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Hesaraghatta Lake: From a drinking water source of Bengaluru to a haven for sand mining, open defecation

A continuous erosion of its water catchment area due to urbanisation and the shrinking of its water storage areas due to silting are resulting in the drying up of the lake.

Hesaraghatta Lake view. (Express Photo by Darshan Devaiah BP)

The Hesaraghatta Lake bed and grasslands, created in 1894 across the Arkavathy River by the erstwhile Mysore state to meet the drinking water needs of Bengaluru city, has been rapidly drying up over the last 30 years. The lake is one of the last remaining grassland ecosystems in Bengaluru.

A continuous erosion of its water catchment area due to urbanisation and the shrinking of its water storage areas due to silting are resulting in the drying up of the lake.

According to the Classification of Water Quality under the National Water Quality Monitoring Programme by the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board, the water quality index is unsatisfactory.

Hesaraghatta Lake BWSSB board. (Express Photo by Darshan Devaiah BP)

The 1,912-acre lake and grassland located about 30 km northwest of Bengaluru is now mostly a dry lake with the exception of a few patches of water that has collected due to the recent spell of incessant rains.

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From a source of drinking water, the lake in recent years has become a haven for sand mining, cattle grazing and open defecation.

Manjegowda, 70, a resident of Hessarghatta recalls that the lake water was used for irrigation to grow ragi and other vegetables 40 years ago. “I own a two acre land where my father used to grow vegetables and ragi using water from this lake. Even I used to grow vegetables with this water but in the last 40 years, the lake has completely dried up,” Manjegowda said.

“The negligence of the lake by the state government has now made it useless. Tourists take their vehicles to the lake bed and do photoshoots. A few land grabbers have been encroaching on to the lake bed,” he said

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Prasanna Kumar, a priest of a temple near the lake, said open defecation has become a common problem in the dry lake. “Many villagers and tourists are throwing waste into the lake and destroying the grasslands,” Prasanna said.

Hesaraghatta Lake and grassland view. (Express Photo by Darshan Devaiah BP)

The Bangalore Water Supply and Sewerage Board (BWSSB), which is maintaining the lake area, has put up a fence to prevent trespassing but locals say people find their way into the lake from many open spots.

In 2014, environmental activists and locals had submitted a detailed proposal to the Karnataka Forest Department to declare the 5,000-acre Hesaraghatta land, including the lakebed, as a “conservation reserve” under Section 36A of the Wildlife Protection Act.

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In January 2021, the Karnataka State Wildlife Board, however, rejected the proposal for converting Bengaluru’s last-standing grassland in Hesaraghatta into a conservation reserve.

The state government plans to build a film city on a 150-acre plot in Hesaraghatta. This plan was first proposed 30 years ago by former Chief Minister Ramakrishna Hegde and has been on and off the table but recently on March 8, Former Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa in his Budget speech announced a theme park at Hesaraghatta. This announcement has been objected to by environmentalists and conservation activists.

Meanwhile, the 356-acre landscape surrounding the lakebed is the last remaining grassland habitat in the Bengaluru region, according to environmentalists.

Nishanth Vijay, an urban conservationist, said the government has no idea about how unique the Hessarghatta Lake region is. “It is a microhabitat and experts need to study the Hessagahatta Lake and its flora and fauna and protect it and not destroy it by building a theme park and a film city,” he said.

Hesaraghatta Lake. (Express Photo by Darshan Devaiah BP)

The Hessarghatta Lake was built by Sir K Seshadri Iyer, a dewan of the erstwhile Mysore state and a Chief Engineer of Mysuru, M C Hutchins, under a scheme called the “Chamarajendra Water Works”, named after the former king of Mysuru. The lake was intended to store three years of water supply for Bengaluru city.

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“The government should protect this lake just like the erstwhile Mysore kingdom. The government and the urban crowd who visit the lake on weekends should protect and save the lake,” Nishanth said.

The grassland and lake are a refuge for endangered wildlife species like the Lesser Florican. The lake is home to over 130 species of birds, various mammals and butterflies along with millions of insects, Nishanth said.

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The present status of the lake: Dried from last 30 years due to the erosion in the catchment and consequent capacity shrinking due to continuous silting.

Total extent of the lake: 1,912 acres including grassland

Location: Hesaraghatta, Bengaluru Rural district.

What are the major issues affecting the lake: Sand mining, movement of vehicles by tourists on the lake, since lake is dried, grazing of cattle and open defecation.

First published on: 05-12-2021 at 08:00:30 am
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