Ben­galuru's lakes were ac­tu­ally tanks cre­ated in the ab­sence of a big river

Down to Earth - - CONTENTS - RO­HAN D'SOUZA

Ben­galuru's lakes were tanks once upon a time, built to har­vest rain­wa­ter in the ab­sence of a river

BEN­GALURU IS on the global map for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. It is an in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy hub.It is also known for its salu­bri­ous cli­mate, the re­sult of be­ing lo­cated 920 me­tres above sea level.The pres­ence of sev­eral parks, neigh­bour­hood and cen­tral, has led peo­ple to re­fer to it as the gar­den city. A lesser known fact is that Ben­galuru also has a num­ber of lakes. Ac­cord­ing to the city cor­po­ra­tion, Bruhat Ban­ga­lore Ma­hana­gara Pa­like (bbmp), the city has 198 lakes.

Ben­galuru’s lakes are not nat­u­ral lakes, but hu­man-made tanks cre­ated by damming the flow of wa­ter at var­i­ous points. Three val­leys in Ben­galuru—Ko­ra­man­gala and Chal­la­gatha in the south­east, Heb­bal in the north­east and Vrushab­ha­vati in the west—de­ter­mine the flow of wa­ter in the city. A se­ries of in­ter­con­nected cas­cad­ing tanks were cre­ated over cen­turies along the in­clines of th­ese val­leys.One tank’s over­flow was car­ried to the next tank through a wet­land sys­tem, which in­cluded ra­jakaluves, or canals. In this man­ner, six chains of tanks came into be­ing. The wa­ter flow in the tanks was reg­u­lated through a com­mu­nity-op­er­ated sluice mech­a­nism.The ab­sence of a ma­jor river in Ben­galuru led to the need for such a sys­tem. There was a need to har­vest rain­wa­ter which could then be used for ir­ri­ga­tion and house­hold needs and liveli­hood ac­tiv­i­ties such as fish­ing. The tanks served this pur­pose.

In­scrip­tions found near some of the tanks sug­gest that many of th­ese wa­ter bod­ies pre­ceded the mud fort set­tle­ment of Ben­galuru cre­ated by Kem­pe­gowda, a lo­cal chief­tain, in 1537, which sprawled into the city of Ben­galuru as we now know it.One such in­scrip­tion found near Agara tank dates to 9th cen­tury AD.

Other tanks such as Kudlu and Be­gur in south Ben­galuru also trace their his­tory to this pe­riod.The re­gion in the south­ern part of Ben­galuru came un­der the Western Ganga dy­nasty around 350 AD.The dy­nasty ruled till 1,000 AD. Kem­pe­gowda, his suc­ces­sors and the Bri­tish con­tin­ued this sys­tem of cre­at­ing and main­tain­ing tanks.

A com­plex main­te­nance sys­tem also came into be­ing. Col­lec­tive mem­ory of res­i­dents who have lived close to the tanks, or keres in

Kan­nada, of­fer in­sights into the main­te­nance sys­tem. Vil­lages near the kere shared the re­spon­si­bil­ity of main­tain­ing them. The sys­tem en­sured bund main­te­nance, de-silt­ing of the tank bed and main­te­nance of the ra­jakaluves. The Neer­gunti com­mu­nity was among those in­volved in this.The com­mu­nity main­tained the ra­jakaluves and its work was re­warded through a land ten­ure sys­tem.

There is ref­er­ence to this sys­tem in the Mysore Gazette com­piled by B L Rice, direc­tor of the depart­ment of ar­chae­ol­ogy of the then Mysore state in 1897.He notes, “Kodigi Inams rep­re­sent land granted free of tax, or on a light as­sess­ment, in con­sid­er­a­tion of ser­vices ren­dered in the con­struc­tion or restora­tion of tanks, or on con­di­tion of their be­ing main­tained in good re­pair. Kere­bandi and Kereku­laga Inams were granted for the an­nual petty re­pair of tanks.” The land granted as part of the Inam ten­ure sys­tem usu­ally in­cluded the “wet­lands” lo­cated down­stream of the tanks, which were ideal for grow­ing wa­ter-in­tense crops such as rice and sug­ar­cane. How­ever, who ob­tained which land de­pended on the caste hi­er­ar­chy and in many in­stances dom­i­nant castes got the more fer­tile wet­lands.

