Despite promises in court, there seems little hope for the restoration of Delhi’s water body, Neela Hauz, to its pristine glory

From October 3 to 14, 2010 Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games. Monday will mark the completion of three years since the games concluded, and yet there is no end in sight for the environmental devastation that was visited upon Aruna Asif Ali Marg in the name of the general sprucing up of Delhi that accompanied the preparations for the games.

We have had occasion to draw the attention of those who hold the reigns in this city to the wanton destruction of a natural water body known as the Neela Hauz. The Neela Hauz Citizens’ Group that had taken the matter to court in the wake of the project to build a bridge across the natural lake and to broaden Aruna Asif Ali Marg, had been promised in the court that no damage would be allowed to be caused to the lake and that once the construction work is complete all the rubble would be removed and the “pristine glory of the lake restored”.

One has grown rather sceptical of promises made and pointed out in an earlier piece on Neela Hauz, three years is a long time. The government had declared that once the games are over the entire area would be spruced up, the water hyacinth choking the lake would be removed and a bio diversity park would come up on the land that was earlier occupied by the old road.

The report about the health of Neela Hauz is not good at all. The accompanying photographs show that the lake is more choked with water hyacinth today than it has ever been before. There is only one patch where water is visible and this patch is filled with dirty pieces of thermocol floating in it. A fairly large car park and a clearly demarcated footpath cover the land freed by the diversion of traffic from the old road on to the new bridge. The car park awaits visitors to the bio-diversity park that shows no sign of coming up. Meanwhile, trucks have been sneaking up at night and dumping their cargo of construction rubble on the banks of the shrivelled up Hauz.

This age old practice of dumping rubble on the edges of water bodies and the refusal to remove the ever spreading water hyacinth has ensured the obliteration of or reduction in the size of a large number of natural water bodies in Delhi and despite official protestations to the contrary, there seems little hope for the Neela Hauz.

Before the expansion of the road and the erection of the four-lane bridge, the lake had a resident bird population. There were between 8 to 10 ducks that one had seen hovering over or swimming in the open patches before water hyacinth took over totally. There were also lap wings with their trade mark high pitched calls and some water hens. The lake was full of fish and both anglers and kingfishers were not an uncommon sight. From the time when construction began to now, slowly the birds have all gone, the ducks were the last to go and have not been seen over the last six to eight months.

In all probability, the newly built sewer line that runs from Kishangarh down the slope towards the Neela Hauz is disgorging its filth in the lake. This probably explains the sudden explosion of herons that have of late begun to gather at rubbish dumps and on pools of dirty water.

One does not wish to sound like a prophet of doom, but the callousness with which we continue to treat our scarce resources of water and the impunity with which those in power manage to manipulate things leaves one with little hope. Will future generations be able to ever see a river, a lake, a stream, a waterfall? What will we leave behind for them?

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