More than half of the Delhi’s lakes have died. The damage has been done. A few individuals are trying to improve the situation with help of new innovations and ideas. Here are a few success stories and how we can start saving our beloved water bodies.
Lakes take millions of years to form but we have destroyed them in a few years. Rashmi Verma, senior researcher at the Center For Science And Environment says that the lake pollution is mainly caused by three reasons: 1. Untreated Sewage 2. Garbage Disposed of by Unauthorized Colonies 3. Encroachment.
In India, the estimated sewage generation from Class I cities and Class II towns is 29,129 MLD. While the existing Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) have just 6190 MLD capacity. The actual capacity utilization of STPs is only 72.2 percent. This means only 13.5 percent of the sewage is treated and the rest 86.5 percent is mostly disposed into water bodies.
“First of all, we don’t have enough STPs and those which exist do not work at their full capacity. The water entering into the lakes even after treatment is beyond the permissible limit of acceptance,” Verma said.
“We are lacking different types of STPs for different sources of waste. We treat the domestic and the industrial waste in the same treatment plant. This would obviously lead to huge amount of sewage remaining untreated. When disposed of in water bodies, this waste damages the flora and fauna, plants get stunned and in some cases, animals lose their characteristics. Oe example is of the Dolphins losing their eye in Ganga,” said AL Ramanathan, professor of environmental sciences at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Solution: Miniature floating wetlands
Miniature floating wetlands, a comparatively new technology to India helps in purifying the lakes naturally.
“The wetlands are placed on a floating platform made from plastic bottles and wire, the roots go down and take all the nutrient such as nitrates, phosphates, which are responsible for the formation of algae. They also break down the pollutants and put oxygen in the water. These are cost-effective and require no maintenance like electricity, chemicals, manpower,” said Tarun Sebastian Nanda an engineer from London who is on a mission to revive lakes in India.
Tarun further added that setting up a floating land is cheaper, less time consuming and easier when compared with a Sewage Treatment Plant.
Tarun has signed an MOU with the Delhi Development Authority to revive the Hauz Khas lake. He is raising funds from the public and started an initiative in which people can adopt an island by paying Rs 5,000 and play a key role in reviving the lake.
There is also a strong need to build STPs at different levels like building small ones for two to three colonies and then passing the treated waste to the large STPs, which would further treat it. This would surely reduce the waste that is left untreated and minimize the waste flowing into water bodies.
There are over 1,700 unauthorized colonies in Delhi and most of these colonies are devoid of the basic facilities like a garbage disposal system. Residents of the colonies situated near water bodies often dispose of their garbage in it. In the case of Ganesh Khan Lake, residents of nearby colonies are often seen dumping their waste in large number.
An official from the Saahas, a Delhi based NGO said: “Around 50 percent of the residents throw the garbage in the water bodies. The rest dump it in the numerous spots around the lakes. Unfortunately, the government does not provide a door-to-door collection of garbage to unauthorized colonies, so there is no way these guys can dispose of their waste properly.”
The only solution is to have an accessible waste collection mechanism established around these colonies so the residents don’t throw their waste in empty plots and water bodies. This could be implemented in these 1,700 colonies only when the government recognizes them.
Delhi has lost half of its lakes since 1997-1998 and the major factor behind the loss is the encroachment by real estate and government projects. On the other hand, some water bodies dried up as their catchment area had encroached.
Seeing the high rate of encroachment, the Delhi High Court ordered the city police to ensure that water bodies like lakes and ponds are not encroached upon. The court directed all the Deputy Commissioners to ensure that none of the water bodies is allotted in future to fulfill deficiency of land.
“Geologically a lake takes millions of years to form and we are destroying it in few years. In past 50 years, almost 40 percent area of lakes has been destroyed. In the process of development, we are killing the lakes drainage system, which is responsible for recharging it. We are not letting the water enter the lake and also converting the lake areas into structures. This would only lead us to crisis. The problem is that with the rapid pace of development we are forgetting the importance of environment,” A.L. Ramanathan said.
Development is essential for the urban society and should be done when needed but there should be a systematic way in which it happens. A balance between conservation and development should be there. In the process of development, it should be ensured that at least 10 percent of the land is left for drainage. Planting trees around water bodies will also help to refill the lake. Strong laws and a separate body consisting of government officials and NGO representatives are required to monitor the development process.
In the wake of Niti Aayog’s report showing that Delhi and 20 other cities would face water crisis in 2020, it’s time that we as citizens get serious in tackling this issue and make every effort possible to revive our water bodies.
Photos: Rahul Satija