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A lake reeks of indifference, sewage
-Sandeep Unnithan
Indian Express -Monday, March 22, 1999.

       MUMBAI, MAR 21: The two square kilometre-wide Powai lake has the dubious distinction of being Mumbai's largest stagnant gutter. Every day over 15 lakh litres of sewage water is pumped into the lake from residential colonies and institutions in its vicinity, ensuring that its water remains unpotable for virtually all time to come.
       Statistics compiled by the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) in a report prepared in November last year tell a sordid story of urban waste. There are no less than five huge pipelines discharging sewage into the lake, not counting the raw sewage that seeps into the lake from the numerous illegal hutments that flank the lake. The biggest offenders are Raheja's apartment hotel The Residence which pumps in an estimated 30,000 litres of waste a day, the National Institute of Industrial Engineering (NITIE) which sends some 12,000 litres of sewage and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) a staggering 10 lakh litres.
       The IIT's sewage treatment plant commissioned in the 1960sbreaks down occasionally, spewing raw untreated sewage into the lake, admits IIT Registrar D K Ghosh. Last year, the BMC asked the IIT to link up its sewage with the BMC's main line for which the premier education institution had to pay Rs 1.3 crore as development charges. Since then the proposal has been in a limbo due to the high costs involved. Senior BMC officials said there were no provisions for the waiver of these charges, but a proposal to have this sum divided into five annual installments of Rs 23 lakh per annum, was on the cards.
       State environment officials wonder why institutions like the IIT and NITIE which house some of the best technical brains in the country couldn't devise a system to irrigate their gardens with the waste water. ``The IIT has some 550 acres of greenery, their sewage lines could easily be diverted here, instead of pumping it into the lake. It could set an example for the rest of the country,'' an environment official said.
       Lack of a tangible solution is not IIT's problemalone. In the early 90s, the Powai lake was chosen as one of the 21 lakes in the country under the National Lake Conservation Programme. The BMC submitted a Rs 41 crore 10-point proposal to the central government in January last year for steps to conserve the lake. There's been no word from the Centre yet, but neither is the BMC terribly worried about a follow up action.
       The reason? ``As the lake water is unpotable, we're not too keen on hurrying up the matter,'' Hydraulic Engineer S N Turkar says frankly. The lake is under the charge of the BMC's hydraulic department.
       "But going by that logic, over 97 per cent of the earth's water is non-potable, does that give us reason to pollute it?'' retorts an angry Amar Ranu, president of the Powai Residents Forum.
       Yet, this very lake earns Rs 25 lakh for the BMC every year, from the sale of its water for industrial use to the Aarey Milk colony and to Larsen & Toubro. So why isn't this money being ploughed back into the programme to conserve the lake? ``Whyshould we? We don't have money to spend for unproductive purposes,'' Turkar reasons. In the face of such implacable logic, any argument seems futile.
       Though the BMC has suggested ten activities as part of the conservation programme, Turkar refuses to specify them. He admits that the BMC has received offers in the past to save the lake for free, but these were discarded as the `intentions of the promoters were not good.' If the lake is cleaned up, environmentalists say, the lake could provide fresh water supply to the suburbs in the vicinity. Again a plea that Turkar refuses to buy. ``Powai's capacity of 1200 million gallons is equivalent to just two days of Mumbai city's water supply.  We get 11 million gallons a day from Vihar lake alone,'' he says dismissively.


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