“There used to be so much water in the lake that elephants swam in it for hours,” recalls Gyanchand Tiwari (41).
Tiwari, a local priest, is talking about the more than nine acres of now-arid area, which was once known as Mandavali lake in east Delhi’s Mandavali Fazalpur.
Mandavali lake is one of the 629 water bodies identified by the Delhi High Court for revival after a writ petition by the NGO Tapas. The lake’s history is linked inextricably with Delhi’s.
Sitting on a charpoy, Jairam Verma (69) fondly recalls the days when singharas (water chestnuts) would be grown in the big lake near his house.
“But after the 1960s, haphazard growth meant the drains were emptied into the lake and the authorities also dumped debris,” says Verma, whose family roots in the village go back to 250 years.
Today the lake is dry. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) runs a primary school in one corner and a park covers a large chunk.
Though locals welcome the HC notice, they expressed doubts about implementation. Naveen Paul (38), a property dealer who lives near an intersection still called Talab (pond) Chowk, says, “Even if the lake is revived, will authorities ensure it remains unpolluted?”
“It was a large lake, over 30,000 sq metres. There were also three smaller lakes,” says Vinod Jain from Tapas. “The court order is very clear … irrespective of the size, these water bodies are supposed to be revived.”
The July 2009 report by the HC had appointed a three-member committee to monitor the work. The report about inspection carried out on June 3, 2009 said, “This water body had been transferred by DDA to MCD for development of a park and where a community hall had been proposed. This is totally illegal.”
MCD Director (Press and Information) Deep Mathur said, “Keeping in view the directions of the honourable Delhi High Court and its judicial body, it will not be desirable to construct community hall at the site and the matter is not being pursued.” However, there was not a word about the “revival” of the water body.