Survey maps, contact authorities and build a community for the lakes of Bengaluru

  • Over time, urbanization in Bangalore has resulted in encroachments on storm sewers and lakes. With storm sewers blocked, rainwater flooded the city while lakes filled with silt and urban waste.
  • Army veteran Captain Santhosh Kumar is on a mission to identify and restore Bengaluru’s storm sewers.
  • With more and more people joining Santhosh Kumar’s mission, the crusade to save the lakes of Bengaluru appears to be heading in the right direction, as recent rains have filled some important lakes.

“Lakes are like organs and rajakaluvae, or the storm sewers that connect them, are like nerves. Organs won’t survive without nerves, ”said Captain Santhosh Kumar, an army veteran who volunteered to identify and restore storm sewers and lakes in Bengaluru.

It all started when Kumar, a military intelligence officer, hung up his boots and returned to his hometown of Anekal, in the urban district of Bengaluru, in 2008. He was shocked when he saw the villagers fighting for water while the water mafia pumped the lakes around, through illegal boreholes, to supply the city with water. Untreated sewage and industrial effluents polluted all the lakes he swam in as a child. “I am the son of a farmer; I couldn’t stand this abuse of land and water, ”Kumar said. This encouraged him to divert his efforts to save and rejuvenate the lakes of Bengaluru.

Captain Santhosh Kumar (4th from left) with government officials at Lake Ghatahalli. Photo courtesy of Captain Santhosh Kumar.

While many of his complaints about illegal drilling rigs to city authorities went unheard in 2018, the military veteran decided to use his professional training to uncover and collect data and insights. evidence of encroachment and abuse, in order to persuade the authorities. “I started by understanding what the root cause was that the lakes did not fill with water. This was not the case 25 years ago, when those lakes filled with the same amount of rain, ”he explained, adding:“ Then I realized that most of the storm sewers were either encroached. or silted up over time.

For nearly a year, Santhosh Kumar surveyed the land on foot, referring to Revenue Department maps dating from 1923 to 1970. British-era maps clearly delineated storm sewers. Kumar also used Google Earth maps to understand the elevations of various lakes. Once the storm sewers were identified, began the task of involving the city authorities to eliminate illegal encroachments, de-silt, widen and eliminate the wild growth of these canals and water reservoirs.

Work first started on the 4.5 kilometer stormwater drainage between Lake Muthanallur and Lake Batalkere which had been encroached by farmers. An official investigation by the Department of Minor Irrigation, aware of the village panchayat and Bangalore Urban District Deputy Commissioner, J. Manjunath, cleared the encroachment.

The storm sewer was cleaned in a hundred days from March to June 2021. As Lake Batalkere filled with rainwater, work began on another five kilometer section of storm sewer between Lakes Gattahalli and Huskur. .

The story of storm sewers in Bangalore

Bengaluru, which sits 900m above sea level, was once a small town in the vast Chola kingdom. At the time, the Chola had set up a network of lakes and storm sewers to capture and store rainwater across the kingdom. The system worked very effectively on the principles of gravitational force with stormwater drains carrying water from a higher elevation lake, as soon as it filled, to the lower elevation lake. The 857 lakes in the network made it possible to prevent flooding, while maintaining the water level in all the lakes.

Read more: The connection between the lakes of Bengaluru, livelihoods and local memories

Over time, urbanization in Bangalore resulted in encroachments on storm sewers and lakes and with those sewers blocked, rainwater flooded the city, while the lakes filled with silt and urban waste.

Water from Lake Muthanallur overflows to the storm sewer.  Photo by Shoma Abhyankar.
Water from Lake Muthanallur overflows to the storm sewer. Photo courtesy of Santhosh Kumar.

The community movement

With city authorities providing logistical support to the Santhosh Kumar campaign, some townspeople and village dwellers are now joining forces to locate and restore storm sewers.

Mithilesh Kumar, an AI development manager, who has been staying in Bengaluru for a few years, said: “I noticed the temperature changes and water issues that were not there before. I learned that the drying up of the lakes was the reason for these climate changes. We have decided to do our part for the conservation of the lakes. He formed a “Citizen Movement” group made up of like-minded people from different housing societies to participate in the rejuvenation of the lakes under the leadership of Santhosh Kumar. The group has recently started working on the restoration of Halenayakanhalli and Choodasandara lakes. He added: “It is, however, a daunting task to have the encroachments of the builders removed. rajakaluvae. We are also trying to connect with the villagers on the outskirts of Bangalore to involve them in the maintenance of the lakes. This is just the start and we have a lot to do.

Read more: Lake Jakkur: Fishermen play crucial role in cleaning up this Bengaluru wetland

Gopal Chembe, who works in the legal department of a multinational, learned of the restoration work carried out by Santhosh Kumar via social networks. He, Rangaraju and Muniraju and residents of four villages gathered to ask Santhosh Kumar for help with nearby Chabenahalli and Valagere Kallahalli lakes. After the official investigation by the city authorities, the digging of the lakes began. The panchayat also issued special instructions against dumping garbage into the cleaned-up lake which had filled with water, due to heavy rains in recent months. “There was no water in Lake Valgerekallahalli because it was dry and encroached. Now rainwater has collected in it after we cleaned it up. It has not yet been connected to the storm sewers, ”said Shashikumar Reddy, one of the villagers.

The Rajakaluvae stormwater drainage system filled up after the rains near Batalakere.  Photo of Captain Santhosh Kumar.
The Rajakaluvae stormwater drainage system filled up after the rains near Batalakere. Photo of Captain Santhosh Kumar.

The positive results slowly gained the much needed attention of city authorities and residents. The crusade to save the lakes of Bengaluru seems to be going in the right direction. The removal of all kinds of encroachments is also progressively underway.

“Awareness is the key,” Kumar said, as he prepared to check on the condition of a 15-kilometer stretch of stormwater drainage. “The more people understand the benefits of keeping lake systems healthy and the repercussions of improper use, half of our water problems will be solved.”

Read more: A to Z Guide to the Lakes of Bengaluru

Banner image: Rajakaluvae rainwater collection filled after rains near Batalakere. Photo of Captain Santhosh Kumar.

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