Anatomy of INTACH’s Rs. 63.80 lakh DPR for saving Kukkarahalli Lake
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Anatomy of INTACH’s Rs. 63.80 lakh DPR for saving Kukkarahalli Lake

July 1, 2024

By Bhamy V. Shenoy

“My wife and I visited Bengaluru for lunch with Dr. Vijay Kelkar, who has served as both the Petroleum Secretary and Finance Secretary, and is also considered the Father of GST. We discussed various topics. When I asked him if he knew about INTACH and explained why I was asking, he told me that INTACH had reached out to him because they were in deep financial trouble. After reviewing their work, he recommended Rs. 100 crore in aid to the then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram. To his pleasant surprise, Chidambaram included the recommendation in the budget and it was approved. Meanwhile, in our city, we are quibbling over a fully deserved Rs. 63.80 lakh just because a tender was not called. You know the real reason.”

It should be appreciated that questions are raised about giving a Rs. 63.80 lakh contract to the Delhi-based Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the conservation of Kukkarahalli Lake and a case filed with the Lokayukta.

If an attempt had been made to investigate the competence and background of INTACH, it would have shown no need for reservations. When I first learned about the INTACH contract, I was also surprised since I knew it was a heritage protection NGO.

Anyone familiar with Kukkarahalli Lake knows that unless the encroachment of Dewan Poornaiah Canal is removed, Kukkarahalli Lake will meet the same fate as many lakes in our city and the State. We are fortunate to have a biodiversity hotspot in the middle of the city. It is our responsibility to preserve such a Lake.

But when we look back, we start wondering why we have failed. Several Deputy Commissioners (DCs) could have attempted to preserve it. However, most have not made serious attempts to remove encroachments despite knowing about them. Only a few have made efforts but failed. As for MUDA Commissioners, the less said, the better. They have been either mute spectators or                              willing supporters.

HC order in 2017

Thanks to documents shared with me by former MUDA official Nataraj, I learned that in 2020, the then DC Abhiram G. Sankar had ordered the PWD, Revenue Department, and others to remove all encroachments along the Poornaiah Canal. This action was the result of a High Court (HC) order in 2017 to MUDA to take action within three months. However, it took three long years.

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There have been two DCs since Abhiram Shankar (Rohini Sindhuri and Dr. Bagadi Gautam), and neither of them was aware of this HC order. I attended two meetings with Dr. Bagadi Gautam during which he ordered an inspection of encroachments after the flooding at the start of the canal and steps to remove them. Again, there was no result and no reference to the HC order.

The first time I met the present DC Dr. K.V. Rajendra, I requested that he save Kukkarahalli Lake for Mysuru. When I learned that he had awarded the contract to prepare a DPR to INTACH, I was surprised. To me, INTACH was a highly reputed NGO (MGP had a book of  historical sites prepared by INTACH in 1986 which was first-of-its-kind) focused on preserving heritage buildings.

INTACH’s notable  projects

However, when I contacted INTACH’s Principal Director Manu Bhatnagar, I was delighted to find out that INTACH has several divisions, one of which specialises in restoring lakes and studying river pollution. They have prepared a DPR costing over Rs. 5 crore for the Namami Gange Project for the Jal Shakti Ministry and have also restored several lakes. INTACH has completed projects to restore Sanjay Lake and Hauz Khas Lake in recent years and they have conducted surveys and made recommendations for 26 Ramsar Sites (lakes of international importance especially as waterfowl habitat).

Despite claims by some activists that several experts can carry out this DPR task, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find all the necessary expertise under one roof as provided by INTACH.

This became quite obvious during the full-day stakeholders’ workshop at Mysore School of Architecture on June 22, where we listened to the detailed data collection by INTACH to study Kukkarahalli Lake and Poornaiah Canal. INTACH benefited from the expertise of Mysuru experts by sharing their work.

Another significant question raised regarding the INTACH contract is the failure to call for a tender. In hindsight, one can argue that unnecessary controversy could have been avoided by calling for a tender, though the results might not have been different. Still, let us see why the Government of India has given contracts to INTACH.

Comprehensive report to benefit city

INTACH is an NGO whose Governing Council includes three ex-officio Secretaries of India (Ministry of Environment and Forests, Culture and Urban Development), DG (Archaeological Survey of India), DG (National Manuscripts Mission). It has been receiving contracts from both the Central and State Governments without a tender. The Indian Government has even asked INTACH to undertake projects where it has considerable expertise.

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Though not a government body, INTACH’s accounts are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India, similar to how the CAG audits all other Government Departments. Thus, it operates under sufficient  guardrails to ensure proper utilisation of funds.

A comprehensive report prepared by a reputed NGO with well-established credibility like INTACH will be immensely useful in convincing political leadership to finance the restoration of the Poornaiah Canal and prevent inevitable litigants from securing a stay from the Court.

Even in the context of the Supreme Court ruling in favour of removing encroachments — legal or illegal — along Raja Kaluve, a report by INTACH will be of immense benefit. As we know, earlier efforts to remove encroachments (not many) were unsuccessful because there was no comprehensive report on Kukkarahalli Lake. This consideration also justifies the Mysuru DC awarding the contract to INTACH.

Lessons from past

As I analyse this DPR, it may be useful to discuss two important contracts to draw lessons. When the Jamshedpur Utility Services Company Limited (JUSCO) was awarded a contract under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) to develop 24×7 water supply to Mysuru, we failed to fully capitalise on the benefits despite JUSCO’s experience in implementing similar projects                  in other cities.

This was due to unnecessary questions raised about the contract award, despite JUSCO being a Tata company. The real reason was JUSCO’s failure to appease influential figures, although this was never explicitly stated.

Currently, the Mysuru City Corporation (MCC) has awarded a Rs. 62 crore contract to clear the 7 lakh tonne solid waste dump at Vidyaranyapuram Sewage Farm to a Gujarat-based company after calling for tenders, though not fully complying with the tender requirements. On paper, it is claimed that all requirements are met, whereas in reality, the situation may differ significantly.

In the case of Kukkarahalli Lake, it is acknowledged that a mistake was made by not calling for a tender, but no illegality has been committed. The contract was awarded to a competent entity that is not a commercial agency. Let us now work together to ensure the preparation of a well-developed report to safeguard the lake for future generations.


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