Historical contestations around an urban lake: Lessons learnt for lake management in Bangalore City

Introduction: What conservation problem or question does your study address?
Management of common pool resources such as lakes is challenging in contemporary urban landscapes. Often historically significant, they are highly contested for by multiple stakeholders who each prioritize certain aspects of the resource. Using the lost Sampangi Lake in Bangalore, we chronicle everyday conflicts in the lake’s past to understand how issues relating to lake management were resolved and their relation to issues of contemporary lake management.

Methods: What were the main research methods you used?
We used a combination of geospatial methods with archival data analysis to study the problem. Landscape level change was determined through Survey of India toposheets from the years 1885, 1935 and 1975 along with current high resolution images obtained for 2014 from Google Earth. Land use maps for the respective years were prepared using the ArcGIS platform. From these maps, we identified periods of intensive change and for those years viz. between 1885 and 1935, we analysed historical information obtained from the Karnataka State Archives to see what conflicts were part of the landscape and how they were resolved. We then compared this information to contemporary lake governance trends within the city in order to draw parallels between the two periods in time.

Results: What are your most important results?
Intensive landscape change occurred between 1885-1935 and archival documents show a number of stakeholders like polo clubs, bungalow owners and gardeners who each prioritized aspects of the lake like siltation or water availability. This was overarched by conflicts between the British Residency and their subsidiary Wodeyars of Mysore who were responsible for the lake. Resolutions were representative of deeper political battles around the contested landscape.

Discussion: What are your important discussion points and what is the relevance of your results to conservation (if any)?
We identified themes from the history of lake management that resonate even today. These are 1. The presence of multiple, conflicting actors. 2. Difference in political bargaining power between actors3. Precedence of the recreational over utilitarian4. Importance of technical solutions5. Reticence in community participation. These features seem to influence the manner a lake transforms both its physical and social character over time.