From lakes as urban commons to integrated lake-water governance: The case of Bengaluru's urban water bodies

Across rapidly urbanizing South Asia, erstwhile irrigation tanks or “lakes” are being swallowed into towns and cities and being given new meaning as providers of environmental amenities. The campaigns in Bengaluru city in southern India to protect and rejuvenate these lakes have managed to stave off the conversion and also privatization of these lakes and led to participatory management of a few of them. Most lakes, however, are still degraded. Why this is so and what institutional arrangements might improve the chances of success in lake governance?

Drawing upon a combination of secondary material, key informant interviews, and year-long participant observation in governmental efforts at stemming lake degradation in Bengaluru, the paper seeks to deepen current understanding of the values associated with lakes, their bio-social nature, and the roles played by and interactions between key actors and agencies.

The authors argue that the societal stakes in lakes extend beyond local users of the lake itself, whether traditional or modern, to users of water downstream and in other parts of Bengaluru; and there are significant trade-offs between different uses. Therefore, the authors maintain that the governance of these lakes not only needs the participation of local citizens but also coordination between and democratic control over several other agencies that are involved in managing water and wastewater and in allocating water or regulating its quality.

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