Nanak Chand, a Mehrauli resident, looks intently at the setting sun over the Shamsi Talab. "The lake is full of hyacinth and the water is contaminated with sewerage," Chand, who visits the place almost daily, said.
Prabhu Dayal, another resident, pointed out the garbage strewn along the approach road and in the park right next to the lake and adjacent to the
Lodhi-era built Jahaz Mahal. "Also, look at the garbage dumped on the northern side of the lake," 70-year-old Dayal said, pained at the deterioration of the more than 750-year-old water body.
Hauz-i-Shamshi, popular locally as the Shamsi Talab, was earlier spread over 100 hectares. Over the years, not only has the lake shrunk, but its catchment area too has seen construction.
The stage for the cultural programmes during the
festival Phool Walon Ki Sair rests on the southern face of the Jahaz Mahal while the audience sits at the civic body's ground in front of it. Both the lake and Jahaz Mahal are under Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) while the ground belongs to the civic body.
Usha Kumar from the Anjuman Sair-e-Gul Faroshan, organiser of the Phool Walon Ki Sair, said, "The lake is sacred to Muslims as many believe that it has the print of the hoof mark of the Prophet's horse. But today, sewerage from surrounding areas is being dumped into it."
But Pushpa Singh, the Mehrauli councillor, defended herself: "The condition of the lake has improved quite a bit after we shifted the drain pipes that brought in sewerage from neighbouring colonies."
Prompted by a court case by NGO Tapas for saving Delhi's lakes and water bodies, the court orders ensured that Shamsi Talab was cleaned at least 3-4 times in the past decade. The order also ensured that a boundary wall with a grille was constructed around the lake. "But water hyacinth can be found only when there is sewerage in the water," pointed out Tapas's Vinod Jain.
"Water hyacinth is cleared away after monsoon. The sewerage running into the lake is a thing of the past now. But we will need to investigate the matter if someone is pushing it in through an underground pipe," said a senior ASI official.
The Mehrauli councillor added: "We have even deployed a guard to stop people from throwing garbage but it is difficult to keep a check at all times. People dump garbage at night."
The Jahaz Mahal is fairly maintained, Kumar said, adding, "(But) the burjis (chhatris atop) are in a precarious condition and need strengthening."