“We drank water from the Byramangala lake when we took a break for lunch under the shade of the trees on its banks in 1965,” recalls Honnappa, 86, a former panchayat head of Byramangala village in Ramanagar taluk, while ruefully noting that today no villager even dares to touch the polluted and toxic water of the lake with his bare hands. Bellie Thomas reports.
Not surprising, as the lake, which occupies 500 acres amidst lush greenery in Ramanagar taluk, has for sometime now become infamous for producing a white froth that is spilling over from its banks into its surroundings, creating a visual pollution that has left the city aghast and brought it nationwide notoriety, along with a similarly frothing Bellandur lake. “The entire stretch of bridge leading to Byramanagala village from the lake is covered with froth every morning, especially when its cold,” says a villager, Dharmesh. Sometimes the froth rises to 20 to 30 feet above the bridge starting from the river below. This is even more than the froth you see around the Bellandur lake, he notes. “When its sunny, the froth is less and passersby even take selfies standing on the bridge with the snow-like froth in the backdrop,” he adds, seeing humour in the horrific situation resulting from man-made pollution.
It was in 1940 that the foundation stone for the Byramangala reservoir was laid by the Diwan of Mysore, Mirza Ismail and the British went on to build it. By 1942, water from the reservoir began to be supplied to the farmers and during World War II in 1944, the British army camping on the banks of Byramangala river, even drank from it, recalls farmer Honnappa.
“The British built a middle school on its banks, which eventually turned into a cinema house for the villagers,” adds another villager.
Interestingly along with the Bellandur, Varthur and Madiwala lakes, the Byramangala lake was supposed to be declared a heritage wetland of the city by the BDA in 2009, but it was not to be. Instead, the callous neglect of the authorities began to cause its slow death.
As the farmers and other villagers living around it looked on in dismay industrial pollutants , including chemicals and dyes, from the industrial belt in Bidadi, Peenya and Ramanagara began flowing through the Vrishabhavathi valley into the Byramangala lake making its water toxic.
Some of the farmers, who continue to use its water for irrigation, despite this, have a string of complaints. “The tender coconut we grow here tastes and smells different and we suspect this is due to the chemically contaminated water from the lake. We have no option but to use it,” says 66-year-old farmer, Nanda Kumar.
Even the silk that is derived from the mulberry fields here is of a poorer quality, he grumbles. “It is sold for Rs 50 per kg less in the market as the silk threads breaks off easily, which we also suspect is due to the contaminated water that flows into the fields from the Byramangala lake,” he adds.
Going by him around 5000 acres of agricultural land around the lake, spread across 20 villages in Ramanagara and Kanakapura taluk, use its contaminated water for agriculture. Another 1500 acres of unauthorised fields too use its water, he reveals.
“The villages of Byramangala, Chikkabyramangala, Choukahalli, Ittamadu, Ramanahalli, Gopehalli, Billedhoddi, Kolleganahalli, Sontenahalli, Kadasikoppa, Narayanapura, Kanchagaranahalli, Gharepalaya, Gharehalli, and Cheelor once received water from the Byramangala lake for growing mulberry, coconut, ragi, baby corn, banana, and grass for their cattle,” recalls Thiparappa, an agriculturist and contractor.
In the late 1990s and early 2000 the villagers toyed with the idea of moving from near the lake as many began to suffer from skin diseases owing to its contaminated water. “We thought we were getting leprosy or cancer, but our elected representative gave a report to the government saying it was a minor disease outbreak,” says Nanda Kumar, claiming that around 10 people have died from diseases caused by the pollution. He alleges that the Karnataka Industrial Area Development Board (KIADB) encroached over 100 acres of the lake’s wetlands for its projects in 1995. “An industrial estate was formed alongside the railway line connecting Kumbalgodu and Bidadi junctions. Several townships too mushroomed near it, but due to the condition of the lake realty here is not booming,” adds another villager.
Farmer Honappa claims that although Chief MInister Siddaramaiah as finance minister in a JDS government in the mid -2000s, released Rs 50 lakh for the lake’s purification and rejunavation, then MLA Lingappa and and late MLC, Boraiah used up the money for other projects.
The present local panchayat chief, G. Ramaiah says its time for the government to purify the Byramangala lake in the interest of the people and the environment. “ We approached the pollution control board, and its chairman inspected the lake eight months ago. His team also took samples of the water for testing, but nothing has come of it,” he regrets.
In the absence of any government initiative to save the lake, the panchayat now has its own purification plant to remove the contaminants from its water and sells it for Rs 5 per 25 litres to the villagers, he reveals....