Published: 16th March 2020
Water Warriors: Communities can change the picture of current water crisis across India. Here's how
Annapurna Kamath speaks about their journey towards restoration of Jakkur lake which has become the talk of the town and a model to study for government agencies and educational institutions
A few years ago, when Bengaluru started becoming concretised, many lakes began to vanish. While some of them were encroached upon and converted into plots to build houses, others went dry or became dumping grounds for sewage and chemical effluents. However, with constant efforts by citizens and some NGOs, some of Bengaluru's lakes have been brought back to life in the past few years. Jakkur lake on the outskirts of Bengaluru was one of them. Spread across 160 acres, this lake, which was once filled with garbage, is now brimming with life. Thanks to the Jala Poshaks of Jakkur who are constantly working on improving the lake and its surroundings.
You might be wondering who these Jala Poshaks are. They are common people like you and me who went from pillar to post fighting against land mafia and civic agencies in the city to bring this lake back to life. Now, their group is popularly known as Jala Poshan. Annapurna Kamath - a resident of the area for many years who first approached others living around the lake to create awareness about reviving the lake to its original form - is the brain of this group. Explaining why they call themselves Jala Poshaks, she says, "For the residents living here, 'Jala' means 'Jakkur' and 'Poshak' means 'the one who nurtures'. As we have been doing this for more than a decade, we decided to call ourselves Jala Poshaks."
Annapurna along with officials and experts
A dicey game between civic agencies
Commonly called the City of Lakes, different departments and civic agencies in Bengaluru are given the responsibility of taking care of the lakes in a particular area. Jakkur lake was under the jurisdiction of the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA). Narrating how their journey began, Annapurna says, "After BDA developed the land and rejuvenated this lake in 2012, people still continued to dump garbage in the lake. In 2014, when we approached the BDA, they said that the lake had to be maintained by the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) and that they had to take over the responsibility. I was sure that this was going to take a lot of time, so, I called a meeting of the people living around the lake. I asked them about their thoughts on the lake and their response was plain and simple, they wanted to clean the lake. That's when I formed Jala Poshan."
Annapurna felt compelled to ask the BDA officials to handover the lake to the BBMP, so that they could know the activities being done by the residents. After writing many letters to the BDA, the lake was finally handed over to the BBMP in April 2015. However, there were no funds for them to put up a fence around the lake and depute a security guard. That's when team Jala Poshan adopted the Jakkur lake by signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). She says, "In the first month, we decided to plant saplings of native species around the lake. Our group members, corporates, school students, individuals and others planted at least 1,000 saplings. Most of these plants have become big trees today. The tradition of planting saplings continues even today and we do this because many migratory birds came in search of a variety of fruits, bees in search of flowers and, of course, butterflies and various other creatures including snakes add to this diversity."
Fighting major challenges
According to Annapurna, monitoring effluent release as well as garbage dumping was the major challenge in the restoration of the lake. She says, "We would literally warn people not to dump garbage and not to let sewage in the lake. At times, we would make them understand how important it is to conserve this water body. Gradually, people from different apartments also joined Jala Poshan and supported the cause. In 2015 itself, we approached the Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB) to install a Sewage Treatment Plant, so that the treated sewage water enters the wetland, gets purified and then enters the lake. Earlier, the STP treated 10 MLD (million litres per day) of sewage and now, we have upgraded its capacity to 16 MLD."
Curious to know more, we ask how the treated sewage water helps the lake. Annapurna explains, "This particular lake in Bengaluru is dependent on rainwater as well as treated sewage water. It does not have access to Kaveri's waters. There were a lot of changes within a few months of treated sewage water being let in the lake. It not only helped us increase the population of fishes but it recharged the groundwater and increased its level. As a result of fishes, a good number of spot-billed pelicans started coming in. Every year, you will find at least 200 pelicans on the two islands in the lake. They build their nests and live here happily.
Butterflies at Jakkur Lake
For the love of bird watching
Currently, Jakkur lake has become a spot for several photographers and ornithologists to watch birds and study their behaviour. Schools also approach the Jala Poshan group to plan a trip for students on bird watching. Annapurna welcomes many such initiatives and she is well-known among the people."Every year, the Centre for Science and Environment conducts a workshop for engineers and they come here to study the lake. We take them around and tell them about our journey. The officials from water supply boards in different districts also come here to study the methods used for restoration. In a month, we slot at least four to five groups to visit this lake. They appreciate the work we have been doing and promise to spread a word." says Annapurna who plans to do better for the lake along with the Jala Poshaks in the future.