For the last few decades our urban water bodies are being ignored and killed remorselessly. These crucial kidneys in our urban environment are encroached, polluted, and used as dumping grounds. Planners only see lucrative land. To address these issues the Centre for Science and Environment organized a roundtable discussion on urban lakes/wetland protection and restoration on January 29, 2013 at the India Habitat Centre.
The meeting sought to explore the current paradigm of protecting and restoring urban lakes and wetlands. The intention of the meet was to bring people together who have been working towards lake/wetland protection and restoration in order to develop a better understanding regarding the legal, social, economic and technical aspects/possibilities of protecting and restoring our urban water bodies.
The first session of the day was focused on the protection and restoration of urban lakes and wetlands, chaired by Ms. Nisha Singh, Joint Secretary and Mission Director (JNNURM)-MOUD. The afternoon session aimed to address the treatment technologies and reuse of wastewater, chaired by Ms Debashree Mukherjee, CEO, Delhi Jal Board.
At the outset, Ms. Singh spoke on how urban water bodies have been victims of urbanization. While pointing out that a large number of urban water bodies’ restoration projects are engineering dominated, Ms. Singh stressed on the need of systematic strategy for protection of our water bodies and better coordination with state government agencies.
Dr. Tej Razdan from Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti, Udiapur, addressed the issue of shrinking of submergence areas because of land use changes and encroachment, as well as degradation of catchment areas. He also highlighted the multiplicity of institutions, policies and laws. As a result of these complexities, there is conflict of interests and lack of accountability. Addressing the NLCP plan, he pointed out that stakeholder participation and capacity building is absent and majority of funds have been spent on high cost technological solutions. Further, most of the money is being spent on beautification around a water body rather than stressing on ecological restoration and improvements in water quality.
Leo F. Saldanha of Environment Support Group, Bangalore, spoke about the public interest litigation filled by Environment Support Group in High Court of Karnataka. Discussing the significance of small urban water bodies Mr. Saldanha highlighted the intricate and expensive network of tanks built over the centuries in Karnataka from where the tributaries draw water that augment Cauvery’s flow. He also stressed that the cities are overreaching their environmental limits. The only way out is to save, conserve and wisely use water. Which means lakes must be protected.
Jasveen Jairath of Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL) spoke specifically on disappearing water bodies of Hyderabad city. Referring the water security in Hyderabad, Ms Jairath said that Hyderabad has already lost 3245 ha. area of its water in last 12 years in Hyderabad, 21 times the size of Pragati Madan in Delhi. Ms Jairath stressed that urbanization and expansion of city without adequate environmental planning, sky rocking land prices, land mafia and the politician-bureaucrat nexus in change of land use are the reasons behind the shrinking of urban lakes in Andra Pradesh as well as in other parts of India. She also highlighted SaciWATERS’s initiative to protect urban lakes that includes collection of data on Hyderabad lakes, GPS enabled status of lakes using urban watersheds and bringing all stakeholders together through dialogue with authorities and promoting awareness through adopt a lake programme. She further discussed the challenges for the restoration of urban lakes because of mismanagement of data by the concerned departments. In some cases lakes have been given different names by various departments hence its difficult to identifying the lake itself. Adding to the challenges for restoration of urban water bodies, Ms Jairath pointed out that the government departments have different mandate for each lake and there is no specific department responsible for its existence.
Discussing the issue of governance, Mr. Harshvardhan (Honorary General Secretary, Tourism & Wildlife Society of India, Jaipur) pointed out that in last few decades13 lakes have disappeared around Jaipur, primary because of mismanagement of watershed and disposal of waste, both sewage and solid waste into the water bodies. He suggested that an ideal lake/wetland programmes should be based on an ecosystem approach to promote conservation and sustainable use of urban water bodies. He also stressed on citizens involvement as a key element in lake conservation programmes.
While proving a perspective on urban wetlands, Mr. Bhatnagar from INTACH, highlighted the urbanization impacts on urban water bodies including colonization of watersheds, decline of water table, interception of surface inflows, hunger for land and commercial approach to lake management. However, he suggested that urbanization and wetlands can co-exist provided there is an ecological orientation among urban managers and appreciation of ecosystem services. There is also a need to elaborate the regulatory framework at local levels, said Mr. Bhatnagar.
There was also a discussion around the definition of ‘lake’ under the National Lake Conservation Programme (NLCP). NLCP uses the full tank level to determine the water area of a pond/lake. Participants said this is erroneous as it can be changed depending on how much the tank fills up each year or every five years. Therefore, it is not a fixed measure and can be manipulated by the government and the builder-politician-bureaucrat nexus to suit their own purposes. Therefore, a more stable determinant is required to define a water body a lake.
