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  Kolleru Lake is going!
  Kolleru lake, a wetland located in Andhra Pradesh, is one of India’s largest freshwater lakes and a bird sanctuary. Between 1985 and 1987 a study identified more than 185 bird species in the area, and new species continue to be found. The lake harbours four rare bird species and 12 endangered ones. It was declared a protected area for pelicans — about 8,000 pelicans came in 1961 — but since 1972, none have visited. But today, economic and industrial development, expanding fisheries and pollution threaten Kolleru.

The bed of Kolleru Lake has been used for ages to cultivate yerra vari, a native paddy variety. Since 1940 the cultivated area increased as the British government granted pattas (title deeds) on payment of market value for the land. 1954 on, the government initiated cooperative farming and organised 93 farming societies on 2.1 million acres of the lake bed. By 1969, almost the entire lake came under cultivation with huge bunds (embankments) constructed to keep water out. The native paddy was replaced with shorter, high-yielding varieties requiring more fertilisers and pesticides. But floods threatened the cultivated areas every year. By 1980, people got disillusioned and abandoned agriculture. Fishing became the new fashion.

The roads and bridges that had come up with agricultural development in the area, along with an increased demand for fish, especially from Calcutta, created a new and vast market for fish by 1978. Pisciculture suddenly became profitable. By 1984, 5,000 acres of government lakebed land were converted to fish tanks under cooperative societies. Says K Kanakaraju, inspector in the fisheries department at Kaikalur, "The government meant well. Financial help was provided by pledging the patta lands to cooperative banks in order to construct fish tanks. Our department provided technical help and training. Unfortunately, due to poor maintenance and low productivity of these tanks, fisherfolk could not repay the loans. The government auctioned the tanks to private investors." Adds Saidu Anjaneyaly, a fisherman of Bhujabalapatnam village in Krishna district, "We did really well [until] the two cyclones and unprecedented floods in 1986 played truant with our lives. [When we could not] pay back our loans, the benami land holders with their bags full of money got into the game of money spinning."

Today, land is leased out to private parties at Rs 10,000 to Rs 17,500 per acre per annum. The Vaddi community, which dominates the Kolleru villages, is prospering just by leasing out land to third parties, as evidenced by the mopeds and motorcycles used by people on islands on the lake.
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  Ecological degradation:

Pressure on the lake has led to proliferating weeds and fewer visiting birds. The catchment area has shrunk. This has led to eutrophication, loss of drinking water and declining fish catches. Obstructions on the lake’s periphery lead to flooded agricultural land even during normal rainfall.

The shape and area of the lake are difficult to assess because floods submerge large areas. The water spread varies from 135 sq km at +3 msl (mean sea level) level to 901 sq km at +10 msl. The average depth of the lake varies from 0.5 metres to two metres: the lake is silting gradually, raising the bed level.

Sewage inflow from the towns of Eluru, Gudivada and even Vijayawada and industrial effluents, pesticides and fertilisers from the Krishna-Godavari delta region contaminate the lake. Eleven major industries release about 7.2 million litres of effluents into the lake every day. An Andhra Pradesh Pollution Control Board report states that more than 17,000 tonnes of fertiliser wash enters the lake annually. Studies have shown the presence of organic pollutants in lake sediment and in the fast-growing weeds. The sewage and discharge from factories have also affected the growth of water-borne organisms that the fish consume.

An ecological survey conducted in 1978 by V Seshavatharam and B S M Dutt, with financial assistance from csir, found no evidence of algal blooms and no significant contrast between the concentration of dissolved oxygen at the surface of the lake and at the bottom. However, in 1980, a report by E Ramakrishnan of the Administrative Staff College of India stated that the weed problem in the lake was caused by high levels of pollution. In 1982, state pollution board member Rajya Lakshmi warned that a dead zone would be created if pollutants were not checked. Another board member, Ramaiah Naidu, felt the diminishing fish catch from the lake was due to depleting water levels.

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  Remedial measures:
In 1982, the Andhra Pradesh government set up the Kolleru Lake Development Committee (KLDC), which set up a Rs 300-crore master plan for Kolleru. The plan suggests that the lake level be maintained at +5 msl, and irrigation and drainage regulators be constructed across the Upputeru channel from the lake to the sea. It also calls for the creation of a Kolleru lake development authority to check encroachments, regulate and monitor pollution, clear the lake of weeds and use it as compost and raw material to produce biogas. Pisciculture, a bird sanctuary and tourism are in the offing. The government, however is yet to allot funds for the Upputeru project.

The KLDC’s scientific laboratory is equally tardy. Equipment worth Rs 3
lakh gathers dust for want of staff. The administrative officer, A Satyanarayana Rao, says, "I cannot review anything in the field as I have inadequate technical and executive staff. Even all the committee members have not been appointed. We have written to the government to wind up the office if matters don’t improve." Today, the KLDC staff just remove weeds from the lake.

