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Pashan lake struggles to stay afloat

Experts say PMC’s steps have only compounded the woes of the lake and harmed its eco-system.

Two years after the restoration and beautification work at Pashan lake was hailed as a great example in conservation and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) was lauded for its efforts, the condition of the lake is back to square one. Not even a square inch of water is visible, as the lake is completely covered by water lettuce (pistia) and water hyacinth. Experts attribute the “reclamation” of the lake by these two weeds to PMC’s “flawed development plan” around the water body.

The deterioration of the ecosystem of the lake is imminent, environmentalists have warned. Experts say pistia is an indicator of high pollution level of the lake. There is a drastic decrease in the number of migratory and local birds and a rise in the number of some other birds, indicating an ecological imbalance, according to the experts.

The restoration and beautification project was carried out under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and Rs 17 crore was earmarked to develop the lake as a tourist attraction.

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Following the clean-up operations two years ago, pistia and water hyacinth started reappearing around the edges of the lake in the first week of February this year and by mid-March they had covered the entire lake.

The century-old lake was the result of a barrage constructed on a rivulet, Ram Nadi, primarily to serve as a source of water. Over the years, the 130-acre wetland evolved into an ecosystem of its own and migratory birds started making it their temporary home. The furious pace of urbanisation in catchments of the lake led to fast deterioration of the lake in the last few years.

The Indian Express has reported several times in the past about the deteriorating condition of the lake, and each time the PMC had promised to take action. The situation has, however, gone only worse.

Experts say PMC’s steps have only compounded the woes of the lake and harmed its eco-system.

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City-based biodiversity researcher and ornithologist Dharmaraj Patil says, “The beautification of the lake was carried out at the cost of ecosystem of the lake. Many interventions by the PMC proved detrimental to the fragile wetland. Because the PMC wanted to construct a sidewalk, it built artificial edges with rocks and cement, thus completely destroying the muddy banks. Because of this wrong step, the number of migratory birds visiting the lake, including Common Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpiper, Shanks and Pintail Snipe, drastically reduced.”

Sachin Dhamane, a resident of Pashan and member of Wild Pune, a group of environmentalists and conservationists, says, “PMC spent crores of rupees on the construction of a wall on the banks of the lake, which has proved to be of no use (untreated sewage still flows into the lake). The sidewalk is in a bad shape. The PMC has not really spent the money on what is really needed — for conservation and restoration. Treating the lake like a ‘construction site’ will not help. It has to be treated as an ecosystem to yield results.”

According to Patil, uncontrolled growth of weed, including hyacinth, is an indicator of rising pollution. “These plants block light that is vital to the submerged plants. Without light, the submerged plants (as also blue-green algae) are unable to manufacture food. This kills them. Subsequent bio-degradation reduces dissolved oxygen in water (needed for fish and other aquatic animals). This can endanger the delicate wetland ecosystem. The project was touted as a perfect example of public-private partnership. In reality, it’s an example of the nexus between government bodies and ‘certain’ institutions,” he says.

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PMC officials, on the other hand, blame “uncontrolled construction activity and urbanisation” for the situation. PMC Environment Officer Mangesh Dighe says, “We visited the spot recently and we will award a contract to get the weed removed mechanically from the lake. It is a result of pollution in the form of sewage from surrounding areas of the river, which provides nutrients to these weeds to grow. It needs a long-term solution.”

Patil adds, “The natural composition of local and migratory birds has been replaced by few local species like egrets, herons and cormorants, which is an indication of imbalanced ecosystem. The PMC is still wasting time in justifying the project. It is important that public hearings should be made compulsory before the local bodies are allowed to go ahead with such projects. A vigilance committee is a must to monitor the project activities and suggest corrections and a misuse of public money should be brought to justice to avoid similar havoc in future.”

First published on: 30-03-2015 at 03:03 IST
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