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Unsold idols, faith in nature sink in this Mumbai lake

Despite an artificial lake in the vicinity, floral waste, debris, Ganesh idols being immersed at biodiversity-rich Lokhandwala lake

mumbai Updated: Sep 21, 2018 14:07 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Ganeshotsav,Ganpati
Environmentalists said hundreds of idols have been immersed over the past seven days at the site.(Sunjoy Monga/The Yuhina Canopy)

The once scenic Lokhandwala Lake in Andheri, a magnet for migratory birds, is in a precarious condition with broken idols and flower waste left during Ganeshotsav.

The 4.5-acre lake near mangrove forests, which was created after construction of a bund, has become a haven for bird life. Ornithologists say they have recorded 112 species of birds at the lake.

For the past six years, Ganesh devotees had spared the lake and were immersing idols at an artificial pond constructed by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). However, this year, the trend seems to have reversed, said environmentalists as hundreds of idols have been immersed over the past seven days at the site. Residents of the area said that unsold idols are being dumped into the lake along with flower waste between 3am and 5am over the past seven days.

“In spite of 2,600 idols immersed at the 40x20ft artificial immersion pond developed by the BMC this Ganeshotsav, the lake is still under threat from unsold idols being dumped by unknown persons daily,” said Dhaval Shah from the Lokhandwala Oshiwara Citizens Association (LOCA). “The area needs to be fenced and police patrolling needs to be done in order to stop this.”

BMC officials said a team visited the site on Wednesday where they removed around 30 idols from the bank of the lake. They suspect that these were unsold idols dumped by workshops. “These idols do not have any colour and most of them are intact. There are a few more idols deeper into the lake but accessibility to that area is difficult,” said a BMC officer who visited the site.

Prashant Gaikwad, assistant municipal commissioner, K (West) ward, said, “This is a serious issue as immersing idols at the lake is completely prohibited. The artificial pond has been developed for this very reason. However, we will be writing to the Mumbai police to increase patrolling at the site, especially between 3am and 5am and also request citizens to inform us if they spot such activities.”

The lake and its surrounding area is home to wildlife species that still includes the odd jackal and jungle cat, and a wealth of bird species such as Spot-billed ducks, Lesser whistling ducks, Shovellers, Pintails, Purple herons, Glossy ibis, Black-headed ibis, Purple swamphens, Slaty-breasted Rails, Asian paradise flycatchers and among many others.

Ornithologists say 112 species of birds were seen at the lake. ( Sunjoy Monga/The Yuhina Canopy )

However, with the pressures only rising, the lake and surrounding biodiversity remains under rising threats.

“Lokhandwala Lake is an ignored, abused and lesser understood jewel of suburban Mumbai. It is the last remaining semi-wild waterbody here, dominated by the magic of freshwater and subtly by the creek and the sea,” said Sunjoy Monga, naturalist writer, photographer and ornithologist.

Meanwhile, Lokhandwala residents said lake-cleaning activities by the BMC were stalled for the past couple of months. “This is further aggravating the accumulation of flower waste and even the proposed beautification of the lake is stalled,” said Sumesh Lekhi, one of the residents responsible for reviving the lake (see box).

The land owner, Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (Mhada), said they will coordinate with the BMC and the police to ensure such activities are stopped. “We expect a large number of household idol immersions on the eleventh day of Ganeshotsav where the route to the lake will be cordoned off,” said a Mhada officer.

The local Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLA Bharati Lavekar was not available for a comment.

HOW THE LAKE GOT PROTECTION

From 2003 onwards, Lokhandawala Lake had fallen prey to direct debris dumping and runoff from debris dumped at the site of the road. Even idol immersions were a regular feature during festivals when large quantity of residue including plaster-of-paris (POP) and fibrous material could be spotted every year. From April end, the lake used to dry up.

In 2012, local citizens convinced the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to construct an artificial immersion pond where 2,000 idols were immersed in the first year itself. In 2014, three likeminded professionals - Sumesh Lekhi, chartered accountant and filmmaker, Dr.Chandrakant Jain, surgeon, and businessman Aashish Mehta – started Friends of the Environment, a citizens group that convinced top officers of the BMC and state mangrove cell to initiate desilting of the lake.

After the lake was desilted and filled up during monsoon the water quality improved and 100 indigenous tree saplings were planted around the lake that started attracting migratory birds to the site.

In 2016, residents of Lokhandwala proposed a beautification project where a teakwood boardwalk with timer rails, boat jetty and lakeside promenade was promulgated. “The local administration wanted to remove all vegetation at the site but we stopped this. However, the project remains stalled currently,” said Lekhi.

Ashoke Pandit, filmmaker and chairman, Oshiwara Lokhandwala Citizens Association said, “These threats will continue until proper protection through this beautification project is implemented.”

“This lake deserves serious attention beyond the dangerous scope of Beautification u see which planning agencies in the region have robbed away the character and meaning of numerous lakes and ponds in the region. Irrespective of under whose jurisdiction this amazing waterbody lies, keeping it clean and administered such that no more filth and abuse happens, is all that is required,” said Sunjoy Monga, naturalist writer, photographer and ornithologist.

WHAT THE LAW SAYS

A 2001 Supreme Court order has stated that natural resources like forests, tanks, ponds, hillocks, and mountains are important for maintaining the ecological balance and needs to be protected. It also stated that if fallen to disuse, these sites cannot be used for building houses and authorities are “duty bound” to clean and develop them to prevent an ecological disaster. Also enables people to enjoy a quality of life.

Impact of immersed materials on aquatic bodies

Material contributed by immersionImpact on aquatic body
Plaster of ParisIncreased dissolved solids contribute metals and sludge
Decoration material such as clothes, polish, paint, ornaments, cosmetic items etc.Contributes to suspended particles such as trace metals (zinc, lead, iron, arsenic, chromium, mercury) metalloids, various organic and inorganic matter, oil greases etc.
Flowers, garlands and oily substancesIncreases floating suspended particle contamination
Bamboo sticks and decorative articlesSmall pieces remain floating in water or settle at the bottom of the waterbody
Plastic bagsChoke aquatic life

(Source: Maharashtra state environment department)

First Published: Sep 21, 2018 00:40 IST