The year: 1982. Balwant Singh Mehta a citizen of Udaipur, approached the Rajasthan High
Court to control pollution in the lakes of Udaipur, for the simple reason that he was not
getting clean water to drink. Mehta turns 101 this year.
The polluted lakes of Udaipur, may get a fresh lease of life. Relief came in the form
of a judgement from the courts, thanks to the interest shown by the two judges of the
Rajasthan High Court, Jodhpur, Justice DN Joshi and Justice N N Mathur.
At the end of their tether and looking for action by which all the 600 mm-odd rainfall
that falls over Udaipur can be captured, the Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti (JSS), a
Udaipur-based non government organisation petitioned the courts. The courts have acted. In
no uncertain terms, the courts have hauled up the concerned government officials, warning
them with dire consequences if they continue to fail in their duties. A time-bound action
plan to clean up the lakes has been prepared at the courts behest.
The court has directed that these lakes be desilted before the onset of the monsoon
this year. Thanks to their decision, the rainfall may just be captured this monsoon
itself, rejuvenating lakes and recharging depleting groundwater levels.
Udaipur lakes, to which the city owes its identity, are in a pitiable condition. In
existence for the last 600-700 years, the beautiful lakes are now turning into cesspools
of filth because of the heaps of wastes and garbage dumped into them, uncontrolled growth
of water hyacinth and heavy siltation. 60 per cent of the lakes have dried up. With the
lakes having dried up, groundwater levels have declined. Used for drinking purposes, so
bad is the pollution in the water from Swaroop sagar, that the filtration plant just
cannot deal with the load. The filters get clogged.
and the beast: The pollution lakes of Udaipur
Witness to the destruction of these lakes,
citizens of Udaipur from diverse walks of life took it upon themselves to save the lakes
and its environment by constituting JSS. JSS was formed with a commitment to arrest and
reverse the fast deterioration of the Udaipur lake system. The idea for JSS was put
forward by Anant Ganesh Trivedi, a social activist, in 1992, at a meeting for World
Envronment Day on June 5, and mooted by everyone present at the meeting, including the
district commissioner, heads of the departments of irrigation, public health and
engineering department (PHED) and Urban Improvement Trust (UIT). The JSS comprises
concerned citizens from all walks of life, some active in their professional field and
many retirees, including noted freedom fighter Balwant Singh Mehta.
The people of Udaipur have always been actively
participating in programmes to clean up the lakes since 1969. In 1980, for instance,
citizens working like a conveyor belt removed water hyacinth which had totally covered two
lakes. Ever since the JSS was formed, this participation was given a formal platform and
participation increased. Unfortunately, no permanent solution was reached in spite of all
efforts. Siltation of the lakes continued, the water capacity of the lakes reduced, and
pollution was as high as before.
For the JSS, involved in cleaning up these lakes
since 1992, the court order is a shot in the arm. "The situation is alarming in
Udaipur, if we dont capture the rains, there could be drought in Udaipur,"
fears Tej Razdan, a surgeon by profession and an activist by choice. Razdan is secretary
of the JSS.
Though petitions have been doing the rounds in
the courts for several years now the courts had been hoodwinked by the government into
believing that remedial action had been taken. It took a fresh petition in 1997 that
finally informed the courts that the situation had only deteriorated. The Double Bench of
Justice NN Mathur and Justice DN Joshi are taking the case seriously and have heard it on
a fortnightly, even weekly basis. For expediting the execution of the action plan, the
court has directed that task forces that include citizens and NGOs be constituted.
The court was explicit in its directions, leaving
nothing to chance. The chief secretary was held responsible for implementation. Any
department or ministry showing inaction should be reported to the court so that
appropriate action could be taken. The court directed the divisional commissioner to be
present in person to before the court for the next hearing, along with a time bound plan
of action as well as all the relevant information.
Taking note that the lakes of Udaipur had been
identified for conservation under the National Lake Conservation Plan of the government of
India, the court directed that the secretary, ministry of environment and forests, be
impleaded as respondent.
All stakeholders in Udaipur: the government,
citizens, the industry are chipping in to ensure that the rains are captured this monsoon.
Desilting is now proceeding full steam ahead.
Does your city face a problem with its
urban water bodies? Share your experiences with us.
For more information on the JSS contact Dr Tej
Razdan, Honorary Secretary, Jheel Sanrakshan Samiti, 113 Chetak Marg, Udaipur 313 001. Ph:
0294 523 715, fax: 0294 523809.