The High Court of Karnataka on Tuesday, 4th November directed the Lake Development Authority (LDA) not to enter into fresh agreements enabling private parties to own lakes. A division of the HC bench, comprising Chief Justice PD Dinakaran and Justice VG Sabhapathi, took the State government to task, observing that the government was trying to commercialise lakes by handing them over to the private parties.

The Court directed the government and the LDA to take a decision regarding steps to be taken to protect lakes and gardens, to preserve the beauty of cities and maintain ecological balance. It has given two weeks time to the government for this.

The bench delivered the verdict during the fifth hearing of a PIL filed by Environment Support Group and Leo Saldanha questioning the order handing over the ownership of Hebbal, Nagavara and Agara lakes to private parties. (The first two lakes are located in North Bangalore and the latter in the south).

The LDA signed an agreement with East India Hotels Pvt. Ltd, which operates the Oberoi chain of hotels, for the development of Hebbal Lake, Biota Natural Systems Pvt. Ltd for Agara Lake and Lumbini Gardens for Nagvara lake. "What the LDA is planning to do is in contravention of its own by-laws and directives of the Supreme Court," pointed Saldanha during the hearing.

Private parties were spending several crores of rupees to develop and commercialise lakes, but the government had not taken any step, observed the Court. The bench questioned LDA as to what amount had been earmarked in the budget for the protection of lakes. The representative of Lumbini Gardens said that the company has signed the agreement for 15 years and has already spent Rs 15 crores for the beautification of Nagvara lake and were also paying Rs 40 lakhs as monthly fee to the government.

On this the Bench asked them to stop all the development work with immediate effect. Furthermore the court asked the government to return the money spent by the private parties and continue the beautification work.

The bench also ridiculed government bodies by saying that the LDA is working like an agency and not an authority. From one side it is behaving like and agency for the government and from the other side for the private parties. It also mentioned that the LDA went ahead with the commercialisation ignoring the objections from the Forest Department and the Karanataka State Pollution Control Board. At the same time the government was also criticised for its laid back attitude towards the case.

"If the government was serious enough in performing its duties towards the maintenance of the lakes then there would have been no need to create the LDA and then further make way for privatisation," said the justices. The bench further mentioned that there are many talented officials in the government who possess tremendous knowledge about preserving lakes, but their talent has not been effectively utilised. Hence, such officials are selling their talent to private parties, the bench noted.

"The government is making all efforts to prevent citizens from enjoying natural beauty. The Court cannot be a mute spectator to such a development. There can be no development at the cost of the nature. If allowed to act as per its whims and fancies, the government will soon privatise Cubbon Park and Lal Bagh," the bench observed.

The bench concluded by saying that the government was not serious and undertook all the supposed development as just eyewash to the public. It asked the government to give powers to the tourism department to take up lake development and stop LDA from entering any fresh agreement or commercialisation activities.