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Statement of Concern and Protest against Privatisation of Lakes/Tanks in Bangalore

23 August 2007

The undersigned, who represent a variety of civic organisations, environmental organisations, naturalists and birdwatchers, are alarmed and perturbed at the arbitrary and adhoc manner in which the numerous tanks and wetlands, essentially a common property, of Bangalore, are being handed over for commercial and developments activities to private parties by the Government of Karnataka.

The Hebbal and Nagvara tanks, in particular, have been in the news lately as a vigilant media and citizens’ protest have brought to the fore the ill-conceived Private Public Partnership (PPP) policies of, ironically, the Lake Development Authority (LDA). LDA was constituted and entrusted with the task of conservation and preservation of tanks – and not to engage in activities that constitute the commercial development of these critical wetlands and water bodies. Despite widespread protests, several more tanks are slated to be handed over to private parties by the LDA in blatant violation of Supreme Court decisions, against the law of the land and without any concern and consideration to wider public resistance to such privatisation in the management of our common resources.

Hebbal and Nagawara tanks are amongst the most important wetland habitats for resident and migratory waterfowl and have been part of an international effort to monitor waterfowl populations over the past two decades. This is indeed a cause for serious concern.

We protest such a takeover of our common resources by the private corporate sector for commercial gain and we demand the immediate cancellation of these agreements. We also request the Joint Legislature Committee on Encroachments in Bangalore Urban District headed by Shri. A. T. Ramaswamy, MLA, to initiate an enquiry into this matter with due dispatch.

Legal violations

Firstly, LDAs actions go against the directives of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India which held in a recent judgment directly relating to management of tanks (in Intellectuals Forum, Tirupathi vs.State of A.P. & Ors, Appeal (civil) 1251 of 2006) that tanks and lakes are community property and cannot be traded away at all. A relevant extract from the judgment is reproduced at some length to highlight the emphasis laid down by the Hon’ble Court in ensuring tanks remained within the public commons: “[our legal system] includes the public trust doctrine as part of its jurisprudence. The state is the trustee of all natural resources which are by nature meant for public use and enjoyment. The state as a trustee is under the legal duty to protect the natural resources. [Para 22]

The Supreme Court of California, in the case of National Audubon Society v. Superior Court of Alpine Country, 33 Cal.419 also known as the Mono Lake case summed up the substance of the doctrine. The Court said: Thus the public trust is more than an affirmation of state power to use public property for public purposes. It is an affirmation of the duty of the State to protect the people’s common heritage of streams, lakes, marshlands and tidelands., surrendering the right only in those rare cases when the abandonment of the right is consistent with the purposes of the trust. This is an articulation of the doctrine from the angle of the affirmative duties of the State with regard to public trust. Formulated from a negatory angle, the doctrine does not exactly prohibit the alienation of the property held as a public trust. However, when the state holds a resource that is freely available for the use of the public, it provides for a high degree of judicial scrutiny upon any action of the Government, no matter how consistent with the existing legislations, that attempts to restrict such free use.” (emphasis supplied)

In handing over the tank to the East India Hotels, LDA is in direct contravention with the letter and spirit of this judgment. In addition it violates a variety of local laws and customary rights, especially those relating to the absolute role of the State in control and management of minor irrigation tanks. The LDA’s agreement with the Oberois (East India Hotels – EIH Ltd) and Lumbini also contravenes the recommendations of the Lakshman Rao Committee Report on the management of tanks – accepted by an order of the Government of Karnataka.

Land Use Violations

The Hebbal Tank PPP agreement between LDA and EIH Ltd fundamentally violates the land use planning norms per the Comprehensive Development Plan of the Bangalore Development Authority. This is because the custodian of Karnataka’s lakes has allowed for the creation of a hotel and commercial complex in an area that is exclusively meant to be retained as an ecological habitat and public commons. It is obvious that the LDA is contravening its own mandate of protection and conservation of urban wetlands and different agencies within the government are working at cross purposes at the cost of the cities ecological and water security. The PPP in its present form as conceived by the LDA is also highly questionable on counts of social justice, ecological effectiveness or economical cost-benefit analysis.

Social unjust and morally untenable

This LDAs act of handing over Hebbal Tank, and earlier Nagawara Tank, also seriously encroaches and rejects a variety of customary rights of local communities and fishing communities in terms of their free access and utilisation of the water body.

The PPP pays scant regard for the survival and livelihood needs of the urban poor and is exclusivist in its approach. Fencing of common public property like tanks for the well heeled of society will adversely affect access of poor urban and peri-urban populations who depend on these commons for washing, bathing themselves and their cattle; to extract fodder; fishing; irrigation, recreation, etc.

