Floating islands of promise in Hauz Khas lake

Brainchild of a British environmental engineer, dozens of green patches are floating in the waterbody soaking up its pollutants

Updated - July 30, 2018 12:18 pm IST

Published - July 30, 2018 01:30 am IST - NEW DELHI

A floating artificial island on Hauz Khas lake. There was algae in the lake when the project started.

A floating artificial island on Hauz Khas lake. There was algae in the lake when the project started.

Dozens of floating islands have popped up across the Hauz Khas lake over the last few months.

These 2x2-metre green patches on the lake are floating on discarded plastic bottles, but wait before you jump to any pollution conclusion.

These artificial lakes are designed to soak up the lake’s pollutants and not add to it, as would be the popular guess.

In a bid to rejuvenate the lake, environmental engineer Tarun Sebastian Nanda and programme manager Debayani Panja, both associated with Evolve Engineering, have taken up the initiative to clean it up by floating artificial wetlands into the waterbody.

“When we first started the cleaning work, we could see the presence of algae across the lake. We even found dead fish stuck in plastic bottles. The idea behind the floating wetland is that the plants on the islands will absorb the nutrients present in the waterbody, thereby cleaning the lake in a natural way,” said Mr. Nanda, who came to the country from England eight years ago.

Environmental engineer Tarun Sebastian Nanda, who is behind the initiative.

Environmental engineer Tarun Sebastian Nanda, who is behind the initiative.


Agreement with DDA

The Hauz Khas lake, a 14th-century waterbody that was dug up to serve as a tank during Alauddin Khilji’s reign, had been dying a slow death over the years. The project started after Mr. Nanda signed an MoU with the Delhi Development Authority in August last year and the first island was floated into the lake in October last.

“We floated the island on Diwali last year. Wetlands are a good option for cleaning waterbodies as they are low-cost and need no maintenance. No machines are required for water purification,” he said.

Mr. Nanda and his team, including eight labourers, can be seen preparing the ground for cleaning an inlet that connects the lake to the water being released by a sewage treatment plant in south Delhi.

“We were not sure if the water released by the STP was properly treated. To ensure that properly treated water reaches the lake, we are in the process of setting up a constructed wetland near the inlet,” said Mr. Nanda, who had earlier used similar techniques at farm houses to reuse waste water for gardening purpose.


Crowdfunded project

The project, so far, has been a crowdfunded one with volunteers, including some schools, signing up to “adopt” these floating islands.

“The islands are built first and then placed into the lake. People who adopt them learn how to make them from scratch. Old soda bottles are used for floatation. However, we make sure that plastics which have adverse effects are not used. These floating islands will also act as a habitat for ducks and migratory birds that come in December,” explained Ms. Panja.

Diwali deadline

The MoU with the DDA states that “90% removal of pollutants within two months of operation” needs to be done.

Confident of fulfilling the terms, Mr. Nanda said, “Funding issues have slowed down the process but we will soon get corporate sponsorship. Once that happens, we will place 500 floating islands in the lake simultaneously and that will help the waterbody immensely. With a 90% reduction in pollution, even the smell that dominates the lake [at present] will be gone.”

On when he aims to achieve the target, he said,

“All the islands should be placed by Diwali this year. Water samples from various points in the lake and the inlet that is releasing the water from the STP will be collected to reflect the change in the water quality.”

Scepticism galore

The process of cleaning the lake has not been easy, say both the members spearheading the project.

“There is a lot of scepticism as nobody has seen the results yet. To actually prove that this is a sustainable method is a challenge. It takes time to convince people and often those who come here demotivate us. There are other regulars too, who tell us that the water around the islands is looking better. The very fact that the plants are growing is indicative of the fact that the nutrients and the algae from the water are being absorbed,” said Ms. Panja.

For Mr. Nanda this is a good chance to prove that the 15-acre lake can be cleaned through natural methods.

“We are here because there is a problem waiting to be solved. The idea is to turn waterbodies into ecosystems that can manage the waste. What is the point of complaining about the deteriorating environment if we cannot come up with a solution?” said Mr. Nanda.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.