Beating authority with influence: The journey of a common man

Kids running around the fenced lake with their uncontrollable shrieks of laughter. Walkers smiling and chatting with their buddies. Group of pre-teenagers observing the variety of birds and nests near the lake. Senior citizens recollecting their childhood days as the butterflies add to a gaiety evening.

Scenes like the above could be the future state of Bengaluru city. A collection of blissful and clean lake areas, contributing to controlling the weather and biodiversity of the city. The future of “Silicon Valley of India” is also in restoring its traditional lakes. Maintaining of water bodies encourages ecological balance. And replenishes the underground water table, infusing clean water in our lives.

Why even talk about Bangalore lakes?

Historical Perspective:

Bengaluru has been well known as “City of Lakes” and there is a history behind its name. “Founder of Bangalore” Kempegowda, envisioned the city without water scarcity. He perceived that the nearest river “Cauvery” being 150 km from Bangalore, there would be difficulty in sustaining future water needs. Taking advantage of physical terrain, he adopted the method of impounding runoff water. The city became dotted with many lakes/tanks in and around. This ensured abundant water for drinking, land irrigation and secondary purposes.

As per records of 1960, 262 water bodies existed in Bangalore. Today, only 34 out of 81 are recognized as live lakes. These figures denote water bodies reduction by 35% and a decrease in water spread area by 8.6% over time.

Geographical perspective:

Lakes in Bengaluru are interlinked by the geophysical position of its 3 valleys; Hebbal Valley, Koramangala & Challaghatta Valley and Vrishabhavathi Valley. They form a hydrological connection through them. Each valley at the ridge top of valley, gives way to small streams hosting six series of lake groups. These lakes interlink to each other through a series of chains of lakes. This natural alignment gives cascading effect to the whole system.

The connectivity does not allow water out of the lake into the surrounding area.  Transfer of extra seasonal water to other lakes helps in water retainment.  This undulating terrain of Bengaluru lends itself to the natural development of lakes.

Ecological Perspective:

Wetlands and lakes constitute the most productive ecosystems for life sustenance. They provide natural habitat for varied organisms ,including seasonal stay of migratory birds. They assist in flood control, waste water treatment and arresting sediment load. Also aids in protein production of drinking water. Treats community’s wastewater in natural low cost way , while functioning as wild fauna. These ecosystems are valuable for education and scientific endeavors due to rich biodiversity. Thus support bioremediation and is known as ‘kidneys of the landscape’.

What is the current situation?

Apart from already extinct lakes, there is continuous degradation of existing lakes. Urban wetlands threatened by encroachment of drainage through land-filling and pollution. Thus Altering the hydrology  and over-exploiting the natural resources.

This has resulted in loss of biodiversity of the wetland and its goodness. Despite legislation bodies, uncoordinated urban development is causing loss of sensitive wetlands.

There are different para -state agencies who are custodians of the different lakes.

Some of the challenges of these agencies are

  1. Uncoordinated urban growth
  2. Decentralized administration
  3. Treating water as infinite resource
  4. Lack of studies on water crisis and pollution from history and other counterparts
  5. Sustaining an inflow of sewage and industrial effluents without any limits.

The problems of multi body interactions and coordination gave rise to a common Authority “KLCDA” in 2016.

What has our response been towards it?

Period of Desolation

As per Kübler-Ross Grief model, terminally ill or people who lost their loved one, experience series of emotions. These emotions are of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depressing and acceptance. Any change goes through these 5 stages. Then the pattern of Kübler-Ross change curve sets in. The depletion of lakes has created desolation and grief among concerned citizens .

These are few important reasons behind these dying lakes

  1. Drainage systems are unable to cope with increased volume of water and often blocked due to indiscriminate disposal of solid waste
  2. Removal of interconnectivity of lakes
  3. Partially treated or untreated sewage waste (by BWSSB and high rise apartment)
  4. Industrial effluents into the drains connecting the lake
  5. Removal of interconnectivity of lakes
  6. Partially treated or untreated sewage waste (by BWSSB and high rise apartment)
  7. Industrial effluents into the drains connecting the lake
  8. Demolished building debris, Excavated earth
  9. Dumping of untreated sewage through tankers
  10. Dumping of bio medical waste
  11. Dumping of municipal solid waste

After research on this topic, we faced real grief for our dying lakes. Like other concerned citizens, we are on the path of shock, denial leading to depression. We all have been oscillating between frustration and experimentation without any movement towards future.

