Losing natural reserves

There are certain subjects that Delhiites get very concerned about in specific seasons and then forget about by the time the next season comes. Power and water crisis and ways to control th­em, are a few favourites at the moment. Lately, the issue of disappearing water bodies has also come into focus thanks to the alarming water situation and a survey carried out by an NGO on the status of these nature’s retreats in the City.

Predictably the study revealed that inspite of a High Court order of 2006, the concerned government agencies are doing practically nothing to preserve these and are, in fact, destroying them to create new land. The people too are uncaring towards their neighbourhood lakes, ponds and wetlands and allowing them to be spoilt. Today, pertinent questions need to be answe­r­ed, and quickly, if these are to be saved.  

Diwan Singh, director, Natural Heritage First, says, “People today do not relate to their neighbouring water bodies. Delhi was raised from a group of 400 villages, each of which had a sizeable number of big and small water bodies. Villa­g­e­rs used to pr­i­ze these as they were a sou­rce of livelihood. Cattle used to be bathed here to yield good milk; potters used to get clay, fishing was done and these ponds served as cultural centres with temples built and festivals organized around them.

“Today, when these ponds do not serve these purposes, they are still indispensable for a healthy ecological system. We need them to re­c­h­­arge our drastically falling water table, reduce electricity wastage in drawing water from the gro­u­nd, grow hea­l­t­hy vegetation around them, reclaim Delhi’s lost bird population, and get a better quality of atmosphere and life.”

It is understood that not all of these lost water bodies can be revived because of Delhi’s growing land needs but the remaining ones must be maintained for our own welfare, says VK Jain of NGO Tapas. Jain, who filed the affidavit to which HC gave the 2006 judgement, informs, “Delhi, currently, has around 793 water bodies – 629 acknowled­g­ed by the government, of whi­ch most are located in South and South-west Delhi. These are owned by the Delhi government, DDA, ASI, Forest department, PWD, CPWD, MCD and even IIT Delhi. There is a huge lack of coor­dination between these agencies. Sometimes, futile and counter-productive work like building of boundary walls and concretisation of slopes of these water bodies is done, but there is nobody to check.”

“The ones located in ‘mainstream’ Delhi like Sanjay Jheel in Mayur Vihar, Neela Hauz in Vasant Kunj, Hauz Khas and Hauz-e-Shamsi are still taken care of as they have become tourist spots. But nameless lakes in Outer Delhi like in Rani Khera, Ladpur and Karala of Najafgarh are destroyed without a noise as even med­ia doesn’t reach there.” Local initiatives to preserve water bodies like one in Pochanpur vill­a­ge of Dwarka are be­i­ng taken, but how far these will succeed is a matter of time.

Govind Singh, a research scholar on environmental studies at DU says, “These days, drinking water from packaged bottles, people tend to think that water must be coming from Bisleri. The truth is that water comes from nature, not Bisleri. And nature has many ways of providing us fresh water, one of them being these ponds.

“It is not for no reason that these are called the ‘kidneys of the ecosystem.’ Water bodies store extra water during monsoons, preventing floods, and filter it over time, before it seeps into the ground. They are absolutely essential to maintain a healthy underground water reserve. It is high time authorities realize that we need to grow around water bodies, not on them.”

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