Prof. Sudha Bhattacharya (JNU) presented the example of Neela Hauz Citizen's Group. This was set up in 2008 to push for the restoration of Neela Hauz a lake in South Delhi that was damaged by the construction of a bridge. The group filed a PIL and has pressurized the government through the media and writing letters to ensure the Hauz is restored. Much still remains to be done but work is progressing. She was hopeful the Hauz will be restored properly by the Delhi Development Authority.
V K Chaurasia from CPHEEO said we must decide the level of rejuvenation of water bodies. Should they be restored to their pristine level, or an acceptable level as existed in the past? We need to decide an appropriate level of restoration that is achievable and sustainable. As a government representative, he refused to comment on the NLCP, given that it is a program under the environment ministry. Seema Bhatt from Kalpavriksh said that ecosystem services have to be quantified to assign a definite value to wetlands.
In the afternoon session, Delhi Jal Board CEO Ms. Debashree Mukherjee said that Delhi reuses 140 million gallons a day (MGD) of sewage in horticulture and power plants, particularly the Bawana thermal plant. The Board is negotiating with the Delhi Transport Corporation for the supply of treated sewage to its depots for washing buses, and a similar deal with the Delhi Metro. While reusing sewage, it is important to balance the cost of treatment with the quality of water needed, that in turn depends on the end-use. All the city's sewage treatment plants are being upgraded to treat sewage to a level of 10 BOD and 10 TSS, and the new plants will also meet these standards.
There is a possibility of a cluster approach, where small sewage treatment plants that housing and other projects need to set up under their environment impact assessment rules, have a common reporting mechanism. This will ensure treatment quality, Ms Mukherjee said.
Updating on Delhi Interceptor Sewer project, Ms Mukherjee said that it is 30% complete and will be fully operational by 2014. It will cost Rs 2,000 crore. Jal Board is constructing additional sewage treatment plants at a total cost of Rs 600 crore. The operating expense of the Board for water supply and sewage treatment is Rs 28 per kilolitre that includes depreciation and interest on loans. This assumes 80% of the wastewater generated in the city is treated. However, if the government assumes capital costs including depreciation and interest, the costs come down to Rs 20 per Kl. Ms Mukherjee said the Board is extending the sewage infrastructure to all currently non served areas, and 100% sewerage coverage in the city will cost Rs 16,000 crore. The unplanned colonies are hard to sewer as there is the technical problem of providing 135 lpcd of water that is needed for a functional sewage system; most such colonies get 50-70 lpcd now.
During this session, Dr. Kaur (Principal Investigator, IARI) explained how we can treat and reuse sewage with a low energy footprint constructed wetlands implying the fascinating example of wetland in the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) campus at New Delhi. Ms Palrecha also presented on the reuse of sewage water in agriculture sector highlighting the example of Gujarat where the municipality supplies waste water to the farmer for irrigation. Around 40000 ha. of land is being irrigated in Gujarat using waste water.
The meeting concluded that in order to protect and restore urban water bodies there is a need to encourage citizen involvement in lake/wetland restoration projects. It was also suggested that such programmes/projects should be based on ecosystem approach, with a holistic understanding of lake system. Valuing the ecosystem services of a water body in terms of quantification of its benefits was also strongly recommended.
Ms. Nisha Singh- Joint Secretary and Mission Director (JNNURM)-MOUD
Ms Debashree Mukerjee – CEO Delhi Jal Board
Dr. Tej Razdan - Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti, Udiapur
Leo F. Saldanha - Environment Support Group, Bangalore
Mr. Manu Bhatnagar - Principal Director, INTACH
Jasveen Jairath - Save Our Urban Lakes (SOUL)
Mr. Harsh Vardhan - Honorary General Secretary, Tourism & Wildlife Society of India, Jaipur
Dr. Ravinder Kaur - Water Technology Centre, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, New Delhi
Alka Palrecha - Peopleincentre.org, Ahmadabad
V K Chaurasia - CPHEEO
Prof. Sudha Bhattacharya – School of Environmental Sciences, JNU, New Delhi
Ms. Seema Bhatt – Consultant, Kalpavriksh, New Delhi
Mr. Ravi Singh – Petitioner and Peri-urban Farmer
Dr. R C Trivedi – Consultant, DHI (India) Water and Environment Pvt. Ltd
Mr. Sanjiv Gogia – Aaxis Nano Technologies, New Delhi
Dr. Vikram Soni – UGC Professor, Jamia Millia Islamia
Dr. Suresh Rohilla -CSE
Nitya Jacob - CSE
Sushmita Sen - CSE
Bharat Lal Seth - CSE
Amandeep Kang - CSE