Period of Hope

Our interest in the topic deepened as we dug deeper. There emerged many citizen heroes and influencers, who are trying to restore the lakes in their own way. These role models have been transforming the situation from despair to hope.

There have been a plethora of stories of such heroes and communities already active. They have formal agreement with the government and the respective custodians of lakes to restore the same in their areas.

Some of the well known examples are:

  • PNLIT- puttenahalli neighborhood improvement lake trust
  • MAPSAS to restore series of lakes in Sarjapur ORR /Belandur lakes
  • Jalposhan – community around jakkur lake
  • Chinnapanahalli lake trust – to restore chinnapanahalli lake

An incident that came to light in recent days was where an international company with an expertise on sewage treatment came into limelight. This company had plans to propose Rs 4000 crore quote for 1 lakh only to Bengaluru govt. This has jolted the attention of people at others achievements in similar areas.

Many such examples like deployment of floating islands at Puttenhalli lake to ensure natural ecosystem have caught on with the public. Whitefield rising tried to address the froth in Varthur lake. And more experiments and drives have been happening to clean lakes and bring back the lost glory.

We got inspired by such citizen teams and institution. Such examples created hope within us to do our bit as well. We felt a dire need to provide thought leadership how citizen teams can be important custodians for lake restorations.

How can we get back to Kempegowda’s vision

Some of the ideas which can create an impact in the lake restorations

  1. Demarcation of Lake Lands across the City.
  • Digitization of land records
  • Boundary of water bodies with the buffer zone
  • Fencing to be done for all lakes

2. A single authority for custodian of Water Resources in Bengaluru.

  • There are various government bodies responsible for taking care of Lakes, consolidate the efforts under a single authority.
  • Lake Protection and Management Authority should be developed with stakeholders such as local community body consisting of people with different professions, common lake referral body, should be in the decision making regarding the lake in that jurisdictions

3. Pollution control board

  • Handling, treatments and management of municipal solid waste as per MSW RULE 2000
  • Letting only treated sewage into the lake
  • Complete restriction on disposal of industrial effluents
  • Environment Cess

4. Developing the lakes as biodiversity parks instead of commercializing them for the benefit of a few.

  • Low cost way to treat community wastewater while functioning as wild fauna sanctuary with public access
  • Safeguarding biodiversity
  • Implementation of bioremediation method for detoxification of polluted water body
  • Aquatic macrophytes management need to be developed

5. Public and Corporate partnership

  • Information sites for each lake on their current custodian authority and community memberships to help restore lakes. Benefits to such volunteer work should be added in corporate appraisals and other rewards for motivations in local activities reward programs
  • Technology and app for the lake management
  • Public information systems
  • Education of such restoration in schools and colleges
  • Marketing campaigns and surveys to be conducted to generate awareness about the lake and its benefits, in that community
  • Home makers participation and awareness
  • Students from environmental sciences should be part of restoration projects in the city and they should be given incentives to get into higher education programmes based on community work( swach bharat )
  • Training to public /community based programs for restoring and empowering with information about the steps to be done
  • Environmental education to be mandatory in schools – need of the hour
  • Local labs to be set up by students without registration hassles to conduct free studies and publish

With a distinct variety of ideas, some trusts are formed for a few lakes. Also there are enough people movements driven by individuals or by groups are starting to show up for securing the Lakes.

The weapons of influence to bring in a major change

A story that truly stood out for us is of an influencer that took over the task of bringing back the dying Maragondanahalli lake to life all by himself. The transformation of this lake in the midst of Electronic City is a testimony to how even one man’s effort can turn around the look and feel of an entire neighborhood.

Mr. Venugopal Kumpalli used to regularly pass Bellandur Lake when it was at the peak of infamy, frothing and ablaze. It bothered him so much, for he didn’t want a similar fate for the Maragondanahalli lake in his neighbourhood, and decided to clean it himself. He cleaned the bushes for a stretch of 400 to 500 metres in three months, all by himself till other residents realised that they also should lend a helping hand.

Reciprocity

“Most of the work was done by me and then when people realised that there was a lake so close to their house and reviving it would do them a world of good, they started helping me,” he said.