Anxiety of amusement

In a city already bursting at its seams with ever increasing number of theme parks, entertainment venues and shopping malls, the serene and natural open spaces in and around these water bodies are being ‘developed’ by making them into a veritable amusement parks. The anxiety of amusement is proving to be a death knell for urban biodiversity and excludes the under priviliged.

Ecological Suicide

The manner in which these ancient tanks are being ‘rehabilitated and developed’ shows a complete lack of understanding of the ecological structure of these man-made tanks. All the good work done by the Karnataka Forest Department on tank protection is being undone by the civil engineers hired as technical consultants to these projects by the private hospitality industry/investors. Efforts are underway by the Oberois in the case of Hebbal Tank to convert a seasonal dynamic and productive ecosystem into a permanent manicured, sterile concrete pond. Such ham-handed ‘beautification’ drives by private developers or in some cases by government agencies are killing the biodiversity, reducing the biological productivity and water holding capacity of these tanks. This amounts to a virtual eco-suicide for a city already under severe pressure from rampant urbanization.

Doubtful cost-benefit analysis

The government has often cited lack of monetary resources as the reason behind seeking private investment in the management of public resources. At the same time the LDA (as reported in some newspapers) contradicts this by stating that there is no lack of funding, only that private parties are better capable of stopping encroachments and ‘keeping away slum dwellers’. Shockingly such statements amount to statutory agencies abandoning their due role in protecting public resources and are a reason, by itself, to question the credentials of the officials who have made such statements and initiate action against them in accordance with law.

Equally shocking is the fact that LDA has not at all explained why the Indo-Norwegian Environment Program (INEP) tank conservation effort of Rs. 2.7 crores at Hebbal and Nagvara were considered inadequate and ineffective. Especially given that the INEP programme was chaired by no less an authority than the Development Commissioner of Karnataka, and the funding secured for rehabilitation on the basis of a bilateral agreement between the Governments of India, Norway and Karnataka. The Karnataka Dept. of Ecology and Environment and INEP claim the project of rehabilitating these lands was successful – marked even by a visit to Hebbal in 2004 by the Norwegian Envoy to India – while LDA which works under the very same department makes the claim that the INEP project was a failure. We believe this is a fit case for the Accountant General of Karnataka to investigate into the claims and counter-claims made by these related departments.

Oberois’ claims

Media scrutiny and citizen protests against the privatisation of Hebbal Tank has been reason enough for the Oberoi group to roll back the proposal of a floating restaurant – ostensibly for social and environmental reasons! What is not revealed by the Oberois, however, is that entire water spread and shoreline of Hebbal Tank will be transformed into a commercially developed area. How did the LDA even approve of such a project in the very first place? Obviously short term commercial gains for a few are being traded for the long term ecological and water security of the larger public. It only goes to show how vulnerable these urban wetlands are in the context of the present policies of management.

Issues like water and environmental security are far too important to be held hostage to ill-informed public official or be at the mercy of largesse and kindness of a benevolent CEO of a private firm.

What lessons has LDA learnt from this episode and what do they intend to do as a larger policy on tank management? How does the Government of Karnataka plan to integrate tank management into the larger water and ecological security policy for the city of Bangalore. Obviously the PPP if not put under the public scanner and thoroughly critiqued is capable of doing more damage than good.


We appeal to the Government of Karnataka to put an immediate end to the PPP model of privatising public commons. We urge the Government to order a thorough review of the existing projects under the scheme and to take serious note of this flawed policy on urban wetland management.

As concerned residents of Bangalore we cannot allow the government to abdicate its duties of protecting, conserving and managing our common property resources for larger public good by handing over complete control and ownership to private and corporate groups for the benefit of an exclusive few.

A thorough review and audit of agencies mandated to protect tanks like the LDA, Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike, Karnataka Forest Department, Bangalore Development Authority and others should be done to protect the interests of the wide public and the ecological and water security of everyone – rich or poor.

We demand a more socially just, ecologically sensible and economically viable management plans for the precious few surviving tanks of Bangalore.

Signature Name and Affiliation

Arun Nandavar

O. C. Naveein, Foundation for Nature Exploration and Conservation

Rustam Vania, Honorary Warden of Puttenahalli Tank

Deepak Arya

Subramanya S., Wetland Bird Specialist

Leo. F. Saldanha, Environment Support Group

Bhargavi S. Rao, Environment Support Group

Kathyayini Chamaraj CIVIC Bangalore


Address for contact: Environment Support Group ® 105, East End B Main Road, Jayanagar 9th Block East, Bangalore 560069.INDIA Tel: 91-80-22441977/26531339 Fax: 91-80-26534364 Email: [email protected] or [email protected]. Web: www.esgindia.org.

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