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Building Environmental Jurisprudence to Reclaim Lakes as Commons for Posterity: Compilation of ESG Lake Work

Harohalli Kere, south of Bangalore, represents a wetland ecosystem that provides diverse niches for a wide variety of waterbirds and other aquatic fauna

Collated here are petitions, affidavits, memos and notes filed by ESG to protect lakes of Karnataka before Karnataka High Court (WP 817/2008 & WP 38401/2014) and Supreme Court of India (Civil Appeal 17166/2013). You will also find here judicial orders, reports and laws that are an outcome of this ongoing effort. This section will be updated frequently.

First, A Sincere Appeal

Saving lakes is tough work. It demands complex research, sourcing of information from multiple agencies, challenging field work, long hours of analysis and committed public interest litigation over years. All this is being done by the small group we are, largely without funding support. We could do much better if you support this ongoing effort. So please consider donating generously.

We particularly request philanthropies and philanthropists to consider giving to ESG. Your largeheartedness will help us help hundreds of communities across Karnataka in reclaiming lakes, raja kaluves (canals) and ponds, thus extending water security and public health for all. What’s more, we can turn our wetlands again into biodiversity rich areas they were, until recently.

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An ecologically functional and social accessible lake near Doddaballapur, north of Bangalore

Please continue reading about our ongoing efforts protecting and rehabilitating lakes in Bangalore and across Karnataka, in socially just and ecologically wise ways. This approach has drawn global acclamation, including from late Nobel laureate Prof. Elinor Ostrom and from UN Water which has recognised ESG’s lake protection efforts as a global best practice.

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A template of the 137 acres millennia-old Begur Lake ESG has produced in the Karnataka High Court revealing how the lake’s ecological and social use has been systematically degraded, including now by BBMP which is turning it into a ‘soup bowl’ and turning it into a religious tourism destination.


The Original Lakes PIL:

On 11th April 2012, a Division Bench of the Karnataka High Court issued a final order in a Public Interest Litigation filed by ESG (WP 817/2008) seeking an end to the policy of privatisation of lakes, and for advancing a participatory schema that would assist protection and rehabilitation of lakes (and their canal networks), in Bangalore and across Karnataka.

This PIL was heard over four years, and several interim directions were issued. These interim directions included inviting recommendations of a committee set up under the Chairman of the Karnataka Legal Services Authority and then Judge of the Court, Mr. Justice N. K. Patil (since retd.) to propose steps to restore lakes as biodiversity-rich, environmentally healthy, and socially inclusive wetland ecosystems. 

Following extensive consultations, field visits, and meetings with various line departments and also a wide range of public, Justice Patil produced two reports, one proposing comprehensive guidelines for lake protection and rehabilitation, and the second on why the policy of privatisation of lakes should not be persisted with. The High Court accepted both reports in its final order of 11th April 2012, in which it also directed the State to set up District and Municipal Lake Protection Committees to guide lake protection and revival based on community participation. 

In addition, the Court directed the State Government to establish an apex quasi-judicial body at the State level to attend to unresolved disputes headed by State Revenue Secretary and Member Secretary of the Karnataka State Legal Services Authority.

This PIL brought to fore the need to strengthen  institutional arrangements to  protect lakes and rajakaluves (canals) across the State.  Karnataka has about 40,000 lakes and thousands of kilometres of Kaluves; over 10,000 lakes have been lost in recent decades. Bangalore city has over 400 lakes, and according to authoritative estimates about 200 lakes have been lost, or are suffering from serious encroachment and pollution. This has had a direct and adverse impact on the ecological, health and food securities of millions across the state.  ESG’s efforts, therefore, aren’t limited to protecting these biodiversity-rich wetlands, but towards also ensuring the security of present and future generations, and for being home to dozens of species of migratory waterfowl that visit this region every winter from as faraway as Siberia, Mongolia and Eurasia.

Enforcing compliance with judicial directives

For over a year, 2012 order of the Karnataka High Court remained unimplemented. Highlighting this egregious lapse, ESG filed a Contempt Case against the Chief Secretary of Karnataka (CCC 1336/2013). The High Court closed the Contempt Case the Karnataka Government issued orders to set up the District/Municipal Lake Protection Committees.

ESG also preferred a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court of India (Civil Appeal 17166/2013) seeking quashing of lease agreements extended to three corporate entities (Oberoi – Hebbal Lake, Lumbini – Nagawara Lake and Vengaiah Kere – Par-C), which effectively privatised the lake management. The appeal is pending adjudication since.