When a person does a favor to another, the receiver feels obligated to return it as soon as possible. By obligating the recipient of an act to repayment in the future, the rule for reciprocation allows one individual to give something to another with confidence that it is not being lost. This sense of future obligation within the rule makes possible the development of various kinds of continuing relationships, transactions and exchanges that are beneficial to the society. When people don’t reciprocate, they suffer serious social disapproval. French anthropologist Marcel Mauss in describing the social pressures surrounding the gift-giving process in human culture, said, “There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay.” The obligation to receive is key to exploit the reciprocity rule. When the favor is unsolicited, the reciprocation goes up, due to three characteristics of reciprocation rule:

  • The rule is extremely powerful, often overwhelming the influence of other factors the normally determine compliance with a request
  • The rule applies even to uninvited first favors, thereby reducing our ability to decide whom we wish to owe and putting the choice in the hands of others.
  • Finally, the rule can spur unequal exchanges, to be rid of the uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness, and individual will often agree to a request for a substantially larger favor than the one received.

With his act Venugopal was able to generate this sense of obligation and utilize it in his endeavours.

Commitment and Consistency:

Venugopal was, literally, a one-man army as he took on charge to clean the premises of the lake after he was permitted by the Hulimangala Panchayat. For a person who has always been into embedded systems and has spent most of his time learning technological stuff, learning the mechanism of the bush-cutter machine was not easy.

“I had to learn the gear ratio along with how the machine really works. I also learnt how to repair it if it breaks down,” said the 37-year-old.

“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end”- Da Vinci

This quote could not hold more true as Venugopal was questioned time and again on his objectives, when be begun cleaning. Human beings want to appear consistent with their self-image (words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds) because personal consistency is highly valued by the society. Aside from its effect on public image, generally consistent conduct provides a beneficial. A consistent orientation affords a valuable shortcut through the complexity of modern existence. The drive to be and look consistent constitutes a highly potent weapon of social influence, often causing us to act in ways that are clearly contrary to our own best interests. It is almost like a “mechanical consistency” or an automatic consistency.

The key point to be thinking about is the trigger here, that is, commitment. Kumpalli’s commitment to not give up and keep going about his work set the stage for the receiver’s (in this case, the nearby residents) automatic consistency with the giver’s commitment.

Social Proof

Now that the entire stretch has been cleaned, the residents felicitated him on Saturday and also went on a drive to plant saplings along the stretch that would indeed make the lake worth visiting.

“Ever since the lake side has been cleared, the residents have been gathering here to take a breath of fresh air and that is a victory for me,” Venugopal said.

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much”

When one observes people performing actions, one tends to believe that it is the right thing to do. It helps people decide what to believe or how to act in a situation. The principle of social proof was exploited by Venugopal to simulate a person’s compliance with a request by informing that many other individuals are or have been complying with it. This principle is the most influential under two conditions: uncertainty and similarity. In this case, Venugopal was operating under a high sense of uncertainty right from the beginning of his exercise. Whereas, once he was able to make inroads into the consciousness of the residents, the public found a semblance of similarity in the actions and the resultant impact on the lake and the community at large.

Scarcity

“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost” – Gilbert K. Chesterton.

Opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available. This holds true because

  • Things that are difficult to attain are typically more valuable, the availability of an item or experience can serve as a shortcut to its quality
  • As things become less accessible, we lose freedom. According to Psychological Reactance Theory, we respond to loss of of freedoms by wanting to have them more than before!

Scarcity rule is more likely to hold when scarce items are heightened in value when they are newly scarce and when we compete with others for them.

While scarcity can be used as a weapon of influence, it has been a persuasive and harsh reality at Bengaluru. With diminishing lakes, they tended to become more valuable. In this case, the lake was a prominent item which added immense value to the entire ecosystem, yet multiple drops like the ones mentioned resulted in heightened competition for

  • Water level
  • Cleanliness of the surrounding area
  • Usability of water

Utilizing divergent influencing styles to bring a major changes

There are five different influencing styles. When one is operating unconsciously out of a preference (his/her own style) and not cognizant of the results expected, there is a tendency to intensify the preferred behavior; even when it’s not working!

A look at different influencing styles used by Venugopal helps in observing the theory that if only a preferred style is applied, then it has the potential to undermine the influence with varieties of people.

