Thu, Aug 03, 2006 - Page 9 News List

The cost of Bangalore's boom is apparent in its vanishing lakes

In 10 years, 160 of the 200 lakes in India's high-tech hub have disappeared, and private builders, construction waste and recreation threaten those remaining

AFP , BANGALORE, INDIA

At one of the lakes that dot the high-tech Indian city of Bangalore, speed and pedal boats ply the water, while on the banks food stalls serve people who have paid a 30 rupee (US$0.62) entrance fee.

The happy scene, however, is not proving popular with environmentalists who say development and tourism around Bangalore's lakes alters the topography and destroys water sources that are crucial for the continued growth of the burgeoning city.

Two million people have moved to Bangalore in the past five years as tech companies rush to take advantage of its easy lifestyle and highly educated workers. But no one planned for such fast growth, and a major casualty has been the disappearance of more than 160 small lakes -- out of 200 a decade ago -- that fed gardens and parks.

"The days are not far when there will an acute drinking water crisis. We can deceive ourselves but this is the truth," said Leo Saldanha, an environmental activist who heads the Environment Support Group.

"Boating and food stalls may cater to a silly middle-class sentiment. But it will sound the death knell for the lakes. These stalls are built on concrete bases which alter the topography of the lake and destroys its water sources," he said.

Bangalore, located 920 meters above sea level, got its start as a tech center after the government located its main space and defense research facilities there in the 1970s at a time the city was dotted with orchid plantations.

Questioning

But as the lakes dry up, business are questioning the city's ability to attract more companies from abroad -- such as Microsoft, Siemens and Intel -- who are among the 1,500 domestic and foreign technology firms already at the heart of India's outsourcing boom.

Revenues from software and service companies in India grew 31.4 percent to US$29.6 billion as of March this year and are forecast to bring in US$60 billion by 2010. The industry now provides 4.3 million jobs that are desperately needed in a nation of 1.1 billion people where one third live on less than US$1 a day.

Several companies have already shunned Bangalore, which is now beset by massive daily traffic jams, air and noise pollution and a fight for affordable housing in the inland city of seven million.

"The loss of lakes are a big concern," said Mukul Agrawal country manager of Unisys India, a global technology services firm. "The environment in Bangalore is taking a battering and so is the quality of life."

"We are looking to expand beyond this city. It is becoming more and more difficult to work in Bangalore because of the traffic, bad roads and pollution," he said.

Water tanks

B.K. Singh, head of Bangalore's Lake Development Authority, said that of the 200 lakes or "water tanks" which preserve rainwater, only about 40 have survived the rapid growth in the city.

But spent fuel, concrete platforms and waste from the crowds on the lakes are not the only problems for the lakes.

"A major culprit is encroachment of land by private builders and dumping of construction waste," Singh said. "These water bodies are one of the main sources of drinking water. All the pollutants, both industrial and human, find their way to the lakes and contaminate the ground water," he said.

Because of a lack of funds, Singh has asked companies in the city to "adopt" the remaining lakes in an effort to save them by charging a one-time fee of Rs300,000 to Rs500,000 for a period of five years.

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