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The capital’s drying wetlands

delhi Updated: Nov 06, 2009 23:27 IST
Namita Kohli
Namita Kohli
Hindustan Times
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Kya, newswaali hai kya (Are you a newsperson?),” Suraj Kumar, the cheeky 14-year-old, asks me.

He is standing on top of the garbage dump that doubles up as the banks of the Mayapuri lake, overlooking the Naraina flyover.

Right behind us, the lake stands motionless, the colour of its waters an undistinguishable mix of green, blue and grey.

Inspired by film maker Ishani Dutta’s recent documentary that highlights the cause of the lakes of Surajkund, Badkal and Damdama that are being lost to the interests of the mining industry, I have just started my journey around some of Delhi’s lakes, or ‘wetlands’, to be technically precise.

And Suraj and his friends are amused that the sewage dump near their makeshift cricket ground is even being considered.

“The water flows till Delhi Cantt and all the sewage from the houses here flows into this. Some TV crew also came once, but what are you looking for,” asks young Dinesh Kumar, peeping into my photographer’s camera, before he runs off to kick around the trash around the lake.

I try to explain that I am looking around some of the city’s threatened water bodies — 623 at last count, going by the figures submitted in the court as part of PIL to save Delhi’s water bodies including the one at Mayapuri.

Sushmita Sengupta, research associate, water unit, at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), tells me these waterbodies are known as Delhi’s “threatened wetlands”, and attributes the phenomenon to unplanned urbanisation and sheer neglect of the authorities.

The implications could be huge, she says, counting depletion of groundwater, floods and lack of drinking water among others.

But kids will be kids, unmindful of the consequences as they saunter off to resume the unfinished game of cricket.

I set out for my next stop — the Bhalaswa lake near Jahangirpuri. A plush golf course, a park, green grass, and lots of seemingly clearer water - this seems to be a better bet.

The lake complex itself is pretty deserted and a boat ride on its waters looks promising. Only Suresh Sharma (name changed on request), boy of about 25, wants to play spoilsport.

“This is nothing. About 10-12 years ago, this lake was much deeper. Now it’s only 1,200 metres. My friends and I used to practice kayaking here when it was deeper,” the boy tells me, when I make a few enquiries.

There are a couple of empty Delhi Tourism boats and kayaks stationed at the banks and Suresh volunteers to show me around on one of them.

“See, there’s barely three-foot water left,” he says, dipping a stray wood stick into the lake as we pedal our way across to the other end — a greener patch that looks inviting. Err, that’s a landfill site, I am told.

And onto my next stop — Sanjay lake in Mayur Vihar.

As I enter the serene lake complex, and spot a few ducks, I take heart. Surely, this should be worth the trek. I walk across the Delhi Tourism office to take a closer look, and a signboard cautions ‘Deep waters, stay away’. Instinctively, I step back.

“Just relax, it’s not so deep anymore, barely three-foot,” a caretaker from the Delhi Tourism office tells me.

Even as a court order early this year had said this lake should be revived, on ground zero, the situation is already making my heart — and a dirty yellow polythene bag —sink.

“Madam, there’s some cleaning going on,” the caretaker tries to offer solace. But by now I have already lost interest in the muddy waters and filthy banks of the Sanjay lake, much like many of the migratory birds that use to visit once.

But the last straw really is the small lake that stretches across the IG stadium, and the Delhi secretariat.

Right next to the lake, more like a pond of sorts, lies a construction site that makes it almost impossible for me to cross over to the waters.

As I make my way back home, I look fervently for the Neelam Haus, the water body that lies on the Aruna Asaf Ali Marg.

But amidst the construction chaos of an upcoming flyover at the site, even the newswaali in me can’t find the lost waters.