Churning still water – Briefing paper by the Centre for Science and Environment on the state of urban water bodies, conservation and management in India

Urban water bodies are encroached, full of sewage, garbage or just filled up and built over these days. This briefing paper by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) on the state of urban water bodies, conservation and management in India, has tried to bring out the threats to the urban water bodies in India. The paper has also reviewed the existing policies, acts and laws to tackle the loss of these bodies of water.

India’s water bodies are extraordinarily diverse – ranging from lakes and ponds to marshes, mangroves, backwaters and lagoons. These water bodies play an important role in providing drinking water, fish, fodder, supporting wild life, controlling floods, recharging groundwater and helping cities adapt to climate change effects.

The interaction of the human world with the urban bodies of water in the last few decades has been a reason of concern. Today these water bodies across the country are systematically converted into “real estate” by vested interests or simply used as a dumping ground for sewage and garbage and are receptacles for toxic waste. Entry of raw sewage causes prolific growth of aquatic weeds (eutrophication) in many lakes and ponds.

Sometimes the water quality deteriorates to such an extent that there is a serious damage of the biodiversity. The catchments feeding the bodies of water are also subjected to encroachment and degradation.

For prevention of pollution and encroachment, the government has come up with different policies and acts. Programme like National Lake Conservation Programme (NLCP) has been launched in order to restore the lakes, tanks and other water bodies of urban areas by central government. India is also signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, for conservation and wise use of wetlands (which include the water bodies).

Concerned citizens and nonprofit organizations have also filed several public interest litigations in order to save the urban water bodies. There have been few dramatic court actions but it has been seen that absence of a legally enforceable national regulation has hampered any real progress in many of these cases.

The management and the conservation of the urban bodies of water have also been complicated by the absence of proper policy on the conservation and protection. In order to restore the poor state of water bodies, there have been several initiatives by the citizens and the government. Many public-private partnerships are in action for conservation of lakes, ponds and tanks. De-weeding and desilting have taken place in different ponds, lakes and tanks to restore the original state of these water bodies. Technologies like aeration, bioremediation and biomanipulation have been applied to clean different lakes and tanks. Few lakes of Nainital, Thane and Jaipur have been revived to great extent after application of these technologies.

The report has a section on legal cases including public interest litigations that have been filed in a few states by citizens and NGOs for the protection of lakes. The courts have responded with dramatic verdicts, which provide the learnings for how these water-systems can be regenerated for the city’s future, the report says.

Post By: Amita Bhaduri