A Special Law to Protect Lakes of Karnataka

A direct result of this PIL effort is an unprecedented effort of the Karnataka Legislature which enacted a special law to protect lakes across the state guided by the Karnataka High Court order and the Justice Patil Committee Guidelines. The draft law acknowledges this fact, underwent several revisions and in 2014 the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority Act and the Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Act were enacted. As there were several inconsistencies in these laws, they were further amended in 2018 and the result is The Karnataka Tank Conservation And Development Authority And Certain Other Law (Amendment) Act, 2018.

Joining PIL initiative of Citizens Action Group

In June 2019, Environment Support Group and Leo F. Saldanha impleaded in a PIL relating to the protection of stormwater drains/raja kaluves initiated by Bangalore-based Citizens Action Group (WP 38401/2014). The Impleading Applications were allowed by the Principal Bench of the Karnataka High Court headed by Chief Justice Mr. Abhay Oka. Subsequently, a range of issues and concerns relating to lake protection and management have been brought to the attention of the Court.
Unprecedented orders have resulted. These have forestaged the need for promoting community involvement and ground-up surveillance against lake encroachment and pollution; to effectively implement directions issued in ESG’s Lakes PIL (WP 817/2008), and considering Lakes as Public Commons as per the Doctrine of Public Trust. In so directing, the High Court has taken cognisance of lake studies conducted by Environmental Management Policy Research Institute (2018), studies by National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (2019, 2020), and Survey of Irrigation Tanks as Wetlands Habitats (1989) conducted by Birdwatchers Field Club of Bangalore..
Importantly, the High Court has made applicable the Justice Patil Committee recommendations to the entire State of Karnataka. In addition, the State Revenue Department has been directed to survey each and every lake and their raja kaluves throughout the State and fix their legal limits, along with No Development Zone, in urban and rural areas. To seamlessly integrate institutional efforts to implement High Court directives and the law, the 11th April 2012 order in ESG’s PIL (WP 817/2008) was further amended by an order dated 15 June 2021 in which the functioning of the District and Municipal Lake Protection Committees was clarified and strengthened. In compliance with these directions, the Karnataka Government issued an order relating to the functioning of these Committees and another order regarding protection of ‘Buffer Zones’ around lakes.

Scroll down to find documentation relating to this ongoing effort to protect and conserve Karnataka’s lakes and raja kaluves to secure ecological, health, economic, social and cultural securities of present generations, and generations to come

First comprehensive effort to save lakes of Bangalore

Laxman Rao Committee Report, entitled, Of the Expert Committee for Preservation, Restoration or Otherwise of the Existing Tanks in Bangalore Metropolitan Area (1986).

Public Interest Petitions filed by Environment Support Group (WP 817/2008) and outcomes

ESG’s PIL on Lakes filed in High Court of Karnataka (WP 817/2008)

Daily Orders by Hon’ble Karnataka High Court pertaining to WP 817/2008.

Final Order wrt WP 817/2008.

A significant outcome of this litigation was the Justice N K Patil Reports, which are applicable to all lakes and their raja kaluves (canals) across Karnataka – about 40,000 lakes.

List of Lakes in Bangalore as listed in “Report of the Committee constituted by the Hon’ble High Court of Karnataka to examine the ground realities & prepare an Action Plan for preservation of lakes in the city of Bangalore (26th February 2011)” chaired by then Judge of the Karnataka High Court, Justice Mr. N. K. Patil (since Retd.).

Karnataka High Court Order in the case of B. Krishna Bhat Vs The State of Karnataka and Ors (WP 1841/2006).

ESG’s Contempt Petition against Karnataka Chief Secretary was dropped by the Karnataka High Court on confirmation that the Government would comply with directions issued in WP 817/2008

ESG’s Contempt Petition (CCC No. 1336/2013) and Consequent Order.

ESG has appealed against a part of the order of the Karnataka High Court in WP 817/2008, as the agreements privatising lakes in Bangalore were not quashed. The matter is pending adjudication in the Supreme Court of India.

ESG’s Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court: Civil Appeal No. 17166/2013.

Leo Saldanha (as party in person) and ESG impleaded in a PIL filed by Citizens Action Group before the Karnataka High Court. Various unprecedented orders to support ecologically wise and socially just rehabilitation of lakes have been issued. The Court has also held the State accountable for non-implementation of order in WP 817/2008

ESG’s Impleading Application in WP 38401/2014 (Citizens Action Group Vs the State of Karnataka and Ors).

