Sarakki, a man made lake covering 5 agri villages was at the Apex of the K C Valley. The original lake area was 82.50 acres which was substantially[a] encroached by land sharks [b] filled with sewage flowing in from all round the catchment of about 6 sqkms [c] unabated dumping of C&D . .We realised that unless these three critical destroyers of the lake are stopped ,any attempt to rejuvenate the lake will be futile .It was also found that no civic agency remained as the custodian for long or willing to take up restoration.There was musical chair among the civic agencies KFD,LDA,BBMP,BDA and BBMP with no one accountable for the sorry state of affairs.In the span of over a decade on the face of rapid urbanisation the geodemographic character of the area had undergone paradigm shift with population increase from around 2500 persons to over 2 lakh persons.Such insightful analyses, instead of adhoc assumptions formed the basis for holistic sustainable rejuvenation in the next 5-6 yrs.

Starting from the above appraisal of the problems, the transferable experience is formulating an actionable plan adopting a win-win strategy with the civic agencies,from year 2013 onwards. The following format and process has immense transferable value .

a] Got the land area of the lake surveyed by persuading at the highest level of Commissioner SS&LR and getting it authenticated.It revealed over 200 minor and major encroachments on lake land.When all soft approaches to remove illegal land grabbers failed,we filed a PIL in the HC and legal process took over 6 months.Finally under judicial direction over 200 encroachments were removed in a land mark operations by the DC in 2015.This objective,unbiased and fearless action initiated by the trustees has become trend setter in Bangaluru.

b] Concurrent to getting the lake land cleared,we approached and initiated action by the BWSSB to stop and divert the flow of untreated sewage from the lake.This required them to plan and execute laying of trunk sewage lines[UGD] around the lake and pump all such sewage downstream by setting up a pumping station.This took almost 3 years and about Rs 20 crores grant money under 4A Scheme.

c]With advance planning,experts in our trust realised that the lake will go dry with scanty storm water unless treated water flows in .Therefore,suggesting BWSSB to set up a 5 MLD STP was our next best move.This started in 2016 and commissioned in oct 2019 with the release of treated water in to the lake at cost of Rs 20 crores.

d] After several musical chairs the custody of the lake fell on BBMP from BDA after preparing and approval from LDA of a DPR mainly covering core civil works. First step was comprehensive chain link fencing to securing the lake boundary,setting up silt traps,sedimentation tanks in wetlands, strengthening lake bunds,exit weirs etc were executed by the custodian agency after budgetary allocations.Following which deweeding the highly infested water body and draining the pollutant sewage after rains in 2018 was carried out.

e] Desilting some 3 million cuft of debris,sludge,sand and silt and disposing it some 25 km away land fills ,all in night between 9pm-6 am employing 50 tippers and 10 earthmoving equipments and the operations took more than 4 months.Finally the lake was dredged dry till mother earth contour was reached as per bathymetric survey and its optimum storage capacity was fully restored The maximum depth was 5.6 mtrs.During these operations engineering students from PES and Dayanand Sagar colleges showed keen interest and participated in the survey work.

f] By then the stage was set to release treated water from the newly commissioned STP to fill the lake IN OCT 2019.

  1. Reengineering the ecological rejuvenation of the lake was a pioneering step in which SLAIT remained the driving force.

a] Consequent to rapid urbanisation,b ecause of the paradigm shifts in the agro demographic,geo topographical character of the catchment area,we realised that the pristine ecological conditions can not be entirely recreated.Therefore,after wide ranging discussions with experts,the best course of actions for ecological preservation was drawn up.In this the core works are developing about 10% of lake area in the two inlet points as shallow wet land with silt traps and sedimentation facilities.Retaining the central Island with trees etc and forming the embankments with stone pitching etc to protect any future erosion

b] Developing a Biodiversity park to neutralize/compensate the loss of vegetation,shore lines etc was an important factor so that all living beings to’’ breath fresher,feel younger and live longer’.'In this task an young urban architectural team from city’s BMS college were roped in by BBMPwho in consultation with SLAIT and inputs from scientific bodies like TDU,UAS,KFD officials,ancient Indian philosophies like Rasi Vana to latest systems like Miyawaki,designed a tree park to cover the shore area with native trees belonging to some 26 species carefully planted to provide maximum biodiversity,aromatic,flowering,medicinal and fruit bearing trees which above all, bird friendly.

c] We are conscious that sustainability and the barometer to measure of the health of the lake are the richness in its avian and aquatic life.Therefore,to attract birds not only trees and island but bird towers,/pyramids are included conceptualisation and planning avian rehabilitation This is a pioneering initiative of our wild life and bird expert…Already we notice flocks of birds on the lake feasting on its fishes.

d] Aquating rehabilitation takes center stage in lake rejuvenation.Soon after release of treated water,our limnologist in consultation with fishery experts,particularly of urban lakes as per an action plan some 5-6 native species like common Carps,Mrigal etc fish finger links were released in to the lake along with Turtle,Crabs etc This is made possible by working closely with State dept of fisheries and Fishermens’ cooperative.Providing fresh,high quality fish at the doorsteps is part of our vision. On our initiative they have further taken up study to assess the annual fish production and its economic impact.

e] With population explosion,and shortage of cauvery water supply,the residents of the area largely depended on borewells and tanker supply , as a result the ground water has depleted and gone to ultra deep.Recharging of GW has remained at the top of our objective. As per the advice from our Geohydrologists,the experts from Central Ground Water Board were associated to study the water percolation and recharge rates by measuring in about a dozen observation wells around the catchment.This again is an on going study to measure the impact of lake rejuvenation

f] While ecological restoration has taken center stage in our approach with BBMP, building public facilities like walking path,childrens play areas and utilities have been done on modest scale without resorting to any recreational or commercialisation of the lake

8 Though each lake in the city big or small is unique,Its rejuvenation plans need to be developed individually ,several concepts and systems implemented as explained above, are transferable by suitably modifying the formats. To summarise

a] Organising a multispeciality citizen group, highly committed to the objective and tirelessly working as credible facilitators with multiple civic agencies and coordinating their actions towards a common goal[ Avoiding zero sum game ] Insulating the project from political interferences.

b]Getting the lake boundary demarcated after authentication by the competent authority and fearlessly demolishing all illegal encroachments,securely fencing it to act as deterrent for future encroachers

c] Ensuring diversion of all untreated sewage entering the lake and release of treated water from STP.

d]Projectising core civil works like desilting etc to sustain optimum storage capacity.

e] Prioritising the ecological restoration to enrich biodiversity,Tree park,Bird aviary ,aqua rehabilitation,ground water recharge as thrust areas instead of recreational and aesthetic considerations.

9.If we are to refine the system, one could include a performance budgeting concept to integrate time target, expenditure physical progress, avoid infructuous and time over runs.The greatest lesson is urban lake rejuvenation is a collective effort and participatory venture from the stake holder public and Govt custodial agencies.No individual Bhagiratha like effort will succeed