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  What can be done:
While the Kolleru conservation debate continues, there is no movement worth its name among the locals to stop over-exploiting the lake’s resources. Says Anjaneyaly. “I remember as a child my people were content with the daily catch sold locally. Today, though we earn a great deal, as a kilogram of fish fetches us between Rs 8 and Rs 15 , we are still unhappy."

Politicians and landowners pass the buck. Worse, such exploitation is carried out in the guise of development. With water channels blocked by indiscriminately digging fish ponds bordering the lake, the water level is depleting by the day. The need of the hour is to implement the master plan to save the ecosystem.
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The changing face of India's lakes

CHILIKA LAKE Orissa: Chilika has shrunk from 2,200 square kilometers originally to about 915 sq km now. Heavy siltation has choked the northern mouth of the brackish lake. Weeds have taken over in the past 13 years. Traces of toxic metals such as mercury and cadmium threaten the lake’s marine life. Excessive fishing has brought down the annual catch from 9,000 tonnes to 6,000 tonnes.

ANSUPA LAKE Orissa: Severe erosion of the catchment area, heavy exploitation of vegetation around Ansupa, accompanied by siltation and increased growth of hyacinth and algae, are turning this large freshwater lake into a swamp. The migratory birds and the tourists do not visit anymore.

DAL LAKE Jammu and Kashmir: Houseboats and doongas (service boats) that serve tourists discharge sewage and other waste into the lake. Effluents from the paper, carpet and wool industries also pollute the lake. Weeds have taken over and the present area of the lake is 12 sq km, half of what it was a few decades ago. The gardens and trees along the fringes of the lake have also contributed substantially to the reduction of the lake’s area.

LOKTAK LAKE Manipur: The barrage on the Manipur river at Ethai has affected Loktak lake because the river is its only natural outflow. The waters from the hills that flow into Loktak no longer flow out
at their former rate, causing siltation. Thousands of hectares of cultivable land have also been submerged. However, the same amount of fertilisers and pesticides are used on reduced land holdings to try and maintain output. The run-off from these fields is polluting the lake. In addition, fisherfolk pour toxins to kill fish and increase catches.

POWAI LAKE Bombay: Siltation has been caused by heavy erosion in the hills. The construction of unauthorised structures, deforestation and quarrying are the main causes of soil erosion. In addition, domestic garbage and sewage from 14 outlets in the area flow into the lake.

HUSSAINSAGAR LAKE Hyderabad: Every day, upto 8 million gallons of liquid waste slither into the lake. Damage is also caused by silting of solid pollutants such as zinc, lead, copper, manganese and mercury. As a result, thousands of fish die. Besides industries and people, the immersion of thousands of Ganesh idols also contribute to siltation.

Pulicat lake (460 sq km) is fed by three rivers and empties into the Bay of Bengal. The lake runs parallel to the sea and a narrow strip of ‘island’, Sriharikota, separates them. Four decades and four projects later, water is scarce in Madras city. Hope lies in converting the brackish Pulicat lake into a freshwater one, or so the engineers say. Two barges or dykes 300 to 400 meters long at each interface of the lake with the sea could do the job.

Pulicat is a unique wetland system declared by the Ramsar Convention to be preserved for migrant water birds, including flamingos. It acts as a breeding ground for several species of bird and marine life. White and tiger prawns, mud crabs and oysters fuel a major fishing industry. According to one study, the export of prawns fetches Rs 90,000 to Rs 1,20,000 daily for the fish merchants. It provides work opportunity to 30,000 fisherfolk directly, 20,000 agricultural labourers during off-season and traders and prawn merchants indirectly.

P J Sanjeeva Raj, a professor of ecology at the Centre for Research on New International Economic Order (CRENIEO) in Chennai, explains that disconnecting the sea from the lake not only prevents the exchange of water, oxygen, nutrients and plankton, but also the outward migration of breeding prawns, crabs and fish and the inward migration of their eggs, larvae and juveniles. Arivaghazan, coordinator of the Pulicat integrated fisherfolk development project run by crenieo, adds that the government could well prohibit fishing in a water body that is meant to be used for drinking water.

The other problem is to do with eviction and rehabilitation. Thirteen villages were evicted from Sriharikota island to make way for the satellite launch facility. This time around, the project will directly affect the 52 villages around the lake.

The other problem is to do with eviction and rehabilitation. Thirteen villages were evicted from Sriharikota island to make way for the satellite launch facility. This time around, the project will directly affect the 52 villages around the lake. Rajashekar, a victim of an earlier eviction, asks, "How does the government

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Kolleru lake is going
December 31, 1993
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