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Brainstorming Session on Conservation and Management of Urban Lakes - A Report

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EnvironmentLakesPollutionWater

The meeting was held in CiSTUP seminar room from 9 am to 5 pm. The room was full with a good complement of students.

We had the initial round of formalities followed by morning tea/breakfast

The morning session had several speakers discusing various aspects of urban lake conservation after which we had an afternoon discussion/brainstorming session

First to speak was Prof. Ramachandra.  Many folks at Praja are already familiar with his material.  New material was focussed mainly on recommendations from the previous lake conferences. Another interesting aspect pointed out was the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules 2008 which are being drafted.  That legislation will give more teeth to the laws.

The rest of the day was chaired by Dr. Yellappa Reddy.

The first speaker was Dr.Yellapa Reddy - Noted enviromentalist and former IFS officer as well as member of the lok adalat.

Dr. Reddy's  talk was a combination of information and lament.  He talked sbout the government departments and officers not having the guts to exercise their powers.  As an example, he said that the fisheries department could really force the lake issue through its mandate. He talked about how the lok adalat bench he sits on had so much trouble getting various govt departments to do their duty. He cited the recent example of the hospitals setting up effluent treatment. The PCB took action only under extreme duress.

He mentioned how in the early 1980's, his team once counted 40,000 birds in Bellandur lake (at one time, not over a period).

Dr. Reddy also said that the scietists are to be blamed for not being vocal enough.  He also said that the scientific community and the general public have to take up this issue and apply pressure on the politicians.  That is the only way this problem will get solved.  The example of Mr. Manjunath of Vijay karnataka was cited, whose reporting has forced the government to act.

An example where 7 acres of land from the lake was encroached upon by certain parties where a retired RBI manager fought for years to so far succesfully stop the encroachment.

Dr. Reddy also talked about the need for special courts in Karnataka (to be setup by GoI) like in AP.  He said that a request has been made to GoI, but progress is slow.

Mr. AR Shivakumar of the KSCST presented next - a very general presentation on water and its importance.

Mr. Basappa, Direcor General of EMPRI presented his take on lakes and proposed a new agency to manage lakes.

Mr. U. V. Singh of the Lake Development Authority (standing in for Mr. C. S. Vedant, CEO of the LDA) gave a talk.  His talk was a bit hard to make sense of for me.  The key points I gathered are (a) LDA will shortly release a study about the pollution levels of 45 Bangalore lakes. The agency that did the analysis is well reputed, but this type of analysis is new for them (so do we trust the numbers or not?). (b) He said that the LDA has no statutory authority since it is registered under the societies act!  (c) A law for LDA is circulating, but various departments have all sorts of objection etc. etc. and other such bureaucratese.

Dr. Nandini from the Environmental Science department of Bangalore University discussed some of her work. She has worked extensively on lakes and seemed very open to us contacting them.

Dr. N. R. Ramakrishna of the Fisheries department presented a little bit on Eutrophication of lakes and various fish species that can help improve lakes

Dr. R. Raghavendra Rao of the SEAC (State Level Expert Appraisal Committee) presented and said that at the time of enviromental clearances, most clearances from BDA, BWSSB, etc. have been obtained and that they are hard pressed to do anything in view of these documents. (Wonder why they cannot have a map of ecologically sensitive areas and question some of these clearances)

Harish Bhat of IISc discussed the new Wetlands protection Rules draft and pointed out the good and not so good points.  One problem is that Bangalore's lakes will mostly come under the category B and C wetlands.  More C than B from my reading.  THe level of protection is lower for B and C.

Another point raised by Mr. Singh of LDA was that B'lore lakes do not meet the Ramesar convention definition of wetlands. (these wetlands such as the Chilka lake in orissa are category A wetlands of the Wetlands protection draft rules.

My common observation from this discussion was that most govt agency folks projected helplessness.  Shocking.

After lunch, there was a question answer session.

There was a lot of castigation of BWSSB for not trreating sewage.  The secretary of BWSSB (Mr. Ahmed) happened to be in the room (he came in late and did not introduce himself until this stage). Prof. Reddy pounced on him for not treating sewage and asked him to commit to fix the situation ASAP. He said that he has only been in the department for 15 days and that this was his 6th transfer (in the last couple years).  He professed his love for lakes and that he would love to be in touch and help.   (Unfortunately, since he left early and suddenly, I was not able to get some contact information).

There was a discussion on the protected valley areas being built on around Bellandur and Varthur lakes.  Prof. Reddy suggested one remedial method.

The students vigorously questioned BDA on the manner of lake restoration - (pumping water out and dredging the bottom).  Dr. Reddy actually was of the opinion that the method will not hurt much.  He said that the current round of restoration considers some of the the scientific objections to the earlier method which converted lakes to tanks with steep walls and depleted flora and fauna, especially birds. The BDA man said that wet dredging costs 12 times more.  I tried to talk to him after the event and he responded that he is on deputation from the irrigation department and does not know much about the BDA.

