"Prima facie we find there has been a complete failure on part of the state government and its authorities to protect the lakes/tanks and other water bodies in the city of Bengaluru.", the Karnataka High Court observed on Monday.
A division bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice H T Narendra Prasad while hearing a bunch of petitions filed by Citizen Action Group and others, by way of an interim order directed the government to appoint NEERI an expert agency. It would study the present lakes and also locate the disappeared lakes.Further it would suggest/ recommend measures for restoration and rejuvenation of the lakes in the city.
The bench reminded the state;
"Mere beautification of surrounding around the lakes does not mean rejuvenation. It has to be done in a scientific manner and it has to be seen that the water in the lakes/tanks is pollution free. Nothing should be done which would result in drying up of the lakes. Allowing disappearing of lakes is in violation of Article 21 of the Constitution of India. It is the primary responsibility of the state to maintain lakes/tanks it cannot shirk it's responsibility by saying maintenance is entrusted with other authorities."
The court relying on the Doctrine of Public Trust and the Principle of Precaution and Supreme Court judgement and Wet Land rules, 2017, said
"It no longer remains a legal obligation on the authorities to protect lakes/tanks but is a Constitutional obligation. Article 21 of the Constitution, enables citizens to enjoy a quality life which is free from pollution." It added
"The manner in which the lakes in the city are dealt with state and other authorities have give a 'Go By' to the Doctrine of Public Trust."
The court has asked the state and other agencies to extend cooperation to NEERI in finding out the disappeared lakes and as suggested by it state would have to in phased manner restore the disappeared lakes by demolishing the construction over it.
The counsel for the state though object to it as metro station and bus stands have been built over them. To which Justice Oka said
"Concept of state seems to be that in name of development lakes can be destroyed. This is unheard of and not recognized by law. It could have been accepted if the state could have taken the stand that in lieu of destroyed lakes it would build man made lakes. We fail to understand how a city can be called smart City by destroying it's lakes."
Earlier the Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) has told court that 168 lakes is in its possession, 17 of which had lost the characteristics of lakes and were being utilised as bus stations, stadiums, office of the Pollution Control Board, revenue quarters, KHB colony and BDA layouts. The report indicated less number of lakes as were identified in a 2014 survey, which said Bengaluru had 183 lakes. However, last week the corporation told the court that there were 210 lakes in the city.
"The scenario that emerges today is that nobody is sure about number of existing/ disappeared lakes. If none authorities are sure then there is no record of lakes which have disappeared over passage of time," the bench said.
The court has directed the state to file compliance report on the directions which were given in an earlier judgement in 2011 on the same issue of lake preservation and rejuvenation. It clarified "It is for the courts to ensure that it's orders are properly implemented by calling for compliance reports."
The court will continue on Tuesday it's order as it could not be completed today due to paucity of time.