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Languishing lake

In Northwest Delhi’s Bhalswa area, half-hearted government initiatives have all gone down the drain as a 35-acre water body cries out to be rescued from a slow death

Cowdung, human excrement and tonnes of plastic waste — this is the sight that greets you at  Bhalswa Lake. On one side, this decades-old lake is bordered by a housing colony, on the other a few acres of plantation is still intact. Over the years, the lake spread over 58 acres has been reduced to 35 acres.

Situated in the corner of Northwest Delhi, Bhalswa Lake is counted as one of eight minor lakes in Delhi and its neighbouring cities. Originally shaped like a horseshoe, it now looks distorted and mis-shapen, with its boundaries screaming of encroachment and urbanisation.

Does anybody care? At least one man does. Dheeraj, who comes on most weekends to the lakeshore for a walk, says, “I have been living near this lake since childhood and have seen how, slowly, over the years, it kept deteriorating. Being responsible citizens, it should be our duty to preserve the beauty of our surroundings, but people in our country don’t take it seriously. If we will not give our support then government alone cannot do anything.”

Due to the continuous discharge of waste from nearby establishments like factories and dairies, the water today in the lake is clearly polluted. Waste management practices by the authorities are clearly non-existent.

NL Meena, assistant manager in-charge of the lake, told Patriot that recently “An oil company cleaned the lake under CSR (corporate social responsibility) activity. But who will stop the sewage flowing into the lake?” He adds that anyone who lives near the lake or remains in the vicinity of the place for too long, invites threats to their health.

While the government introduced boating facilities in the lake to encourage tourism, the initiative came to a halt in June 2015, owing to the obvious health hazards. The service was again opened in December 2016, after some half-hearted clean-ups.

The boats are still tethered but there are hardly any takers. Bhagraj Sharma, a gardener who’s worked in the lake area for the last 10 years says, “I never expected that our Bhalswa Lake will ever face this condition. It’s all because of locals.”

He continues, “The people here are treating the lake like a drain by dumping their household waste. The numbers of visitors are declining day by day, and seems like it will again shut down soon.”

While Sharma’s concerns are genuine, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered the Delhi Jal Board to control the degradation in 2018. So far, no signs of compliance with the order are visible.

But the Delhi government talks of plans to revamp the lake and develop it for ecotourism.

In July, the Delhi government initiated an assessment, after which it made plans to revive the existing boating facility and add angling, a fountain and revamped picnic spots on the lakeshore.

“The plan has been in our minds for two years, but could not be worked out for some reasons. We are aiming to totally revamp the lake. The tourism department was told to make an assessment. We are also looking to freshen up the water and also install a fountain. This could become a new tourism spot for the city,” says an official from the urban development department.

There is another plan to introduce a bio-methanation plant that would result in generation of energy by the cowdung which is currently being disposed of in the lake.

While boating was officially re-opened earlier this year, Prabhat, a member of the boating staff points out, “Look at the lake, there is not even a single boat out in the water. No one wants to come here due to the smell. There was a time when huge number of visitors use to visit, especially on weekends.”

“There is nothing to do. We spend most of our time in our rooms as hardly anyone comes here for boating,” he adds.

Rakesh Jha, a lassi stall owner says, “I started selling lassi here last year after the lake re-opened. The visitors here are very irresponsible. I have seen them several times dumping waste in the lake.”

He is hopeful that the government will finally get its act together. as “Last month, government officials came to inspect the lake.”  Jha waits for the day when tourists will come and he would be able to make a better living.

While regulations and new plans for this dying water body are being formulated, in July last year, the Delhi Jal Board announced an ambitious plan to revive 200 waterbodies across the capital.

As per the plan, DJB wants to revive these waterbodies with the help of consulting company Wapcos. The DJB is also exploring the possibility of pumping in excess water from river Yamuna during the monsoon season in water bodies of Narela and Bawana.

Perhaps authorities should look at the successful project to revive Hauz Khas’ lake. The 15-acre water body, which had gone dry, was revived by Intach (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage). After completion of the project, the groundwater was significantly recharged.

The onus is now on DJB and the tourism department to show urgency about revamping Bhalswa. Whether the ecosystem will be revamped or the lake will die a slow death, it’s all in the hands of the authorities.

With inputs from Aakif Mohammed