Powai’s landmark waterbody Powai lake has not been cleaned in over a year. This shocking revelation comes at a time when the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate (MoEFC) published a report placing Powai Lake as the cities only designated wetland. The 220 hectares suburban lake has been overrun by weeds, hyacinth, and flooded with tonnes of sewage and garbage on a daily basis.
The hyacinth reduces the oxygen concentration of the water, making it a potential hazard for the aquatic life. Director of Vanashakti NGO, Stalin Dayanand said, “Such humongous amount of hyacinth would now require more time, money and manpower. Furthermore, it also dries up the lake along its borders and will gradually engulf the lake…There is no point spending crores of rupees on civil works when the lake itself is not clean.”
He added, “Vanashakti had asked the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) to intervene as the lake feeds the ponds in the adjoining Sanjay Gandhi National Park.” The BMC in March last year had floated tenders in a bid to appoint a cleaning contractor for a period of five years. However, this was scrapped by then Additional Municipal Commissioner Praveen Darade for the bids being overpriced with a base price of Rs 11 crores.
Over a year has passed with no new bids having been passed. “The reason for MMRDA withdrawing the tender is probably because MCGM would benefit from the results,” Stalin adds. The result of this has seen machines such as the desilting machines. Activists explain that the MCGM is delaying the clean-up drive and allowing the problem to fester to help hike the budget. It has also been unsuccessful in constructing a sewage treatment plant, resulting in the lake having no deterrent measures against the mounds of sewage dumped into it daily.
“The BMC has no knowledge of keeping lakes pollution free or how to remove pollution without using chemicals. They only know how to add chlorine and other chemicals which they cannot do here because of the crocodiles and fishes in it, who will be affected if such chemicals are employed. Instead, there are natural processes which are carried out using selected plants on floating platforms that can purify the water without the use of machinery or chemicals. NEERI has such technologies available.”
Plastic bottles and garbage and plaster of Paris idols immersed into the lake as part of religious proceedings are another hazard besides hyacinths. Powai Lakes last cleaning contract for three years ended last year in February, with the entire process having removed two truckloads of hyacinth each week. In 2019 saw 104 truckloads of weed and garbage dumped inside it. Today, close to 30 or more truckloads of water hyacinth and will be need to be removed, according to Stalin.
While the BMC has admitted to the delay in appointing a new contractor and accepted the threat posed by hyacinths, it refuses to comment on it’s inaction. Residents have routinely complained about BMC’s misplaced priorities as nearly Rs 50 crore has been spent on beautification of the lake over the past decade, with investments such as LED lighting, musical fountains and walkways.
Addressing these concerns Additional Municipal Commissioner P Velrasu said, “The BMC is still examining, how much money can be regularly spent on removing water hyacinth. The benefits of water hyacinth also need to be studied as we have been told that it helps remove heavy metals from the water. We are yet to ask for a detailed scientific study on this. We also need to see if removing the hyacinths without blocking the sewerage floodgates will serve any purpose.”
Ravi Raja, the congress Corporater who is the opposition leader in the BMC, accused the civic body of negligence the civic body and has pushed for stringent legal action, saying, “An FIR must be filed under environmental laws against officials who are responsible for this,” said Raja. He has also sought intervention of Environment Minister Aditya Thackeray.
Stalin recommends the lake to be handed over to the State Forest department and MPCB setting up multiple monitoring stations with ecological indicators to display water the purity. “Residents should organise events like Yoga by the bay at Powai lake. Use the promenade as a community space at least every Sunday. They can volunteer to prevent careless dumping of non-degradable waste into the lake. Also have programs for children’s groups at least once in a week.”