Saturday, May 22, 2010

Debate bubbles over private role in maintenance of city's water bodies

Debate bubbles over private role in maintenance of city's water bodies

A dispute has sprouted over the polluted Lotus Pond which the government is rejuvenating. While the greens cry foul, officials warn them not to meddle. Is there a way out? Can lakes and ponds be managed on a public-private partnership basis? Odeal D'Souza seeks answers to this question

Odeal D'Souza

The ongoing tussle over the upkeep of the Lotus Pond in Cubbon Park has sparked a public debate on the question whether it is advisable to leave commonwealths like ponds and lakes with the government or allow a private partnership in their maintenance.
Lotus Pond, the pride of Cubbon Park, had seen frequent mass death of fishes owing to unchecked effluent flowing into it. Justice MF Saldanha, who led a mass protest recently over the negligence of the horticulture department, has filed a complaint with the Lokayukta of misappropriation of funds and criminal attack on protesters by the horticulture officials. He accuses the officials of doing everything in frustrating the good works done by voluntary agencies in keeping the pond clean.
"There is a stream in the Cubbon Park that has been polluted by waste thrown by callous visitors. To prevent it from entering the pond, protective walls, fencing and desilting are to be done periodically," he says.
The officials are bent on securing big funds from the government for the upkeep of the ponds. But they do not want the involvement of well-meaning citizens in this task as they want to salt away the money. The horticulture department plans to drain the pond of fishes and other water creatures to the nearby Lalbagh to desilt the pond. This, Saldanha says, is uncalled for.
Leo Saldanha, coordinator of the Environment Support Group which had led the Save Cubbon Park Campaign in 1998 that saved part of the park from getting denotified for commercial use, says the pond is a natural corollary of the government's apathy to the park. "The neglect of the lotus pond is but an invariable consequence of the careless attitude adopted by successive governments. If Cubbon Park is ruined, the very soul of Bangalore is lost. We are not just fighting for the pond, we are concerned for the whole of the Cubbon Park," Leo says.
Bimal Desai, who had single-handedly fought for Cubbon Park's preservation for 12 years, says he has little hope and faith in the government's motive. "I have been fighting for years over this issue but the situation has not improved."
The deputy director of horticulture department KG Jayadev says the authority will move all the ducks, geese, and other birds to Lalbagh temporarily. The veterinarians in the department will decide on whether to retain the fishes and water birds in the pond. Rainwater harvest will help rejuvenate the pond.
"After completing the desilting work in Lotus Pond, we plan to carry out an effective micro-organism treatment in the pond for liquid waste, sludge and to quell the foul odour emanating from the pond,'' he says.
Upping his ante, the horticulture minister Umesh Katti continues to question the patronisation of the pond by justice Saldanha. "The pond in Cubbon park is a horticulture department property. We have decided to rejuvenate the lake. For that, we will take fish and put it into other lakes. It is a temporary measure. Once it is rejuvenated, we will put back the fishes," he says.
"If justice MF Saldanha is really concerned about the pond, he can give constructive suggestions, we will take it. But if he tries to disturb the rejuvenation work, we will not tolerate it and will take all lawful action against the protesters. I have directed my officers to go head with the desilting work and they will carry on," says Katti.
(With inputs from Manish, Maria, Divya Roy, Samanvita Shetty, and Apoorva Iyengar)Reflection of neglect: While the greens blame the government for rising pollution in the Lotus Pond, officials say they want to clean up the lake and the removal of birds and fishes from the pond is only a temporary measure


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