There was a discussion on the Ramaswami committe report. Dr. Reddy praised the boldness of Mr. Ramaswamy.  Apparently, a committe headed by Mr. V.  Balasubramanian would be working on taking action.  There was a report in the Hindu on this also today.

There was also a discussion on fish cultivation in the polluted lakes. Dr. Ramakrishna admitted that the fisheries department has no official position on this and that they don't want to tread on other depts toes.  They have apparently asked the health dept to look into this.

My overall takeaway is the following.  Everybody knows the solutions to the lakes issue.  The government agencies do not have the will to implement a solution. What is needed is an uproar and follow up from the public. Kudos to Prof. Ramachandra and CiSTUP for organizing this program.

Comments

tsubba's picture

Excellent

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Excellent Sanjay thanks a lot.  Very nicely done. a lot of food for thought. It looks like you went there with a really curious attitude. And it shows. You've picked up on so many important details about the issue like how fisheries can actually comedown heavily. Most media reports, under the presure of word count and editorial order, would have concentrated on hierarchy of the disccussing people and other trivia. Really nicely done sanjay. IMHO, you should put this on your CV.

PS: I am glad that, despite the psyops and hankypanky by the political class,  the significance and import of AT Ramaswamy's efforts is not lost. We should have a campaign or something like that to take ATR report to its logical conclusion.

Totally irrelevant comment. Looking at your interest i think, you should talk to prof. r'chandra and see if you can get an admit for a masters in his group or even at DoES of BU. you could perhaps do it one course a sem and over idnot know 4-5 years, at your pace. What that does is, it helps build fundamentals. The passion you already have.

psaram42's picture

Excellant Report

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 Very well written. Thanks

PSA

RKCHARI's picture

Report Par Excellence!

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Well done Sanjayv garu!

Sorry I missed both this meeting as well as the one attended by PSA sir with ESG group. My loss entirely, but propose to make up for missing the discussions by being proactive in future moves.

We all need to pitch in and ensure that all leads given by you are not fritted away in just 'discussing' issues amongst ourselves without taking concrete action.

I am game to meet Prof Ramaswamy, Dr. Nandini, Mr. U.V. Singh, Dr. Raghavendra Rao et al. Shall we meet them as group to discuss way forward by holding detailed level discussions with each of them over the next couple of weeks?

Anyone willing to join? I could contact them and set up appointments one by one. If Sanjayv could give me some contact numbers (whatever he has), it could be a starting point. Otherwise I will get my Secretary to fish them out somehow!

Let me know please

Regard,

Chari

RKC

psaram42's picture

Count me in

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 Chari Saheb 

Please count me in. I would like to join you people to meet up the personalities you have listed. Let us get going. The HDFC initiative of yours is excellent. Let us start with three of us presumably, to meet face to face. This could be at your Air port Road Office / my place / any other. 

Would you Like to put up an event please?

PSA

n's picture

At last

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Broader wetland conservation instead of narrower focus on lakes. Long overdue. Wonder if this is Central or State govt. based? Had raised this in a related comment before. Excerpt below:
"An umbrella regulator can look after all types of conservation (including mandating and preserving wetlands, water retention/detention and so on, similar to EPA in the US), regulating hazardous waste (industrial, medical etc.), deciding and enforcing penalties etc. KSPCB is ideally suited to do that. Why create another govt. dept. (BUWMI) and multiply inefficiencies? Of course, experts need to be hired (not shocked at lack of hydrologists at BWSSB..."

Why the surprise that people in the govt. dept. are aware? I see this recurring among praja and am disappointed. Get tired of pointing out that govt. staff have degrees just like the professionals among us praja. Various reasons for poor outcome on ground are lack of enough "teeth"/independence (politicians love to have govt. staff on a leash), inadequate staff, corruption/nepotism, poor to non-existent on-ground quality control (preceding 2 are the biggest reasons), lack of vision/long-term planning/complete awareness (some awareness does exist) on worldwide best practices, lack of incentives/encouragement to innovate etc.  Lack of technical knowledge is the least of the concerns if not a non-issue. There are so many steps in- and facets to- an infrastructure project (just like projects in other disciplines)...


sanjayv's picture

brainstorming -responses

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@t.subbabhatta: At this point in my life, I am not inclined to get another degree or go through another organized course.  Am working on building knowledge through other resources. I have managed to squeeze in some courses during my loong period in school which I can build on.

@ Chari sir - I only have Dr. Nadini's contact info.  Mr. Singh - I was totally unimpressed with. Shri Ramaswamy was not at our event - but would be a good person to meet.

@n - Where did you get the impression of anybody being surprised at govt officer's being aware? I certainly did not intend to convey that. 

 

n's picture

Govt. officers

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At sanjayv: Sorry - I misread (or read another post and responded here or something). BTW, very commendable report. 


Naveen's picture

Fine Report

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Sanjay - A very well written report. There appears to be a lot of interest in lake conservation issues. Some concrete steps may soon materialize in lieu of the neglect or sporadic cleanup of lakes.

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