27 July, 2018
Often, we find so many civic issues around us and keep complaining about it. With our burgeoning cities, which people move into, in search of livelihoods, big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore etc. are really feeling the strain. Unplanned expansions, rising pollutions, garbage dumping, water and sewage problems and few more such issues are common in such cities. Another aspect seen is that of the water bodies in such cities slowly disappearing, due to negligence and also because of the lakes being used as dump yards by many, including the industries. In such a scenario, a heartwarming account of a lake restoration effort by pensioners, in none other than the so-called “Pensioners Paradise” was published in the Bangalore edition of the Times of India recently.
The Hebbal lake situated in the Northern part of the Bangalore city is a huge water body, which is now a charming, pristine lake, thronged by visitors. Apart from the clean waters of the lake bringing in the sense of calm, it is now home to more than 105 different species of birds that visit the place. So, you can even have your fill of bird watching here. However, the lake wasn’t so clean, beautiful or attractive in the mid-1990s. If anything, it was exactly the opposite with garbage dumping, chemical sewage, and loads of water hyacinth. The water, as a result, was highly polluted and poisoned.
The turnaround of the lake happened because of the sustained efforts started by Mr T Vidhyadhar, aged 78, who was at the time just retired and serving as the president of the HMT Colony RWA, near RT Nagar. He saw the sad state of the lake and decided to do something about it and started efforts to restore the lake. Since the lake belonged to the forest department, he started working with them, and in 1999, a Hebbal Lake and Park Association (HELPA) was formed as a combined effort of the government and the residents of the HMT Layout. Formed under the banner of Thoreau Foundation, the association has representatives from civic agencies, as well as the University of Agricultural Sciences.
It took ten long years of sustained efforts from all these to turn around the lake, along with an Rs. 2 crore grant received from the Norwegian government. The huge efforts involved cleaning up the lake spread across 160 acres and then being handed over to the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority.
Another person involved closely in the efforts, Mr A T Krishnamurthy, aged 74, happily quotes in the article that there were many intangible benefits of restoring the lake. Of course, North Bangalore got a lovely landmark, being a fabulous waterbody. More important is his mention of the groundwater level in the surrounding areas rose and in times of receding levels, this is really encouraging. Also, people no longer dumped garbage into it.
The article also quotes Mr A Ravindra, former chief secretary and ex-chairman of HELPA as saying that residents always played a highly active role in this. Mr., Ravindra had also served as Chief of Bangalore Municipal Commission and Bangalore Development Authority. He says that apart from the office bearers, even residents worked closely to ensure the restoration and upkeep of the lake.
Because of the turnaround, migratory birds started visiting the lake. Also, a park and walkway were created in the lake premises, and this is virtually a blessing for the people in the area. They use it, for the morning or evening walks and runs, and also as a kind of outing for the kids to watch the lake and the birds. The lake was handed over to a private party in 2006 with a memorandum of undertaking with East End Hotels, and then HELPA was dissolved. The Hotel is in charge of the lake upkeep till 2021 and was quoted as saying that they only manage what they inherited and also keep improving it, as the residents had done an outstanding job.
Now, though all these people and the residents have no role to play in the upkeep of the lake, they still visit it and revel in the beauty of what they managed to achieve. So, this story tells us how few retired persons with a mindset to change things can get together and bring about wonderful turnarounds in our cities. Indeed, such heartwarming tales will hopefully continue to inspire us.
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