The Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, has formulated a National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) under which 21 urban lakes have been identified for conservation programmes. Eleven lakes are proposed to be studied in the first phase of the NLCP. On the recommendation of the Environment Department, Government of Maharashtra, Powai Lake has been included in the first phase of the plan.
As a preliminary step, the Government of Maharashtra nominated the Bombay Municipal Corporation as the nodal agency for Powai Lake Conservation under the National Lake Conservation Plan.
A seminar on the National Lake Conservation Plan was held in New Delhi on 20th April, 1995, where it was decided that regional workshops would be held at site to formulate site-specific management action plans.
A preliminary meeting was organised at the BMC HQ, Bombay, where representatives from various government departments and NGOs including BNHS were present. The meeting held in the Hydraulic Engineer's office elicited opinions as to how best to save the lake and its environs from further damage. There are proposals to introduce water sports facifity in the lake as part of the scheme to enhance tourism in the city. It was pointed out by the NGO representatives that such a plan would be detrimental to the lake's ecology and overall cleanliness and tranquillity of the area. As far as possible, any increased human contact with the water body should be discouraged. It was also pointed out that the lake's boundary should be properly demarcated before expecting any plan to succeed. The BMC was informed that there are about 28 point sources leading from the lake's catchment area into the water body. Out of these, 21 carry storm water and are functional only during the monsoon, while the rest carry sullage throughout the year from the nearby ' slums. A site inspection was conducted to confirm the information. During the site visit it was also noticed that certain portions of the lake are subject to heavy siltation, which has led to the waterline receding much beyond the original shoreline.
Moreover, the lake's water is used by the Aarey Milk Colony for irrigation in the fodder farms and by industries nearby. Besides, the environs serve as a green lung for the teeming millions of this overcrowded city. These industries and the population will suffer immensely if the lake ecosystem is destroyed by negligence and apathy. Hence, it is imperative for all of us to take cognisance of the deteriorating conditions in and around the lake even now.
As a means to generate public interest and involvement in the lake's conservation, a meeting was organised under BNHS aegis at I.I.T Powai to address this environmental crisis in the first week of June 1995. The public meeting was attended by a cross section of government agencies like the BMC, Fisheries Department, NGOs like the Bombay Environmental Action Group and real estate developers.
As a follow up, a national level workshop was organised by the BMC at the Bhandup complex in the last week of June 1995 under the Hydraulic Engineer's Chairmanship, a Jt. Secretary from the Ministry of Environment and Forests was also present to guide the discussion and to help evolve a feasible management plan for the conservation of the lake. The cross section of participants from government agencies, NGOs like the Maharashtra State Angling Association, BNHS and professional institutes like the IIT Powai, helped in initiating a fruitful debate as to how best to tackle the problem of conserving Powai lake as a healthy water body and as a buffer against any water crisis in the future, considering the phenomenal rate at which the population of the metropolis is growing.
Amongst the various suggestions received were proposals to introduce water sports as a tourism-related activity and a source of revenue. As during previous meetings, it was pointed out that such activities would lead to garbage being dumped in the area in larger volumes, due to increased human activity. Noise and air pollution would also increase manifold. The prime objective should be cleanliness, which cannot be compatible with increased human contact with the lake.
Another plan envisages introduction of commercial fisheries so as to generate revenue and justify the expenses being bome for the lake's restoration. Even if these activities were to be limited to maintaining stocking nurseries it would serve a very vital purpose of sustaining other ponds and fresh water bodies with a regular supply of quality fish seeds. The plan which was first mooted in April 1995, appears to be picking up momentum with the involvement of BMC as a nodal agency and the enthusiastic response of various government and non government agencies. It is now up to the general public to take an interest in this effort and help in conserving whatever is left of wilderness areas in urban centres. It is a good indication that conservation issues are being addressed on a priority basis, especially in urban areas, where the pace of urbanisation seems to be smothering whatever little is left of green areas. The aesthetic value of water bodies like Powai lake is helping real estate developers to capitalise on their utility to serve their narrow interests, as evidenced by the numerous newspaper advertisements highlighting the lake's proximity to their housing estates. It is imperative that they should plough back a fraction of their profits into beautification programmes and eco restoration works in their areas of operation. The same holds true for corporate bodies who draw upon a water body's resource.
The Powai lake is about 2-2 sq. km in area. It is a man-made lake and was built in 1881 in anticipation of a famine, which did not occur. From the very beginning, its water was not meant for human consumption. With the increase in industrialisation in the area, its water is being used by some of the industries in the area, e.g., Larsen & Toubro.
The lake's water feeds one of the nullahs joining the Mithi river, which enters the sea at Mahim. Unfortunately for the beautiful lake, its catchment area, till very recently a 'no development zone', was released for real estate development under pressure from the powerful builders' lobby. This will definitely affect the quality of the lake's water and its future as a crucial water body in a congested metropolis.
The tonnes of top soil which flow into the lake as a result of the quarrying activities in the area is highly damaging. This damage has already occurred, a rough estimate arrived at by certain persons indicate that the cost of excavating a cubic metre of the silt in the lake bed would be about Rs. 250/-, excluding the transportation cost, which is exhorbitant by any standards. The other problem plaguing the lake is that of excessive growth of weeds like Ipomea and Water hyacinth. These have choked a good portion of the lake, especially on the IIT side.
Lakes constitute an important component of freshwater resources. They are distributed in different geographical regions in the country. Most of the lakes whether natural or man-made , are directly or indirectly associated with the river systems. There is an organic relations hip between the lakes and river systems.
Lakes serve as an important life support system by helping in recharging of acquifers and regulating hydrological regimes. They also act as natural traps for sediments and nutrients thereby helping to regulate water quality and sedimentation of the river systems from the catchment area. They carry out a crucial role as breeding grounds for fish and other aquatic life.
Lakes also constitute habitats for a variety of birds, fishes and other aquatic life. The lakes, particularly the urban lakes, are in varying degrees of environmental degradation. The main cause is rapidly increasing population in the catchment areas of lakes and industrialization. Both domestic sewage and industrial effluents have been causing serious pollution of these precious Water bodies.
Besides encroachments, deforestation in the catchment areas leading to siltation and flow of pesticides from the agricultural wastes are the other major causes. The result is that the lakes are becoming increasingly unfit as a source of drinking water, recreational activities and habitats for aquatic life.
As already mentioned in case of urban lakes the threat comes largely from the large inflow of municipal sewage and industrial effluents. The NLCP is proposed to be handled on the same lines as the National River Action Plan (NRAP). Like the NRAP, it is proposed to implement the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) as a centrally sponsored scheme with equal sharing of cost by the Central and State governments.
OBJECTIVES OF THE NATIONAL LAKE CONSERVATION PLAN
Main objectives under the programme would include the following: