Constrained by concrete
Lakes in and around Jaipur face the squeeze from a burgeoning city and its needs
By Apoorva Bhatia, Jaipur
Jaipur's booming suburbs have started to encorach upon the Chandlai lake, once a haven for migratory wildfowl
Photo: Aditya Batra

Traditions of collective, commu - nity- led conservation of lakes, ponds and wetlands are increasingly under threat from rapid development and from narrow concerns of commercial gains. Urban waste adds to the agony of the remaining few while those responsible for action sit comfortably ignorant of nearing disasters.

For a dry region like Rajasthan, water bodies act as a reservoir that meet ecological and human needs. Barkheda lake, for instance receives only 500-600 mm of rainfall every year. The lake spreads across a massive 25 sq km during the monsoons. Postmonsoon, water levels in the lake recede, with most water percolating into the groundwater table or evaporating.

Agriculture, especially cash crops, thrives in close proximity to this important water source. According to the rules of peta kasht, a long-standing tradition codified in local law, the farmers of the area have rights to plough the dried up lake bed. However, in an abuse of tradition, local farmers now artificially pump out the water from the lake to make more lake-bed available for growing cash crops.

Mr. Harsh Vardhan, a well-known orinthologist known for his activism for the restoring action of Bharatpur wetlands and Jaipurʼs Mansagar lake (see next page), sees little hope in protecting the regionʼs many lakes. He says no government or local body is ready to stop this malpractice. Even the National Lake Conservation Authority hasnʼt shown any interest, he said. In his opinion, if this continues, Barkheda lake will disappear in five to seven years.

Incessant urbanisation has had immense impacts on the health of these lakes. The Chandlai lake suffers from massive sedimentation, so much that an island of silt has formed amidst this lake. Normally affecting river beds, siltation is most uncommon in lakes. But constant discharge of untreated waste from Jaipur has resulted in the occurrence of this unwanted process. The alkalinity of
water in this lake has increased to a level significant enough to affect the natural growth of flora around the lake contours.

This has affected the ecological balance of the region with a decrease in the population of resident and migratory birds as the most prominent conse - quence. As a result, micro organism colonies have thrived in the lake since there are fewer birds to feed on these unwanted species.

Vardhan suggests some reforms for better management of the sewage that enters the lake. Firstly, dredging of the lake bed to scour out the sludge and solid waste is necessary followed by the creation of artificial islands with mound plantations of important tree species that attract birds. The trees should have artificial silt mounds around their trunks to prevent their contact with alkaline water. This would boost the growth and lifespan of these important bird habitats, and restore the lost ecological balance.

But Harsh Vardhan alleges that in spite of continuous activism for conservation, the government is unwilling to take any action. “The government is now more interested in political campaigns. Let the lake vanish in five years, let us all suffer. Then the authorities will take action”, he said.



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