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India: Can Mumbai's Bandra Talao relive its glorious past?

Nithin Belle/Pune
Filed on July 15, 2021
Supplied photo

Civic body seeks to desilt the lake that has fallen on bad times due to public apathy.

Bandra Talao should be a pride for every Mumbaikar. Developed more than 200 years ago by “a rich Konkani Muslim,” to provide drinking water to the nearby Navpada village, the sprawling lake, which is spread over 7.5 acres, is filled with water even during peak summer months.

Unfortunately, the water body has been reduced to a cesspool as all kinds of junk are dumped into it, killing most of the aquatic lives, including fish and other creatures.

Worse, every few years the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), wakes up to the lake’s shambolic state of affairs and spends millions of rupees for its conservation, which has proven to be an exercise in futility because of growing public apathy in the recent up.

Plans used to be drawn up, experts would be roped in amid a lot of hype about how the lake would be spruced up and beautified and leisure boats would take revellers around.

Strangely, even after years of such efforts, the lake is nothing short of a cesspool, where junk and drug addicts abound.

Gauri Kulkarni, a young activist who lives near the lake, told Khaleej Times that of late the crisis has further aggravated.

“The lake is in a mess, despite the civic body spending millions of rupees in its beautification. It’s, indeed, tragic how a grade II heritage structure is being treated,” she said.

She has taken pictures of garbage being dumped on the lake and posted them on social media to attract public attraction. She also urged residents to help clean up the mess on Sundays. The cleanliness campaign has gained momentum, as 800 kilograms (kg) of plastic and other garbage that had been dumped in to the water body was retrieved.

Mushtaq Ansari, who runs a non-governmental organisation (NGO), Pothole Warriors, and started a new pressure group, Chaka Chak Bandra Talao, said the foul smell, which used to emanate from the lake because of dead fish and other creatures, was a thing of the past. “Even birds had stopped coming to the lake,” he said.

“Lack of security was another issue, as addicts, of all hues, would create a nuisance at night,” he added.

The BMC had spent Dh15 million three years ago to clean up the lake and private companies were entrusted with the responsibility to maintain it. However, the firms chickened out, as they were not paid on time, Ansari said.

“To make matters worse, locals started dumping garbage all over again on the lake, and the BMC’s good deeds came a cropper,” he added.

Asif Zakaria, the civic corporator from the area, echoed Ansari. “However, the recent civic campaign is yielding results. Some of the locals have donated money for the cleanliness drive,” he said.

Zakaria cited that the lake’s water had turned green because of the algae, much to the discomfort of local residents.

The Bandra Talao, which is considered Mumbai’s dirtiest lake, caught the BMC’s attention and a clean-up drive was conducted for the first time four years ago in the past 50 years.

The civic body had spent Dh44 million for the cleanliness drive and around 2,200 tonnes of waste were cleared.

The civic authorities had chalked out ambitious plans such as putting in place a transparent flooring to enable people to get the feel of walking on water and constructing an underwater glass tunnel.

But these plans remained stillborn after activists opposed them and ultimately the ambitious project was shelved by the civic body.

The Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee has urged civic officials to focus on desilting the lake in a bid to keep it clean.

Can BMC deliver the goods in tandem with locals' support to revive the heritage water body to its pristine glory?

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