Venkateshpura lake diminishes in just three months

The efforts of Chokkanahalli's residents to resolve the issue compelled BBMP officials to write to the ADLR in Yelahanka. But nothing changed.

In March this year, we reported on how the small, but loved neighbourhood lake, Venkateshpura in Chokkanahalli, in the upcoming Arkavathy Layout, was allegedly notified as a Civic Amenity (CA) site. It was divided between a private trust and BWSSB. Three months on, the lake has now reduced physically as well. Here is an update on the lake and a look at how quickly landscapes can change in Bengaluru.

A lake loses its edge

In three months, the classic peri-urban idyll of the Chokkanahalli village has disappeared. The path leading to the lake, which was dotted with grazing land, now looks like a war zone.

Mounds of soil from constant digging and construction have taken over the path leading to the lake. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan

In March this year, the lake edge was full of reed beds that provide valuable habitat for shallow water birds. In three months, despite the start of the monsoons, much of the reed beds have vanished, replaced by demolition waste.

In March, the edges of the lake were filled with reed beds. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan
Vegetation around Venkateshpura lake
Vegetation dotting the shallow edges of the lake in March, 2023. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan
Debris around Venkateshpura lake
In July 2023, much of the lake edge was filled with debris. The debris appears to be largely from the demolition of a rocky outcrop that is allegedly part of the lake. However, some workers alleged that all construction projects around the area dumped debris near the lake edge. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan

Previous developments

Venkateshpura lake was under the Bangalore Development Authority’s (BDA) care until 2016, when the agency began the process of handing over the waterbody to BBMP. At that time, BDA’s records show that the lake measured 10 acres 35 guntas. The lake is situated in land that is now part of the Arkavathy Layout.

The BDA appears to have converted four acres of the lake’s watershed area into a CA site. The CA has been allotted to a private trust building a private school and to BWSSB to build a reservoir. This part of the lake abuts the Sampigehalli Auxiliary Tower, a historical remanent of the Great Trigonometric Survey, constructed by the British.

Residents of the area had approached multiple authorities to look into the issue and stop all construction around the lake until a fresh survey. But a visit this month, showed that pace of work had increased and the lake was steadily reducing in size.

Multiple JCBs at the site

A typical, peri-urban or semi-rural landcape, Chokkanahalli village where Venkateshpura lake is located, was filled with the sound of bird calls. The air is now filled with the noise of multiple JCBs.

Construction around Venkateshpura lake
Construction around Venkateshpura lake. Pic: Ansil BR

The village is part of the BDA’s controversial Arkavathy Layout project. Around Venkateshpura lake, multiple sites have been allotted to different organisations. Part of what is alleged to be lake land has been allotted to a private trust and to BWSSB. A plot of land, opposite the lake, is being used to build an Odisha Bhavan.

Construction around Venkateshpura lake. Video: Ansil BR
A part of the rocky hill connected to the GTS tower being demolished
A part of the rocky hill, connected to the GTS tower, being demolished in March 2023. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan
Diminishing rocky outcrop near Venkateshpura lake
By July 2023, the rocky outcrop has nearly gone. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan
A display board with an announcement by BWSSB that the alleged lake and grazing land have been allotted to BWSSB as a CA site.
Part of the alleged lake land and grazing land have been allotted to BWSSB as a CA site. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan
Land cordoned off for construction of Odisha Bhavan
Across the lake and the GTS tower, construction of Odisha Bhavan. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan

Grazing land is eaten away

Parts of the lake area and surrounding land is used by residents of the Chokkanahalli village as grazing land.

A sheep on the grazing land
Part of the lake’s water shed area that is now a CA site is also an important grazing land for residents of the nearby Chokkanahalli village. Image from March 2023. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan

In March this year, I met 70-year-old Kannappa, while he was out with his little grandson, watching over his livestock. Kannappa and other residents of Chokkanahalli village were worried that the different construction projects would eat up their grazing land.

Kannappa, cattle rearer
In March, Kannappa from Chokkanahalli village was worried that more grazing area would be lost with construction around the lake. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan

Read more: Venkateshpura Lake: An ancient monument and grazing land at stake

Grazing land around Venkateshpura lake in March 2023.Video: Bhanu Sridharan

Three months later, they have been proven right. Much of their grazing land has been dug up for a BWSSB reservoir. The very land that Kannappa sat on, watching his sheep, is now covered in mounds of dug up soil.

Grazing land around Venkateshpura lake disappears by July 2023. The land is being dug up for a BWSSB reservoir. Video: Bhanu Sridharan

GTS monument

Residents and heritage experts were also concerned about the state of the Sampigehalli auxilliary tower, which is adjacent to the lake.

GTS monument
The GTS monument in March, 2023. Pic: Bhanu Sridharan

In July, the monument was still intact. But construction work creeps up. A JCB digs up soil at the base of the GTS monument. The soil will be used at the Odisha Bhavan construction site, according to a contractor overseeing the digging.

The GTS tower is currently untouched. But soil is being dug up from the base of the monument for the Odisha Bhavan construction site. Video: Bhanu Sridharan

Residents helpless

Residents of Chokkanahalli made several attempts to resolve the issue. Their efforts compelled BBMP officials to write to the Assistant Director of Land Records (ADLR) in Yelahanka, asking for a fresh survey of the lake boundaries. But their efforts have not moved authorities.

In May, BBMP Executive Engineer (Lakes, Yelahanka), Mahadeva had accepted that the lake area was 10.35 acres. The official said that BDA had not handed over the remaining four acres to BBMP. Consequently, BBMP was planning to develop only 6.35 acres.

In July, the official confirmed that there was no change. Mahadeva said they had not received any communication from ADLR regarding a new survey. He said BBMP would only consider 6.35 acres for lake development. The work would involve fixing the lake bund, fencing and diverting sewage, according to the official and that would take three to four months depending on the weather. As for the remaining four acres, the BBMP official speculated that BDA had plans for the land.

Holding accountability

I was unable to contact the ADLR, Yelahanka, and BDA officials from the RT Nagar office. We will update the story if they choose to comment as they are the concerned authorities.

Read more: Beloved neighbourhood lake designated as a CA site, leased to a private trust

Among residents, who fought to protect the lake, there is now reluctance to speak out openly. Some fear that powerful vested interests might harm them. Others hope that by being non-combative they can save at least part of the lake and find a way to restore some grazing land for their rural neighbours.

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