Karnataka okays bill to jail river polluters; BJP protests

The Karnataka legislative assembly on Monday passed the Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority Bill, 2014, despite strong opposition from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party and the JD(S).

It aims to prevent and remove encroachments on lake areas and its drainage system in capital Bengaluru and other municipal corporation limits.

Under the provisions of the bill, those found discharging untreated sewage into the lake and dumping construction debris will be punished with a minimum three years' imprisonment that could be extended to five years, with a fine of not less than Rs10,000.

If a government servant fails to report unlawful occupation of a lake, then the official would be punished with imprisonment for one year and fine of Rs10,000.

Leader of the opposition Jagadish Shettar of the JD(S) along with H D Kumaraswamy and Y S V Datta joined S Suresh Kumar, C T Ravi, Govind Karjol and Vishveswara Hegde Kageri of the BJP in raising objections to the definition of ''lake'' and other provisions in the bill.

''What will happen to those housing layouts developed on tank beds by the BDA and private developers in Bengaluru,'' Mr. Kumaraswamy asked.

Minister for forests B Ramanath Rai said the bill provides for exercising regulatory control over all the lakes within the jurisdiction of all municipal corporations and the Bangalore Development Authority. It aims at creating habitat of wetland for aquatic biodiversity, water birds and aquatic plants, and controlling pollution of lakes.

Minister for law and parliamentary affairs T B Jayachandra said the interest of the common people would be safeguarded while framing rules to the Act.

After the legislation comes into effect, a Karnataka Lake Conservation and Development Authority will be set up headed by the chief secretary; and it will have powers to identify and recover encroached lakebed and take steps to protect, conserve and restore water bodies in the state.

?Kumaraswamy said that while the bill provided for the recovery of encroached areas, he wondered what would happen to hundreds of families who have built their houses on dried lakes.

''Even the Bangalore Development Authority has constructed a layout on lakebed and allotted sites. What will happen to these sites and to the owners who have bought them?''

The JD(S) leader said if the provisions of the bill were strictly followed, then even Kanteerva Indoor Stadium will have to be demolished as it was built on a lakebed.

Suresh Kumar of the BJP pointed out that the definition of ''lake'' in the bill had even included water bodies that had dried up, and this same could lead to confusion.