Will this fly?
By: Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi
A lake on an Airport Authorities-owned land in Juhu is being dismissed as a nullah and may soon become extinct. Citizens trying to save it say it can meet the water needs of 5,000 households
Yo, Mumbai, we got a problem. Water. Either there's too much (July 2005, 994 mm) or there just isn't enough to go around (Mumbai gets 3,350 million litres daily but demand is on the lines of 4100 liters). An extremely rude friend said that since our politicians -- and their policies -- stink they might as well quit having a shower.
Although this might marginally aid the problem, the real solution lies in not only reducing consumption but also creating alternate water supplies.
Suburban Mumbai has 102 lakes. I know you're thinking: But I ain't seen one of them! Well, if you're not going to pitch in and help then chances are you never will. Now check out the photo accompanying this article -- that's Juhu Lake. Neat, huh? Some NGO experts believe it's the second largest sweet water body in the city after Powai Lake. Juhu Lake is spread over green zone land tied to Airport Authorities of India. One side of this lake is a slum, Nehru Nagar. On two opposing sides are giant parking lots, created to pen the cars of the rich, guests frequenting local five star hotels. Juhu Lake, oddly enough, is as much a metaphor of Indian modernity as much its reality: book ended between the obscenely rich and the absurdly indigent, every year this enormous beauty shrinks silently.
But saving this lake is not about notching up a few environment gold stars. It's about saving our own behind.
First, Juhu Lake has historically worked as a catchment for excess water. No lake, and Juhu floods. Second, we have a severe water shortage. Dr Umesh Mundlye, who's done commendable research on Juhu Lake, finds that if the lake, presently 4-6 feet deep, spread over 40 acres, is desilted, the water treated, its depth increased then it could serve the secondary water requirements of over 5,000 households.
During his research, Dr Mundlye noticed a giant pump directed lake water into the slum! Now if Nehru Nagar can meet its water needs through the Lake then why can't parts of Juhu do the same?
Juhu Lake has been served well by the NGO Members of the Brotherhood, which works to preserve lakes in Mumbai. In addition, Juhu Lake has its champions in community activists like Sherley Singh and Anand Desai.
Around a week ago, I met with the quite cool MP Gurudas Kamat. From the terrace of my building he could see the full, mind-blowing expanse of the lake. At this same meeting were local politicos and BMC officials, some of whom assured me the lake was only a 'nullah'. Now, look at the picture -- does that look like a nullah? The argument was: it works as a storm drain. Well, I'd counter that and say that we free sewage into the sea. Does that make the sea a giant nullah? Water bodies are not defined by what human beings let into them but by what they are inherently. Get a grip, guys. Don't stash open land for a perverse and lucrative expansion of slums. If you did a real job, we'd all get out on the streets and vote. And then you wouldn't need a vote bank that relies on the exploitation of the destitute.
But as honourable MP Gurudas Kamat pointed out -- the land belongs to AAI. Why'd they give it up? For starters, the land is a green zone -- development is a no-no unless zoning is reversed. It's also been a lake for 50 years -- why should the community give up a lake that works as a catchment for much of Juhu and parts of Santacruz? Yes, AAI should expand if need be. But the genius of planning well would allow them to put up runways in such a way that the lake could also be preserved. Right now, the AAI runway floods during the rains. They fear a lake would augment flooding. But this logic is counter-intuitive. If the lake was dredged, its depth increased, the water would not flood their runaway (and a lake with increased depth would help catch more rain in flood-prone Juhu).
So what's next? I spoke with Suburban Land Collector (and bestselling Marathi novelist) Vishwas Patil, who assured official help to enable AAI to build a wall around Nehru Nagar. A wall is crucial -- it prevents further encroachment (Praful Patel, hope you're reading, this is good news for you and AAI). Second, AAI must meet with community activists to help plan the preservation of this lake. We're not here to tell AAI what to do with their land. We only request them to save an existing lake whose water supply could benefit thousands of locals. During a water crisis that's only getting worse, saving Juhu Lake would establish a precedent for the 101 other lakes in our city. Third, funding for desilting the lake through MP funds and private donors.
Above all, Juhu Lake is a thing of beauty. Looking at it fills me with inspiration, and gratitude to be alive in this city. But this lake, home to cormorants and water tulips, catfish and crabs, is also your lake. Save it. Because what you leave behind for your children is also the greatest gift you can give yourself.