Rebirth of a lake

By Vasundhara Krishnani on Dec. 17, 2014 in Environment and Ecology

Written specially for Vikalp Sangam

She is a warrior. She stood up for herself and her sisters and today has done the city of Bangalore proud. She was brought to life centuries ago for the citizens but then because she started accepting all the unwanted things from people living around her she was hurt and wounded. Then some people started noticing her wounds and saw the change in her. They decided to stand up together and work to get her back to life and make her what she was before. It wasn’t easy. It took years of persistence, convincing and hard work. But there she is today, alive and fresh. Not only does she provide a beautiful getaway to her neighbours, but also has caused a change in the attitudes of people and has encouraged them to help bring her sisters back to life.

A view of the Kaikondarahalli Lake, by Namita Jhakar

The Kaikondarahalli Lake is a breath of fresh air in the busy city of Bangalore. It is a beautiful area of 48 acres. Even though it is situated in the midst of the city and surrounded by tall buildings, once you enter the area you get that amazing feeling which is associated with nature. This lake has been rejuvenated by the collective action of a group of citizens living nearby who saw the potential of the lake becoming what it is today. A multidisciplinary team comprising of an ecologist, architect, herpetologist, ornithologist, strategist and of course willing individuals came together and put in a lot of time, effort and immense amount of enthusiasm which made this project possible.  

There was a lot of struggle faced by the team throughout the entire process. It wasn’t easy. Challenges like buffer zone encroachment by the builders from the surrounding areas, sewage disposal by the laborers who were working on a site near the lake, catchment area violation, and also resistance from the local people who wanted to immerse their huge Ganesh idols made of Plaster of Paris in the main lake and not the separate tank which was made for this purpose were faced by the team. But with a group of determined individuals along with the support of Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) all these hurdles were overcome and the lake was restored.

Intense thought was put into the restoration process. Instead of just digging out an area and filling it with water, many factors were looked at during its reconstruction. The lake was designed in such a way that it was similar to the natural structure which the lake had before. This design was perfect for many birds which could use different areas of the lake according to their respective needs. Steps were taken to prevent activities like boating whose main focus is to provide noisy entertainment. These activities disturb the birds and interfere with their nesting. Hence maximum importance was given to keeping the lake as undisturbed as possible in order to maintain the biodiversity. The entire process of planning, discussion and construction started in 2008. In 2010 dewatering,  desilting and construction was completed.

Cormorants nesting on Kaikondarahalli Lake, by Vinod Wadhawan

An interesting thing about this lake is that usually when any natural environment is restored, the local people who depend on it are usually side lined and are expected to understand the importance of keeping it “pristine and untouched “, but not the Kaikondarahalli Lake. The villagers have kept the traditional uses of the lake alive. They collect grass from the premises of the lake to use as fodder for their cattle. This keeps their connection with the lake alive and also gives them some responsibility in protecting the lake.  I was fortunate enough to meet the fishing contractor of the lake. He told me that the quantity as well as the quality of the fish has improved since the restoration. There is a large variety of fish like Catla, Rohu, Common Carp, Mrigal and Silver carp present in the lake. One thing which I found extremely thoughtful of him was when he said “I don’t fish during the breeding season. If we don’t respect their space, next year I will have lesser fish and there will be lesser birds visiting this lake”. -It made me smile.

The lake was used intensively for idol immersion processes. It is an extremely holy ritual and keeping that in mind a small tank was built in the premise which is filled up during the period of immersion with the water from the lake. At first there was resistance from the local people who wanted to immerse their idols in the main lake. But once they were made to understand the importance of keeping the lake clean and the ill effects of plaster of paris, they started using the tank. There was also strict patrolling to ensure no one tries to immerse the idols in the lake. People from all around the area come and immerse the idols into this tank which is then later dried up and all the material left behind is disposed off appropriately. The lake is surrounded by a path which is used by citizens of all age groups. People come there for their daily exercise whereas some just come there to chat and take a break from the hectic city life. Children have a safe haven to play and be carefree.

