A lake reeks of
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
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
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.