Karnataka has about 40,000 lakes and close to 10,000 lakes have already disappeared. In the wake of authorities failing to do enough to conserve these lakes, the Karnataka High Court has asked the government to decentralise the mechanism of lake governance both in rural and urban areas by involving local bodies. More details here.
Karnataka has an estimated 40,000 lakes at present and has already lost at least 10,000 lakes in recent decades. Photo: Creative Commons
Directing a new model of water bodies’ governance in the state, the Karnataka High Court, on June 15, has ordered the state government to decentralise the governance of the lakes in rural and urban areas by setting up district-level committees. These committees are to be headed by the respective Deputy Commissioners of the 27 districts in the southern state.
This new decentralised model is on the lines of similar committees that have been set up for city corporations and municipalities across the state in order to monitor the maintenance and development of these lakes. However, lakes in rural areas were not covered.
A Division Bench comprising Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice Ashok S. Kinagi passed the recent order as it modified the 2012 directions of the High Court on a public interest litigation (PIL) which was filed by Environment Support Group and a Bengaluru-based activist Leo F. Saldanha.
In its 2012 order, the court order had not covered the lakes in the rural areas. The same are now covered under the recent June 15 order.
Karnataka has an estimated 40,000 lakes at present and has already lost at least 10,000 lakes in recent decades.
Despite the order passed in 2012, the governance of lakes remained centralised and beyond the reach of local communities, the Environment Support Group stated.
“As a consequence, lakes continued to be encroached, polluted and destroyed. The Lake Protection Committees for urban areas remained on paper, and the Apex Committee at the State level meant to address people’s grievances failed to function as desired by the Karnataka High Court,” the petitioner stated.
“The constitution of the district-level committees ensures that the onus of governance of 40,000 lakes across Karnataka has now shifted to the local bodies that are custodians of these water bodies,”Environment Support Group stated.
By also keeping the door open for expert involvement in the district-level committees and for open hearing of grievances, this order now paves the way for public involvement in decision making relating to lakes, and for the democratisation of governance of commons across Karnataka,” it added.
While ordering the government to set up such decentralised committees, the court stated that the CEO of respective zilla panchayats and one higher officer each from the Departments of Forest, Ecology and Environment and Minor Irrigation would be the members of the committee and the member-secretary of the respective district legal service committee would be the secretary.
The bench also stated that apart from the issue of removal of structures put up by the government and its agencies in the designated buffer zones around the lakes, the court has to contemplate on the issue of constructions put up legally by private entities whose land form part of the buffer zone of 30 meters from lake areas.
“This ruling has expanded the scope of the prevailing order in ESG’s Lakes PIL and brought true public involvement in lake management and rehabilitation, and in regulation against their pollution – a substantive leap forward in governance of lakes as commons,” the petitioner said.
ESG was hopeful that this order is likely to influence similar reforms in the governance of commons across the country.