The Sarakki lake bed, in south Bengaluru, has been encroached upon in such a way that its southern end has turned into a thin tail where three temples have been built illegally.
The Observer visited ten of the 15 illegally built religious structures on the lake bed.
At the southern end, encroachment starts with a two-storey Mahalakshmi temple that was closed when The Observer visited the place. Beside the Mahalakshmi temple, two smaller temples have been built with iron angles and roofing sheets.
Sri Lakshmi Narayana Swami temple has occupied more than half an acre of the lake bed on the south-western bank. The temple area consists of a 25-sqft stage-like concrete structure built around a peepal tree.
Sri Sathya Ganapathi Shirdi Saibaba Temple, at the northern end of the water body, has exquisite sculptures on its walls. It has a high dome painted in white and golden colours. An engineer working on the beautification project of the lake informed The Observer: “Puttenahalli road and Ganapathi Temple (Sri Sathya Ganapathi Shirdi Saibaba Temple) are built on the lake bed.”
Sarakki is one of the largest lakes of Bengaluru. Previously, the area of the lake was 84 acres. Today, almost 34 acres have been encroached upon by various structures.
The Sarakki Lake Area Improvement Trust (SLAIT) was formed in 2012 to rejuvenate the lake, but the construction of illegal structures did not stop.
In September 2009, the Supreme Court ordered the state governments to demolish, relocate or regularize all illegal structures built on public property. On February 26, the BBMP informed the Karnataka High Court that 277 illegal religious structures were built in Bengaluru after the SC ruling. Of these, 36 were built on lake beds – 15 on Sarakki lake bed alone.
A BBMP official said: “Within the lake area, 15 religious structures are identified as illegal. We informed the HC whatever information we had. Now we are looking forward to the HC’s decision.”
Narayana S, a resident of Jarganahalli, said the lake was once almost rectangular, but now it has taken a conical shape due to encroachments. The illegal structures have narrowed the southern end of the lake and given it a conical shape which looks like the tail of the lake.
Some temples cannot be removed or demolished because local residents visit them daily. Shanta K, a resident of Puttenahalli, said the temples should not be demolished. Instead, the BBMP should take care of the illegal structures.
K.S. Bhat, a member of SLAIT, is happy with the high court’s intervention. He had approached the high court, the Supreme Court and the National Green Tribunal to save the lake. “HC will take a decision (on) which will stay and which will go. We are waiting for its decision.”
The Sarakki lake comes under the jurisdiction of the Jarganahalli BBMP office. A BBMP official at the office, said: “We have not received any directive from the head office.”
In the past 15 years, the custody of the lake has been shifted from the forest department to BBMP, BDA, Lake Development Authority and back to BBMP.
According to a report in Deccan Herald, the State Level Apex Committee held four meetings over lake encroachments till January 2021. It has ordered all the deputy commissioners to submit the soft copies of water body surveys done in the respected districts. They have been ordered to make a list of lakes surveyed, marked encroachments, encroachments removed and those which will be removed soon. That report says that Kaggadasapura Lake has 23 encroachments by private people; Begur Lake has almost 10 acres of encroachment while Subramanyapura Lake, in Uttarahalli, has shrunk from 25.6 acres to 18.6 acres in the revenue records.