Post-In­de­pen­dence, the gov­ern­ment started dis­man­tling the sys­tem to re­place it with more cen­tralised sys­tems of main­te­nance.The Mysore (Per­sonal and Mis­cel­la­neous) Inam Abo­li­tion Laws Act came into force in 1954, pos­si­bly to counter the feu­dal land ten­ure sys­tem. How­ever, the Act also im­pacted the tank main­te­nance sys­tem. Var­i­ous gov­ern­ment de­part­ments which were car­ried for­ward from the colo­nial times such as the mi­nor ir­ri­ga­tion depart­ment started play­ing a larger role in the main­te­nance of tanks, es­pe­cially the larger ones. Cur­rently, bbmp main­tains tanks in Ben­galuru. At var­i­ous points, gov­ern­ment de­part­ments such as the for­est depart­ment played a role.The depart­ment was brought into the pic­ture with the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Lax­man Rau Com­mit­tee, which was set up

The for­est depart­ment viewed the tanks purely as eco­log­i­cal spa­ces. They be­gan to be called lakes and main­tained dif­fer­ently

in 1986 to look into the is­sues re­lated to the tanks of Ben­galuru.

The for­est depart­ment viewed th­ese wa­ter bod­ies purely as eco­log­i­cal spa­ces. This also led to a change in the dis­course around th­ese sys­tems. Tanks in­creas­ingly started to be re­ferred to as lakes. In the ur­banised en­vi­rons of Ben­galuru, the now re­named lakes were be­ing seen as eco­log­i­cal and so­cial spa­ces that catered to nat­u­ral­ists and re­cre­ation seek­ers. This also started in­creas­ingly dic­tat­ing how they were to be main­tained.

The tanks or keres in their ear­lier form had cul­tural con­no­ta­tions. Many had a de­ity as­signed to it and a tem­ple in which the de­ity was lo­cated. Th­ese were largely lo­cal deities, such as Muneeswara, Dug­galamma, Gangamma. There were an­nual fes­ti­vals at some of the keres such as Bel­lan­dur in South Ben­galuru—one of the largest which spread over 350 hectares. How­ever, with in­creas­ing ur­ban­i­sa­tion and in­creased pol­lu­tion, such prac­tices have been dis­con­tin­ued in most of the ur­ban lakes.

An at­tempt to pri­va­tise the man­age­ment of the lakes by the Lake Devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity, which was set up in 2002,was thwarted by a public campaign by a lo­cal ngo, En­vi­ron­ment Sup­port Group.The au­thor­ity, which was man­dated to work for the re­gen­er­a­tion and con­ser­va­tion of lakes in Ben­galuru district as well as other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and cor­po­ra­tions in Kar­nataka, claimed a paucity of re­sources, hu­man and fi­nan­cial, and there­fore in­vited the pri­vate sec­tor to un­der­take the main­te­nance of th­ese wa­ter bod­ies and in re­turn use th­ese spa­ces to carry out com­mer­cial ac­tiv­i­ties to gen­er­ate rev­enue for them­selves.The Kar­nataka High Court has since di­rected a can­cel­la­tion of this scheme, which brought the city cor­po­ra­tion back to the role of main­tain­ing the lakes of Ben­galuru.


PHOTOGHRAPHS: RO­HAN D'SOUZA (Clock­wise from above): The over­flow of one tank was car­ried to an­other tank through a wet­land sys­tem in­volv­ing canals; Th­ese canals were main­tained by the com­mu­nity whose mem­bers were re­warded through a land ten­ure sys­tem; The wa­ter flow in the tanks was also reg­u­lated through a com­mu­nity

op­er­ated sluice mech­a­nism

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