The lake located near the Akshaya Nagar neighbourhood in Bangalore, India, had a severe pollution problem and the local population was suffering from its effects. Then, one man decided to take things into his own hands.

Polluted lakes are a major problem in India. Another nearby lake, Bellandur lake, was so full of sewage and toxic waste of all different sorts that its water was coated with a thick foam. Last November, the situation got even worse when the lake overflowed and a thick white toxic foam flooded entire streets.

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Then, last March, thousands of fish died after sewage water was dumped in Ulsoor lake, which is also near Bangalore.

Our Observer, Ramesh, was terrified of a similar environmental disaster happening in his own neighbourhood, Akshaya Nagar, so he enlisted the help of a group of motivated young people to try to save their local lake.

“As the pollution and the sewage water built up in the lake, we saw the flora and fauna disappear”

Ramesh, 65, worked in a bank before he retired. He’s been living in Akshaya Nagara for the past 12 years.

Since 2008, I’ve been trying to start various green initiatives in my neighbourhood. We have a big lake but no one was taking care of it, so we couldn’t take advantage of it. As there was no barrier around it, people were using the lake as a public toilet [Editor’s notes: In 2014, half of the Indian population didn’t have access to latrines. That same year, the government launched a programme to finance the installation of toilets in people’s homes.]

The lake after the clean-up operation. Photo from the Akshaya nagara kere sutta mutta Facebook page.

The shores of the lake were covered with weeds, which attracted snakes and rodents. Our neighbourhood organisation tried to weed two or three times a year, but it became unmanageable. No one walked near the lake.

A local person weeds the shores of the lake. Photo from the Akshaya nagara kere sutta mutta Facebook page. 

The neighbourhood is developing and there is a lot of building going on. Most buildings were dumping their sewage water directly into the lake.

Ten years ago, we often saw ducks and migratory birds on the lake. But as the pollution and the sewage water built up in the lake, we saw the flora and fauna disappear.

Underneath the lake, there are groundwater tables, which are major sources of drinking water for the local people. However, these water sources have been depleted because of the pollution as well as poor well-drilling techniques.

Locals participate in a clean-up project alongside the lake. Photos from the Akshaya nagara kere sutta mutta Facebook page.

 
"We started with just five people and now there are 50 of us”

I decided that something had to be done in order to address these problems. I also dreamed of creating a green space where local people could gather. I started by myself. One day, I was cleaning alongside the lake when a group of young people came up to me to see what I was doing. They quickly started helping me.

The volunteers are pictured in front of the lake. Photo from the Akshaya nagara kere sutta mutta Facebook page.

As soon as we got organised, the first thing we did was to go see the office responsible for development in Bangalore to ask them to help us put up a barrier around the lake and to reinforce the dyke to keep the water from overflowing. They agreed and actually did the work for us.
 
Locals set up benches. Photo from the Akshaya nagara kere sutta mutta Facebook page.

To put an end to the sewage water getting dumped into the lake, we needed to install a septic tank with a pipeline. In order to do that, I started a campaign to raise contributions from residents. I managed to raise 50 percent of the money we needed for the project. The city paid for the rest and we were able to install it in 2013.
 
Neighbourhood children plant trees. Photo from the Akshaya nagara kere sutta mutta Facebook page. 

 
"Now, we can walk on the shores of the lake and there are even yoga classes there”

Our next step was to weed the area around the lake, to set up benches and to set up play equipment for the kids. Our idea was to encourage the local residents to feel responsible for the state of the lake. If they pay for the work to be done, then they are more likely to feel invested in keeping the lake in a good condition.

Every week, a group of local residents takes care of the maintenance of the area around the lake. There are also frequent sessions organised to raise awareness among the younger generations about the importance of protecting the environment.
 
There are now yoga classes held next to the lake. Photo from the
Akshaya nagara kere sutta mutta Facebook page.

Now, we can walk alongside the lake. Sometimes, people even hold yoga classes there. We planted various plants and fruit trees. It’s like a big communal garden.

The quality of the water has also improved. The Fish and Wildlife Department confirmed that it is safe to eat fish from the lake. We regularly participate in conferences in India to talk about our clean-up initiative. And other communities in Bangalore are also starting to launch similar programmes.
 



Article written with
Maëva Poulet

Maëva Poulet