Despite being beaten up by a local contractor’s goons, Tushar Chandra is determined to save the lake
For months, Tushar Chandra, a 39-year-old content writer from Jigani in Bengaluru (rural), watched in unease as a local contractor dumped sewage into Hennagara lake regularly.
He was living in a rented flat in the plush DLF Maiden Heights apartment complex which overlooks the lake. The contractor, Shivaraju, was hired by the residents to dispose of its liquid waste.
He would, however, carry the waste in tankers from the apartments only to release it into the lake, alleges Tushar. He was advised against confronting Shivaraju because the contractor’s mother was a member of the local panchayat. So Tushar kept quiet for a while, but when he saw that the contractor had begun to dump garbage on the banks of the lake, he could not resist but have a word with Shivaraju only to get assaulted by him and his henchmen. Twice.
“I moved here from Kanpur in 2017 and the apartment complex had a sewage treatment plant (STP) which needed to be cleaned every few weeks. The residents’ association chose Shivaraju for the job because they claimed he had some kind of a certificate for it, although nobody bothered checking it,” said Tushar.
Soon, however, he noticed that after cleaning the STP, the waste would be dumped into the pristine Hennagara lake. “It was a clean lake and is often frequented by birds. So when I asked some of the residents why the contractor was allowed to dump sewage there, they said that they just wanted the work done and did not bother about where the STP waste went,” says Tushar.
On 16 September 2018, Tushar approached the men emptying the waste into the lake and asked them to stop. The men allegedly threatened Tushar and called up Shivaraju who soon arrived and then beat up the resident.
“He told me his mother was a member of the Masthenahalli village, which has jurisdiction over the area, and claimed that he has the permit to dispose STP waste into Hennagara lake. When I refused to believe it, he and one of his workers thrashed me,” says Tushar. He adds that there were passers-by and other complex residents witnessing the incident but none came to his aid.
Shaken by this incident, Tushar chose to keep quiet until another incident steeled his resolve to stand up to Shivraju again. “He began to collect garbage from the flats every evening, dump it in pits dug near the lake and then set it ablaze,” says the 39-year-old adding that once again the residents of the complex chose to overlook this. The contractor allegedly would cover up the pits after a few days and then dig another nearby to burn and bury the garbage.
Videos that Tushar shared with The Lede clearly show columns of smoke rising from a garbage pile set ablaze.
“On August 16 last year, I confronted Shivaraju again. This time he not only assaulted me but also threatened to strap me to rocks and throw me into the lake if I crossed paths with him again,” says Tushar.
By that time, the content writer had moved from the rented flat to his new home in the same locality with his parents. In the last few months, however, Tushar observed that Shivaraju’s men had been dumping debris on the banks of the lake and later bringing up an earthmover to level the ground and pile debris on it again.
“He has done this across several sites across the bank,” says Tushar, adding that even though he wants to approach the police to report this, he fears a nexus between the authorities and the contractor.
On Friday, Tushar mustered the courage to approach Jigani police with a written complaint which stated that he had been threatened and beaten up by Shivaraju. But, the police did not file an FIR and only acknowledged his complaint with a receipt.
V Ramprasad, co-founder and convenor of Friends of Lakes in Bengaluru stressed that Tushar should approach Masthenahalli panchayat Chairman with the evidence and wait for three days.
“If the Chairman does not act in three days, the resident can approach the Karnataka Tank Conservation and Development Authority (KTCDA),” Ramprasad said. “If KTCDA too does not act in three days, then the resident can approach the Lokayukta,” he added.
Ramprasad also said that it would help if Tushar ensured that photographs are taken when he hands over the evidence to the panchayat Chairman. “Even if the accused’s mother is a member of the panchayat, the evidence must be handed over to only the Chairman,” he said.
Ramprasad also said that Hennagara lake attracts migratory birds and should, therefore, command more attention from environmental activists.
Supreme Court advocate KV Dhananjay, who handles public interest litigations (PIL) related to lakes, said that the police should have filed an FIR based on Tushar’s complaint. “Not only is this a case about a resident being assaulted, but also about a lake being encroached upon. There is no reason for the police to have refused to file an FIR,” he said.
An Indian Institute of Science (IISc) study released this year found that of 45 lakes which were restored by the Bruhath Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) in the last decade, 24, including Uttarahalli, Puttenahalli, Kasavanahalli and Kaikondrahalli lakes, had ‘very poor water quality’. The study attributed the lakes’ condition to ‘unscientific restoration approaches’.
“The focus of rejuvenation was towards creating jogging path and beautification of the lakes rather than ecological restoration,” observed Dr TV Ramachandra, Sincy V and Asulabha KS, authors of the study ‘Status of Restored Lakes in Bangalore: Gaps and Solutions’.
Another study conducted by CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) claimed that the water of 40% of the lakes in Bengaluru is not fit for drinking.