ESG’s Impleading Application in WP 29107/2019 c/w WP 38401/2014

Daily Orders of Hon’ble Karnataka High Court in WP 38401/2014

Daily Orders of Hon’ble Karnataka High Court regarding Begur and Subramanyapura Lakes in WP 817/2008, WP 46523/2012 and WP 38401/2014 updated till 2nd June 2022.

Affidavits, Memos and Representations by ESG

Documents filed in WP 29107/2019 c/w WP 38401/2014

Affidavits by the State and BBMP

Affidavits by KTCDA

Important Orders that have been an outcome of or related to ESG’s efforts in WP817/2008 & WP 38401/2014

  1. G.O. RD 365 LGP 2013, Bangalore dated 09-12-2013, in compliance with WP 817/2008, regarding constituting Apex Committee for proper maintenance, development and protection of lakes/ tanks
  2. G.O. UDD 148 MNJ 2013, Bangalore dated 18-09-2013, in compliance with WP 817/2008,  regarding constituting a Committee for proper maintenance and protection of lakes/ tanks in Bangalore Metropolitan Area. Click here for the G.O.s.
  3. Compendium of Government of Karnataka Orders in compliance with Karnataka High Court directions in Contempt Case, regarding constitution of Lake Protection Committees state wide. And also other related GOs.
  4. G.O. RD 32 LGB 2015, Bangalore dated 24-06-2021, in compliance with WP 817/2008,  regarding constituting a District Level Committee for proper maintenance and protection of lakes/ tanks in all districts of Karnataka (except those covered by limits of Municipal Corporations and Municipal Councils, for which separate Committees are set up)
  5. BBMP Order Special Division (Properties)/ PR/ 1817/2021-22 dated 13-08-2021 in compliance with WP 38401/2014 regarding the appointment of Tahsildars in BBMP office to oversee removal of encroachment in lakes/tanks.
  6. Government Circular RD32 LGB2015, dated 14-07-2021, regarding protection of lakes and tanks mentioned in Revenue Records irrespective of the presence or absence of water in them, issued by the Revenue Department
  7. Government Circular UDD 126 Coordination 2021, dated 11-08-2021, regarding removal of encroachment and unauthorized construction in the 30m buffer zone around the outer boundary of all lakes in compliance with the Court Order in WP 38401/2014
  8. Government Notification UDD 11 BMR2017 dated 20 July 2019 determining No Development Zone around Lakes and Raja Kaluves
  9. Daily Orders of Karnataka High Court in WP 38218/2013 regarding protection of T G Halli Watershed.
  10. As per the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority Act, 2014, regarding appointment of “Designated Officers” for lakes in minor irrigation superintendence, Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority has issued a notification to the concerned offices. – Latest

Template used by ESG in graphically demonstrating the deterioration of Bangalore Lakes.

Public Interest Litigations relating to Bellandur Lake complex

Documentation relating to Lake Protection and Rehabilitation activities of ESG, and other useful documents

  • Wise Use, Conservation, Protection, Rehabilitation and Appropriate Governance of Lakes as Commons in Karnataka in English, click here and to read in Kannada, click here.
  • Submission of wise use practices for the protection, management and rehabilitation of lakes in Karnataka with special emphasis on Bangalore and other urban areas, click here.
  • Comic Strip on Consequences of Privatisation of Lakes in Bangalore, click here.
  • Independent Report On Status of Lakes in Bangalore Under Lake Development Authority, click here.
  • Survey of Irrigation Tanks as Wetland Bird Habitat in the Bangalore Area, India (1989), click here.
  • Performance audit on Conservation and Ecological restoration of Lakes under the jurisdiction of Lake Development Authority and Urban Local Bodies (2015) by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, click here.
  • Karnataka Legislature’s Joint House Committee reports, Part 1 and Part 2 ,on Encroachment of Government Lands in Bangalore City/ Urban District
  • EMPRI report “Inventorisation of Water Bodies in Bangalore Metropolitan Area (BMA)”. Final Volume I, Final Volume II South, Final Volume II North, Final Volume II East, Final Volume II Anekal.
  • December 2019 Advertisement by the Government of Karnataka stating its policy of beautifying and developing Tank and Lakes under Corporate Social Responsibility Scheme.
  • Final Report of Technical Committee for Inspection of Three Breached Tanks in BBMP Limits and for Suggestions To Prevent Further Such Incidents, dated 20th January 2020

One thought on “Building Environmental Jurisprudence to Reclaim Lakes as Commons for Posterity: Compilation of ESG Lake Work

  • Lokesh

    Kindly send the government Go’s and Circulars in English relating to protection of Lake in Bangalore and Karnataka.


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