Interview with Mr. Ramprasad, co-founder of the Friends of Lakes organization.
Friends of Lakes is an organization that focuses on many lakes of Bangalore and beyond. It does not focus on Bellandur Lake at present.
“We were all kids….we used to play near the lakes…”
"Just like everyone has to stand up for the national anthem...protecting our environment is our duty."
“People in urban areas want walking paths and want to put concrete everywhere....”
Q: Sir, can you tell us about the organization Friends of Lakes?
We were all kids when we formed Friends of Lakes in 1988. We used to play near the lakes of Bangalore. Later, everyone went to colleges, but we regrouped in 2011. We did not want to register the organization and wanted something very informal. We would simply be exactly what we were: friends of lakes and friends of trees. We didn’t want there to be a president or secretary who would tell you what to do.
Once, we wanted to plant 400 trees in our area. It was not such a herculean task. We would dig holes, plant saplings, and using water from the lakes, water the plants, all on our own. We never needed money either. If we needed money, we thought why not follow the same principles of friendship. Just like how a group of friends in school or college would pool in money for a trip. We also realized that there are no big fights if money is not involved. Fights and disputes always start with money. So here, it is pure voluntarism. Whoever wants to be a part of Friends of Lakes can join, but there should be no politics, just talk about the lakes and work.
Q: Could you tell us something about the work that Friends of Lakes has done?
We slowly started cleaning the lakes because there was lots of garbage. For example, on Sunday lake-cleanings, we would have about 35-40 people present. Later, political parties also got involved because they wanted credit as well. Since both political parties wanted to get involved, we divided the work between them based on regions: north and south. Also, we wanted regular activity in the group. That’s the only way any kind of group can stay alive. Otherwise, it would just disintegrate and become inactive.
In 2014, we saw that FOL was involved with 10 different lakes. We decided to take the organization forward, and make certain decorum within FOL. We taught people how to have a meeting, how to behave in groups, et cetera. This was to ensure that there were no clashes or anything
By 2017, we were involved with the cleaning of 22 lakes. We decided not to expand more because there already lots of work to be done, but we would do justice to the 22 lakes we had taken up before.
We have also gotten involved in rural lakes and discovered that the scene there is quite different from the urban areas. The ecosystem is different and the way the lake interacts with people and the environment is different. There are also no buildings or sewage that flows into the lake. In rural areas, we work as the organization Jalamitra, which means “friends of water” in Kannada.
In urban areas, people always want walking paths around the lakes and want to put concrete everywhere. They treat lakes as swimming pools. They need to understand that lakes are not like that. Lakes are living bodies. There will be algae, plants, insects, fish, birds, and many more living beings. They also don’t fully understand how much they depend on the lakes. It is true that we get water from 2000-3000 feet below the ground, but most of that waster has percolated from the lakes. I would say that about 50% of Bangalore’s drinking water comes from lakes.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
In the future, we want to involve scientists, corporations (for funds), and many more citizens in the rejuvenation of the lakes. The corporations can directly fund the work that needs to be done so there are no middle-men or fights.
Q: What plans does FOL have for Bellandur Lake?
Bellandur Lake already has 7 groups involved in its cleaning efforts. If they ever need help (with community gathering, not funding), we are there. We decided that we would focus on the 22 lakes we were already involved with as too many cooks spoil the broth. Some of these lakes do flow into Bellandur Lake so it will still help quite a bit.
Q: What can citizens and teenagers do to contribute?
Before anyone gets involved, they should have some knowledge about the background of the lakes and about how they are formed. This will help them see what kind of work needs to be done and in what direction to go. Also, since they are teenagers and kids, they shouldn’t go near the water or into the water and start risking their lives.
As kids, they should try, whatever the method may be, to keep the outer areas clean. The teenagers now need to understand that they would be saving their own futures. This is also why we have come up with a campaign that is run by school kids “Save My Future”.
If someone is throwing a plastic bag, which will remain on the face of the earth for the next 500 years, you have a right to tell him or her to stop. Especially when a child tells someone to stop throwing, it gets into the people’s minds.
Just like everyone has to stand up for the national anthem. It is a duty and nobody can stop you. The same way, protecting our environment is our duty.