Activities in the Lake premises, by Nalini Shekar

There are many activities which are held in the lake premises for the citizens. Activities like storytelling, story writing, talks on various environment related topics, treasure hunts, biodiversity surveys, walks, bird watching etc. are conducted for adults and children[u3] . These activities spread awareness about issues in the environment, the importance and role of nature in our lives and also makes the people aware about the different species of flora and fauna found in that area[u4] .

Other activities held in the premises of the lake, by Nalini Shekar

Spot billed Pelican, by Namita Jhakar

The entire area is full of plants with colorful flowers, and the birds visiting just add up to the entire scenic beauty. With so much habitat loss this lake provides a place for these birds to spend their lives in an environment they deserve to. Special visitors like the Pelicans also visit the lake. Other birds like the Purple Moorhens, Coots, White Throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Open Billed Stork, Painted Storks, White Cheeked Barbet, Bronze Winged Jacana, Greater and Lesser Cormorants, Sunbirds, Brahmini Kites, Spot billed Ducks, White-browed Wagtail, Greater Coucal, Red-wattled Lapwing, Green Bee eaters, etc. are also seen at the lake. Trees like Neem, Singapore cherry, Jamun, Gulmohar, Pink Lapacho and Wild Date Palm have been planted around the lake.

White throated Kingfisher, by Namita Jhakar

Painted Stork, by Vinod Wadhawan

One of the best parts about this entire project is that not only the restoration of the lake was the main objective but its maintenance is given equal importance. When I spoke with Mr. David about this lake he had so much to share. He is a retired gentleman who takes care of the maintenance of the lake whole heartedly. He says that he has seen the change in people; more and more people are getting aware about the change taking place in our environment. The ground reality is that maintenance is hard work and a slow process. Committed people who can spare some time from their daily routine are needed to ensure a future for this lake

Organizations like United Way, Mahadevpura Parisara Samrakshane Mattu Abhivrudhi Samiti (MAPSAS) along with BBMP support the lake by providing funding. United Way is the main funding agency. They look after the maintenance work like security, gardening, deweeding and repairing equipment. MAPSAS is a local citizen led initiative and have signed an official memorandum of understanding with the BBMP to maintain the lake and 5 other such lakes. Their role is to make sure that all the equipments used for various activities in the lake is maintained and that the workers employed for the upkeep of the lake do their jobs well.  MAPSAS is a model of how local citizens can be empowered to look after the lake under a proper memorandum of understanding giving them the status of local stakeholders not just in name but in legal participation. Along with community support, funding is an extremely important factor for the upkeep of the lake.

The Kaikondarahalli Lake is a part of a man-made lake system which was made centuries ago. The other lakes known as Halanayakanahalli, Doddakanenahalli, Bhogenahalli, Devarabisanahalli, Soulakere, Kasavanahalli and Haralur are all part of one big ecosystem and are connected to each other. Kaikondarahalli Lake lies between the Soulakere and Kasavanahalli Lake. I got a chance to visit Soulakere Lake which is currently under the process of rejuvenation.  After the miraculous restoration of the Kaikondarahalli Lake, people have started realizing the changes in the water levels and environment of that area and have been encouraged to bring the lakes in their area back to life too.

“Highest number of birds”, “Beautiful place”, “So much water!!” “So Calm, Peaceful and Serene”- These are few of the statements passed by people who I met at the Kaikondarahalli Lake. It isn’t so difficult is it? You just give nature a chance and in turn she will benefit you and your families in ways you cannot imagine. People of Bangalore are being benefited by this one effort a group of citizens decided to make. When are you starting to make a difference?

Contact the author Vasundhara Krishnani



Story Tags: Bangalore, Water management, environment Ecology, environmental activism, recharge, natural resources, water

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