Islands to clean a lake

A conscientious citizen finds a novel and natural way of cleaning a polluted lake. It can be a prototype of an effective way of ecologically cleaning water bodies

On World Environment Day, a ban on plastic is sought, as millions of tonnes of plastic is dumped in the ocean each year. The planet is fast becoming a big dumpyard. In this context, people like Tarun Nanda, half Indian and half Dutch, are trying to do their bit to make environment safe and sustainable for all.

After having lived eight years in Delhi, Tarun is up to something unusual. He’s committed to cleaning Hauz Khas Lake in a novel way. He is doing it as a pilot project with a bunch of volunteers, pushing a new paradigm towards achieving a long term, sustainable and cost-efficient water solution. It’s also the need of the hour for a city like Delhi where all natural resources, including water, are being misused, and therefore, unsustainable.

The idea is so simple that it may seem ridiculous. But complex issues sometimes have simple solutions. In this case, without the use of electricity, machinery, chemicals or for that matter an operator, hundreds of these wetland islands, fairly portable, will clean the Hauz Khas Lake which is a monument of neglect. As it contains far too much of organic waste, a thick toxic green layer of algae floats on the water surface. As a result, lack of oxygen in the water makes it a dead pool —nothing really survives. The lake itself is a huge reservoir of contaminated water.

Tarun, with Dedayani Panja, co-founded an NGO ‘Evolutionary’ a year ago to explore, as the name suggest, revolutionary ways of making people’s life better by use of ecological methods. As far as the Hauz Khas Lake is concerned, Evolutionary has signed an MoU with the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) for its revival and maintenance.

Wetland island: Tarun Nanda and his team of volunteers are working to clean Hauz Khas Lake in an ecological manner.

To accomplish this task, manmade floating wetland islands will, by way of natural processes, suck out pollutants. They are also an excellent carbon-sink. These islands are like green soldiers, working tirelessly with a single-minded focus to help oxygenate water and contribute to creating a habitat for aquatic birds and fishes. Some 5,000 such islands that contain about 45,000 aquatic plants — like Canna Lily, reeds, papyrus — will be needed to the clean this lake; deal with 30,000 litres of sewage every day and, in the process, save about 30 MW of electricity per year. Also, a treatment plant is to be built on the only nallah that drains into the lake.

“I want people to know about this method and use extensively. That’s the idea,” says Tarun who has issues with armchair conservationist who don’t venture out of their air-conditioned rooms and do something.

Tarun and his team of volunteers have been executing this daunting task without any institutional support. They encourage people to own a floating island by contributing a sum of R5,000 or via crowd funding. “I encourage people to come, participate and contribute towards a better environment,” says Tarun, who is of the view that if government agencies have failed to keep the environment clean, nothing prevents a common man or woman to take the lead and in their own little ways contribute to make the world a better place to live in.

Tarun was 29 years old when he came to India eight years ago. An engineer by training, he has worked with leading firms, but was unhappy with the conventional office life. He was discontented enough to initiate a drastic change in his life. He quit his job and shifted to Delhi in pursuit of happiness. He would take up odd projects to support his stay, but the first few years were spent contemplating.

“I’m a loner,” he says. He was determined to do things that he enjoys doing, and perhaps, will also become a career. In a way, for him there’s no division between leisure and work. A task performed with joy is not a job, but pleasure.

There’s an artistic streak in Tarun. One of the manifestations is the unique lamps he makes. He splits open the bamboo shaft and fills the hollow with small colourful bulbs. He would spend days making these lamps. His home is also his studio. He has everything he needs — tools, gadgets and hardware and there’s an inherent method in the disorder.

His stay in Delhi, despite his reclusive nature, has been eventful. He has changed many places of residence. Some of the landlords disapproved of his bohemian lifestyle. He refused to be bullied by the landlords. He even made a video on one occasion when the landlord summoned some men to intimidate him into leaving the place which he was already about to vacate.

Tarun gets irritated when people misuse public spaces or public goods. He goes out of way to communicate his displeasure to drivers who while driving their luxury cars treat pedestrians with contempt.

In pursuance of this philosophy of his, to enforce public good, he wants to initiate a movement in the capital, ‘stalk the stalker’ whereby a stalker is pursued by the members of public, a picture is clicked or video made, and is shared on the social media, to shame stalkers and inform the public.

There’s a moral hazard here, he was told. You can’t contain an evil by inflicting the same evil on the evildoer. The idea behind this proposed initiative, according to Tarun, is to discourage people who don’t respect others. “It’s an effective way. The benefits will outweigh the risk of misuse,” he assures.
The core idea behind his multiple endeavours is simple: we can’t be mute witness to degradation of environment and society.

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