Udumbara Radio: Community and Conservation in Bengaluru

This episode talks about the communities that lived back then in Bengaluru and how those communities treated their environment and its resources. It also delves into the shift from common ownership of land to the government ownership which proved detrimental to the community at large.

Tamilians, Telugu speaking people and Kannadigas were the main inhabitants of Bengaluru for years. There were Urdu speaking people, Marathi speaking people and so many other minorities that lived in Bengaluru through the course of history. People of different trades such as fishermen, dhobis, gardeners, florists and so on lived in this cosmopolitan city. Bengaluru has always been so diverse. You can find stone inscriptions of those times in Bengaluru that have been written in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. All these communities depended upon the nature and water resources in a way very different from today.

Back then, there were these Gundathopus or community built mini forests that were prevalent across the city. These mini forests were started by Hyder Ali to boost trade by connecting the villages. The Gundathopus were beneficial to the villagers in a myriad of ways. After a half a day of travel, the villagers who had to venture into town to sell their produce would rest in these forests for a while. There were also provisions for Kattes or small tanks in the forests that was filled with fresh water for the villagers passing through.  They were filled with fruit bearing trees which provided the villagers with fruit that they could sell. They also provided a home for nomadic tribes who weren’t allowed to enter the villages. However, over time these forests reduced. The predominant reason for this was the encroachment of these lands by the government. Some of the villages that wanted to keep these thopus ended up converting them into parks for recreation to avoid the government from taking over. So, with time the primary utility of these Gundathopus completely changed.

There was another type of biodiverse wild forest known as sacred groves. These were found across India. In contrast to the Gundathopus, no human activity was allowed in these  groves. These groves were usually found near villages and were dedicated to deities. They kept the climate as well as the water table in check. All this changed when the British came to India.

Before the British, the lands belonged to the villages. The villagers collectively held this land and if the king wanted it, he would have to negotiate with the villagers and strike a deal. In case the people of the village wanted wood, they would take it from the forest but not before planting another one in its place. That was the mentality back then. They were focused on renewing the resources that they used up.

But all this flipped when the British passed a law to convert all the common land into government owned land. This meant that the lakes, the grazing land, the forests and all communal lands were being given to the government and they could do with it what they saw fit. In the 150 years that they were in India, they started grand projects that disrupted nature and led to the felling of 50% of our forests. The biggest blunder of all was to bring in water through pipes from the far-off Kaveri river instead of focusing on reclaiming the water in local bodies.

Even until 20 years back, the villages looked after their lakes and safeguarded them for their future generations. But as soon as they had access to piped water, they started to dump all the waste and sewage water into these lakes that they once revered. This shift from a conscious to an unconscious existence is what is truly horrifying.

In an attempt to revive the groundwater, we must restore local water bodies such as lakes, small ponds and tanks and also look at increasing our forest cover. IISc nurtured their own urban forest. This resulted in the groundwater rising from 700ft to just 20ft. This showed that forest covers are important in reclaiming water resources.

There was a lot of talk about what the commons meant. According to Dr. Harini, commons constitute two things- the resources that can be used by everyone and the resources that the people can manage on their own. Over time, though we still have resources that we can use, the people as a whole have been stripped of their  ownership of these local resources such as lakes. In the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’, Hardin outlines that due to the shift of the ownership from the commons to a central government, people started fueling their own self interest without much thought to future generations. This wasn’t the case years ago when people looked after their natural resources in hopes of safeguarding it for the future.

The final part of the episode spoke about the present usage of water bodies and their pathetic state. Presently, the lakes across Bengaluru are in such a bad state and on the brink of disappearing forever. Even the groundwater is endangered as more and more people move into the city and the demand goes up. A recent addition to all these problems is the digging of borewells. The issue with borewells is that they don’t tap into the shallow reserves of groundwater which gets replenished faster, but they go so much deeper. These deep reserves of groundwater are formed as the water from the shallow reserves trickle down through the rocks and this reserve takes a long time to get replenished. So, they are in a way non-renewable and their excessive use can prove catastrophic to us in the long run. The only people who can rectify this is the administration and they need to do something, and they need to do it FAST!

Listen in!

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