Restoration of lakes

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Kalpana Palkhiwala

India is interspersed with water bodies, such as rivers, lakes and ponds. A body of water is considered a lake when it is inland, not part of the ocean large and deeper than a pond. Natural lakes on the earth are generally found in mountainous areas, rift zones and areas with ongoing or recent glaciations. Other lakes are found in endorheic basins or along the course of rivers. As far as these lakes are concerned they are both natural and man made. It is difficult to trace the history of the natural lakes in India. But the manmade ones have a historical background since most of these were built by kings and emperors as reservoirs. The lakes in the country are generally categorized as fresh water and brackish lakes.

Religion is an integral part of our life. Even the water bodies are religiously significant. Lakes such as Pushkar in Rajasthan, Gurudongmar in Sikkim, Mansarovar and others are renowned for their religious importance. The striking beauty of lakes like Vembanad in Kerala, Bhimtal Lake in Uttarakhand, etc., have made them the favorite haunts for the tourists. The lakes of Rajasthan add zing to the colossal forts and palaces.

These water bodies get polluted often as a result of pollution of nutrients or toxic substances. Discharge of sewage and fertilizers, runoff from livestock feedlots and pastures, heavy rains, eroded riverbanks, construction in urban areas and slowly fills in the water body with sediments and organic matter.

The Ministry of Environment & Forests has initiated a scheme for conservation and restoration of polluted and degraded lakes in urban and semi urban areas of the country. A National Committee was set up by the Ministry in 1993 which identified 21 highly degraded urban lakes for conservation and management. Later in 1994, the lakes were prioritized and the ten urban lakes namely Dal, Sukhna, Sagar, Nainital, Kodaikanal, Ooty, Udaipur, Rabindra Sarovar, Powai and Hussain Sagar were proposed for conservation at an estimated cost of Rs. 637 crore. Dal lake in Jammu and Kashmir has been accorded the highest amount of Rs 297.70 crores.

The approval for National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) was sought in a meeting of Cabinet Committee of Economic Affair (CCEA) held on December 29, 1997. CCEA directed the Ministry of Environment & Forests to bring up the matter for their consideration after a firm tie up of external financial assistance for funding the scheme is received. The Ministry posed the NLCP for financial assistance to some of the bilateral or multilateral funding agencies like World Bank, Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), Government of Netherlands, Government of Austria and European Commission. Since none of these agencies evinced interest in the proposals for NLCP, the condition of seeking external assistance was finally waived in May, 2001. Finally, it was initiated with the approval of conservation of three lakes namely, Powai in Maharashtra, Ooty and Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu at a cost of Rs 14.90 crore with the waiving of the condition of external assistance.

Rabindra Sarovar Lake in West Bengal was approved in October, 2002, Nanital Lake (Uttaranchal) in July 2003, Dal Lake (J&K) in September 2005, Sagar (M.P.) in March, 2007 and lakes of Udaipur (Rajasthan) in 2008-09. Conservation of Hussain Sagar lake (Andhra Pradesh) and Bhoj (Madhya Pradesh) have been taken up by the respective State Government under external funding. Sukhna Lake (Chandigarh) is being considered under the wetland conservation programme of the Ministry.

The implementation of sanctioned works under the scheme has resulted in tackling of pollution load entering the lake, improved lake water quality and enhanced lake aesthetics. The Ministry is implementing the Centrally Sponsored Scheme of National Lake Conservation Plan (NLPC) since June, 2001. Initial funding pattern from 100% central assistance to 70:30 cost sharing between the Central Government and the State Government came into action from 2002. Based on the approval accorded by the Planning Commission for 90:10 funding for projects of North Eastern Region (NER) under NRCP, a request has been made to have the same funding pattern for projects being considered under NLCP.

The Ministry had identified 62 lakes to be taken up for conservation under NLCP with the help of National Institute of Ecology (NIE). This list was sent to all State Governments for prioritization of lakes in their States and submission of proposals for consideration by the Ministry. Fifteen States/U.Ts responded. New projects under NLCP are added depending upon the pollution status of lakes, prioritization and resource availability under the Plan.

Twenty States have submitted lake conservation proposals to the Ministry for consideration under NLCP. Karnataka with 19 and Maharashtra with 16 proposals are highest among them. Total 77 proposals are with the Ministry. Out of these, the Ministry has so far sanctioned projects for conservation of 57 lakes under NLCP at an estimated cost of Rs. 856.76 crore.

Specific points are examined while considering any proposal under the Scheme, they are priority assigned to the lake by the State Government, pollution status of the water body and the sediments, potential area of lake usage, water area of lake usage, existing and proposed sewerage system for the catchments area, storm water management, pollution potential of the catchments area and requirement of project components proposed and respective cost estimates. Once the proposal is found to be admissible and covered under the NLCP guidelines a specific procedure is followed.

Project under NLCP
As of now, a total of 40 projects for conservation of 57 lakes have been sanctioned in 13 States at a total estimated cost of Rs. 856.76 crore. Conservation works for 18 lakes have been completed.

The proposal for Mokokchung lakes in Nagaland (estimated cost Rs.25.83 crore) and Ramgarh Taal in Uttar Pradesh (estimated cost Rs.141.86 crore) are in advanced stages of examination.

Status of Expenditure During IX Five Year Plan, the expenditure was Rs 11.38 crore. The X Plan Period spent Rs.164.49 crore for conservation of lakes. During XI Plan Period, Rs 440 crore have been earmarked. Rs 63.21 and Rs 45 crore have been spent during 2007-08 and 2008-09 respectively.

At present in Uttar Pradesh, Mansi Ganga lake in Mathura is being cleaned at a cost of Rs. 22.71 crore. The approval was given in March, 2007. The work on Ramgarh Tal in Gorakhpur and Laxmi Tal in Jhansi will start after technical clarifications received from State Government .

Interaction at International Level
The Ministry under the aegis of International Lake Environment Committee Foundation (ILEC), Japan, held the 21st World Lake Conference in October-November, 2007 at Jaipur (Rajasthan). The Conference was attended by nearly 200 international delegates from 27 countries.

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