Rationalizing

Venugopal observed the ill maintained lake and the illegal elements frequenting the locality, thereby creating nuisance. His core point of view being that the place, if maintained well; would be surrounded by upright citizens rather than others. He spent his personal time and money to educate himself, on the vagaries of foliage maintenance and its impact on lakes. In fact he bought the necessary tools, learnt how to use them to clean bushes and cleaned the bushes of 400- 500 meters all by himself. He ended up learning on the job and building his own experience. The expertize he built over a period of time enabled him to leverage his experience while persuading others to join in.

Asserting

“People never question when someone throws a bottle in the lake, but when you go and clean the lake, you get asked plenty of questions. I had to take permission to clean and develop the lake,” Venugopal said.

As he begun his journey, there were questions raised from local authorities and he was assertive to bring about the change to the lake went ahead and took permissions from village panchayat to start his mission. He even received threat from local drunkard for pursuing the activity. He still went ahead undeterred in his mission by demonstrating his assertive influence style with local authorities and trouble makers. He challenged others ideas on the state of the lake with his persistent work and relentless attitude.

When his efforts started showing, people joined and realised they indeed had a beautiful lake in their backyard.

Negotiating

Venugopal when questioned about his intentions and pushback had to negotiate the terms with authorities and panchayat.

But when he realized what he started alone needs better and bigger attention from the people in the locality. He negotiated with the people around in a very distinct and innovative way.

Bridging

“I thought of involving children of the society to attract the attention of their parents. So I gave them colour sprinklers that are used during holi to colour the tree trunks and that drew attention of the parents too.” – said Venugopal.

When he started on the mission of cleaning this lake, he was a lone person doing it for about 3 months. Then when his attempts were showing results, he attracted the children and involving them to color the tree trunks, thus uniting and connecting with the their parents. He made a personal connect with the parents and demonstrated bridging style of influence to make the other people agree his mission and help him in this mission.

Inspiring

His Walk the talk style generated a momentum in the local neighbourhood to get him noticed. Slowly, he shared his sense of purpose with local people by sharing his sense of mission for the clean lake and its shared benefits to the local residents , thus inspiring them to join hands in his mission. Many residents came forward to help in cleaning and also planting more saplings.

Conclusion

Felicitation by the local community to the 37 year old determined man has been a mark of respect towards his commitment to the lake and the community at large. Venugopal’s success hinged on the cooperation of several people across the neighborhood, and other agencies as well, over whom he had no formal authority. In such circumstances, general phenomena of command and-control leadership—the “I leader, you follower” approach would not have taken him far. His thought leadership in leading a change initiative, utilizing the weapons of influence in parallel with a variety of influencing styles; helped him. It contributed in creating a substantial impact towards rejuvenating a lake that had been ignored and had been dying it’s natural death.

References

  1. http://www.karnataka.gov.in/Parisaramahiti/Pages/Status-of-Bangalore%27s-lakes.aspx
  2. http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/more-90-bangalores-lakes-are-polluted-or-encroached
  3. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/varthur-lake-no-longer-the-economic-lifeline-it-once-was/article5090334.ece
  4. http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report-bangalore-s-lakes-to-get-rs200-crore-lifeline-1621246
  5. http://www.thebetterindia.com/87836/bellandur-lake-bengaluru-water-pollution-innovative-solutions/
  6. https://www.karnataka.com/bangalore/lakes-in-bangalore/
  7. http://www.karnataka.gov.in/Parisaramahiti/Pages/Lakes-of-Bangalore.aspx
  8. http://www.puttenahallilake.in/about-pnlit/our-activities
  9. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/Corporate-pitch-to-save-city%E2%80%99s-lakes/article14422071.ece
  10. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/2017/mar/22/how-one-man-cleaned-three-lakes-in-bengaluru-1584209.html
  11. http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/research-news/2013-11-28-rejuvenating-the-garden-city.html
  12. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/foreign-firms-propose-to-rejuvenate-bellandur-lake/articleshow/57834406.cms
  13. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/agara-lake-rejuvenation-lake-development-body-invites-tenders-for-the-4th-time/articleshow/56694113.cms
  14. http://www.bluewaterbio.com
  15. http://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/cover-story/electronics-city-lakes-bengaluru-man-on-a-mission-despite-many-threats/articleshow/58319620.cms
  16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT_7F6_lkOI
  17. https://hbr.org/2008/02/exerting-influence-without-aut

 

Disclaimer – This article was originally composed and published on LinkedIn in collaboration with Amit Arora and Srivalli Maharaju.