Monday Musings: Everyone, except the locals, loves good spread of hyacinth
January is normally the season when Pune’s cultural calendar begins. It starts on high note with the Sawai Gandharva music festival, followed by the Pune international film festival and eventually, ends with Vasantostav, a programme named after late classical singer Vasantrao Deshpande.
January is also the month when local newspapers, every year, report on hyacinth accumulated on the surface of several of the city’s water bodies.
These aquatic weeds mask the water, reduce oxygen to marine life, and more importantly, become a breeding ground for mosquitos.
The Covid pandemic has put a pause on cultural events this year, but the hyacinth has come up again.
Be it the historically important Katraj lake or the three rivers – Mula, Mutha and Pavana - that flow through Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, the thick green cover is conspicuous by its presence.
The rapid growth has often destroyed the ecology of these water bodies. And the presence has provided shelter to disease vectors and pests, a reason for complaints by locals, even as authorities have turned blind eye.
Every year, the two municipal corporations of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad hand over contracts for removal of the hyacinth.
In the process, crores of rupees are spent, and yet, no long-lasting solution has been found.
Last year, Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) was under the scanner for its tendering of a ₹23 crore plan for clearing the hyacinth from the Katraj and Pashan lakes.
The tender was floated for a contract of five years when the hyacinth had already been removed by local corporators using their ward funds.
Opposition members in the civic body alleged that tender was floated with an inflated cost - eight times higher than the provision made in the annual budget - leading to allegations.
Eventually, after much uproar, the tender had to be scrapped and an inquiry was ordered by the then PMC commissioner Saurabh Rao, who is now divisional commissioner for Pune region.
The inquiry did not bring out much and nobody knows what happened to the report.
To spend ₹23 crore to remove hyacinth in two lakes, which are not more than half a kilometre in radius, each, is costlier than addressing the root cause.
Rampant water pollution in upper and lower Katraj lake, built during the Peshwa era when it provided crucial source for water to city, has often provided a lease of life for weeds.
The poor drainage line network in nearby areas has allowed polluted water to enter Katraj lake, which has seen hundreds of fish die, due to lack of oxygen, on multiple occasions in the past.
Hyacinth prevents sunlight from reaching the waters, thus stopping generation of oxygen, which in turn kills all aquatic life forms. Due to the large amount of hyacinth, people residing in the surrounding areas have complained about contracting diseases like dengue and malaria. The story is not different for Pashan lake or the Mula, Mutha and Pavana rivers.
However, instead of addressing the root cause – fixing drainage lines of nearby areas, which have seen rampant development due to availability of land at cheaper rates – PMC and PCMC (Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation) have allotted contracts worth crores of rupees to remove hyacinth, that will come up again next year.
So what if environmental watchdogs such as the Maharashtra pollution control board (MPCB) has served notices to PMC for not addressing the problem?
For politicians and bureaucrats, fixing drainage lines would end the problem and put a full stop over allotment of contracts; something that will also halt money exchanging hands.
Yogesh Joshi can be contacted at email@example.com