We’ve been losing our lakes slowly yet surely. There’s an urgent need to probe their disappearance, writes Gajanan Khergamker
In October last, at an online RTI forum, a visitor posed in interesting query. He was keen on knowing whether any BMC / MMRDA / CRZ norm had been violated / omitted / overlooked in granting permission for construction of a building in Charkop, Kandivali west.
The reason he offered for his suspicion was that prior to the building’s construction, the area had a full-fledged lake. “During heavy rains, it was supposed to collect water thereby protecting nearby areas from flooding,” he maintained.
“In a city, still suffering from the aftershocks of 26/11, I fail to understand, how can permission be given by concerned authorities to cover up a lake and construct a building over there,” he queried.
He went on to add that all GPS / maps of India/Google Earth etc., still showed this area as a lake / water body.
The query touches upon a very sensitive topic which could, if probed further, wreak havoc within civic offices and a hard-nosed developer lobby.
Mumbai, which comprised seven islands till 1857 that were merged into one big island, had a rich reserve of natural resources like forests, lakes, mangroves etc.
Needless to say, the onslaught of modernity coupled with the hurtling craze for providing housing in ‘lush, verdant environs,’ only led to the systematic and sure corrosion of the city’s natural resources. Once self-sufficient, the city is now unable to maintain its ever-growing population and tackle a concurrent pollution issues.
Earlier, a World Wild Fund for Nature (India) study had led to the formation of a draft report that documented the physical condition of the lakes in Mumbai. Apart from the better-known lakes - Tulsi, Powai and Vihar - which would provide water to Mumbai residents, there are a string of lakes that lie squarely within the Bombay Municipal Corporation jurisdiction get polluted by sewage, effluents and have remained largely neglected.
At a time when the rains either get delayed or are simply not enough to meet the needs of a burgeoning population while most of the state on its part remains parched, Mumbai will have to cut down on its dependance on adjacent districts for its water requirements.
A series of RTIs to government bodies made over the last few years have revealed that there is either little or no data available on the existence of lakes of Mumbai.
Owing to this lacuna, a lot of water bodies have been exploited and either filled up partially or reclaimed fully by developers to make way to accommodate residential or commercial structures.
The WWF study was undertaken to document the data on the existence of the lakes in question and assess their physical condition. The baseline data was created with the use of Google Earth website and the areas appearing to be lakes were marked on the Google Earth Images first and later verified by the field staff through onsite visits. The survey was conducted during September and October, 2008 and March, 2009.
Of the encroachments on the 27 lakes, as revealed by the study, local residents had encroached to an extent of 53 per cent while the government had encroached to an extent of 26 per cent, ironically more than builders who had encroached a little lesser of about 21 per cent.
Of the land-use pattern around the lakes, 26 per cent of the land was used for old housing colonies followed obviously by temples that constituted about 14 per cent and 12 per cent by high-rises.
However, it’s the 18 per cent of hutments and the sporadic growth of illegal shanties in and around the zone that contributes to the incessant dumping in lakes and their subsequent ruin and disappearance.
Interestingly, in Bhandup-Nahur, for instance, Google Earth revealed the presence of seven lakes while visits by the group in Sept-Oct ’08 and in March ’09 revealed the presence of just one , exposing a rot that needs probing.