From 285 lakes in 1970s, the city now has 105 lakes out of which only four are estimated to be in good condition. Covered with weeds or filled with solid or liquid wastes or having almost no water at all, the lakes are often in the news for experiencing fires or large-scale fish death.
Anand quit his corporate job to commit himself to the cause of reviving lakes in the city of Bangalore and has managed to give new life to wetlands which were quickly drying up.
Here is an exclusive interview with Anand Malligavad as he moves forward on his journey.
Deal with political pressure, and confront the land mafia.
What inspired you to take up the issue of cleaning up Bangalore’s lakes? When did you start your initiative?
More than an inspiration, it was my fear that Bangalore could end up with no water at all. There were many news reports stating that Bangalore city would run out of water by 2025 as its lakes and wetlands were extinguished by pollution, hence I began my initiative in 2016.
What were the challenges you faced as you as you went forward, especially at the outset?
I had to convince my company to invest CSR funds into the initiative while seeking support from Government authorities to remove encroachments around the Lakes, deal with political pressure, and confront the land mafia.
It was also important to convince villagers around the lakes to help with renovation efforts as they live along the lakes and had to be convinced that they should not fear a potential threat to their livelihood.
What have been special/memorable moments that you have experienced while pursuing this initiative?
The special moment for me after doing all the work that I have done is knowing that the farmers have started reaping benefits since the lake has been revived. Nearly 95% of the saplings we planted have survived, and the lakes have become home to multiple species of birds and animal and aquatic life.
“Self-motivation is the word for me.”
There must have been tough times when you felt disappointed or unmotivated. What were those, and how did you cope with them?
After bringing back Kyalsanahalli Lake and planting nearly 18000 saplings, the lake was completely dry. I was worried as to how could I water those plants. It was a call heard by nature, so during the first week of September, Bangalore received one of the highest rainfall totals it has received in recent history, and the lake filled up with water within 10 days.
Apart from this, there are many issues when it comes to bringing a lake back to life, operational issues among many others.
How do you keep yourself motivated? What kind of support have you received from others?
Self-motivation is the word for me. I try to keep the right people around me. The media outlets have been very supportive by showcasing my work and taking the message to the general population. There has been an encouraging response from nearby and impacted communities, Corporate and social media are now following our lead, including the government, which has come forward to support our work
How do you motivate young adults to contribute to improving the environment? What do you think India’s youth can do, and what are your views on their energy or thoughts?
Sportspersons and film actors are role models for the youth of our country. They should send the right message to young people, and they should motivate them to contribute to the environment.
India will be one of the youngest countries in the world for the next few decades. Our young people are among the brightest in the world. If we can motivate them there will be no better way to turn around the challenges to our environment. It is important to direct the energy of our youth to backing environmental causes rather than just seeking entertainment and fun all the time.
“Treating a lake as a waste dumping ground is a nightmare for a city’s health.”
What’s your mission with respect to this initiative or otherwise in life?
My mission is to rejuvenate 45 lakes by 2025 and help avert at least 25% Bangalore’s water crisis.
How have you educated yourself to Lake conservation? Are there experts who have partnered with you? How important are lakes and other water bodies to a city?
Since my childhood, I’ve had a long association with lakes; I used to spend lot of time there. And also, there is a lake in my home town that was built by one of my ancestors, too. Hence, lakes seem to be in my DNA.
Before rejuvenating the lakes in Bangalore, I visited nearly 150+ lakes to understand the geology, hydrology, and ecology of lakes, did a lot of research on the internet and self-learnt most of the things that I now know. I have also sought advice from many experts in the field.
There are many wetland experts from across the world who have got in touch with me to assist in my work.
Treating a lake as a waste dumping ground is a nightmare for a city’s health. It is important that lakes should be maintained to prevent ecological and economic collapse. Yes, economies will collapse because without water the cities will go dry and the businesses cannot sustain themselves, as we observed in Chennai recently. The results of bringing back the dead lakes have already been highly positive as they have become home to 4 Miyawaki forests and 40,000 trees, and the surrounding 7 villages have benefited with a rise in the water table while farmers are able to continue farming. More importantly, the lakes have become ecological hotspots for more than 50 bird and animal species apart from hundreds of varieties of aquatic species.
How long do you think you will be working on this? Are there more issues that are close to you that you wish to take up?
I have dedicated most of my life to conserving bodies of water and the Ecology. In fact, I quit my highly paid job in February this year (2019) to commit myself to the cause fully. It’s not just lakes, but I want to work on seven-stage water intervention systems that include roof-water, borewells, wells, step wells, lakes, rivers and oceans etc. Apart from this, I am adept in constructing sustainable IGBC certified buildings too that I would like to work on.
Photos: Anand Malligavad