Venkata Subba Rao, a resident of RBI Colony in Jayanagar is a happy man. In 2005 he spotted the auction of the now dry Byrasandra tank (near Jayanagar Swimming Pool) by Indian Overseas Bank and initiated legal action. Five years later, this month, BBMP is fencing the lake land to protect it and remove encroachments.

From left Ramalinga Reddy, Gangambika and Hema Chandra. Venkatasubba Rao pouring the milk. Pic: Chetan Boray.

The fencing program was inaugurated on 23rd by Gangambika, (INC) Corporator of Jayanagar (Ward 153). “First of all we have to make a border to improve, we are going to make this lake as a tree park”, she says. MLAs Hema Chandra Sagar (BJP, Chickpete) and Ramalinga Reddy (Congress, BTM Layout) also attended the function.

At present one chunk of 14 acres 11 gunte of the lake land is control of the BBMP and a 1 acre 32 gunte portion has been encroached and it has to be recovered, says BBMP- Executive Engineer Manjunatha Reddy. The encroachment is from residential buildings which are currently unoccupied. "Right now we are fencing only the road side area but the other part will be fenced after the encroachment is removed." The BBMP is adding a 612m fence and repairing a 140m older fence.

QUICK FACTS

* Lake land size: 14 Acres, 11 Gunte.Encroached part: 1 acres 34 gunte
* Fencing work entrusted to Karnataka Rural Infrastructure Development limited
* The length of the new fence is 612m. An existing and damaged fence of about 140m is also being repaired.
* Cost for this project inclusive of jungle clearance, leveling, lowering, and foundation work: Rs.1 crores

To reach this stage, the Byrasandra lake overcame many obstacles.

On 26th July 1985, Karnataka Government formed an Expert committee under the chairmanship of N Lakshman Rao to examine the problems relating to preservation and restoration or other wise to maintain desirable environment of lakes in Bangalore. On 11th Feb 1986 the report was submitted. The state government accepted the report ‘s recommendations and ordered that unused tank beds were to be handed over to Horticulture Department or Forest department.

Expert committee also recommended that about 10 hectares of the Byrasandra tank may be handed over to Forest department in order to establish a tree park. The forest department planted nearly hundreds of trees then but today, only five to eight trees remain.<

Byrasandra Lake getting ready for a Tree Park Pic Chetan Boray.

Developments since then have been captured in a BBMP-authored status report of 2009 signed by two of its engineers – Assistant Executive Engineer (Hombegowda subdivision) and Executive Engineer (Chickpete).

According to this report, in 1992, the then BMP started filling up the tank in a view to shift the slums from the NIMHANS quarters. Residents of Reserve Bank Colony filed a writ petition in High Court to stop this. They pointed to the state government's earlier decision to develop a tree park on the tank's land. On 3rd April 1992, court granted an interm stay on the slum relocation and ordered that no human habitation be allowed on the surface of the tank. On 23rd October 1992 final orders were passed making the interm stay absolute. Currently no slums are settled on the lake land.

Then in 2005, the same lake was ‘sold' by Indian Overseas Bank in an auction for a sum of Rs.7.60 crores. One Siera Developers had taken a loan from the bank's Jayanagar branch, for which the tank was illegally used as collateral. They defaulted on the loan and the bank proceeded to recover its dues. It is here that Venkasubba Rao stepped in and the Reserve Bank of India Employees Association (RBIEA) filed a case in the High Court and brought a stay.

Recalling the incident to Citizen Matters, Rao, who is currently Secretary of RBIEA says, "One fine day we saw a board saying the lake is to be sold. Basically it is government property so we filed a writ petition".    

The auction was also bought to notice to BMP commissioner. BMP filed an objection but the bank's recovery officer conducting the auction did not consider it, and as a result the land was sold out. The Deputy Commissioner for Forests (Bangalore Urban) filed a criminal complaint in Tilaknagar Police Station against Indian Overseas Bank regarding the mortgage of the tank belonging to the Forest Department. But the action taken by the Police in this regard is not known.

Coming back to the present, the Forest Department has handed over the land to the BBMP, and fencing has begun. Now there is no suit preventing the BBMP's steps to protect the tank land.  Two other proceedings remain pending: a writ petition regarding the debt of the Siera Developers at the High Court and proceedings before the Debt Recovery Tribunal.   ⊕