26 Urban waterbodies need special management

02/01/2010 20:09

Vasundhara helps an urban community interface over its pond.


Do we know our ponds? Many of us who living in the urban areas have never given a thought to the ponds in our own localities. Once there were quite a few ones -- some large, and some small ones. But people are realising only now that all those ponds no longer exist. Now there are a few of them left in a desperate need for proper preservation. But how one can preserve a pond in an urban locality? Do we know about them enough to develop a programme, which will serve the users? Can such a programme take care of the water quality, environment and aesthetics of these ponds? One urban community wanted to discuss these issues in depth.

The story of protection and renovation of an urban water body at Jheel Road near Jadavpur Railway Station have recently been reported in the media several times. This 8500 sq.m water body was being encroached upon from all sides and became polluted for any use. There was a strong community movement to protect the water body and local people spontaneously organised fund and manpower to clean the pond. Then Calcutta Municipal Corporation joined hands. The encroachments were removed and the residents were rehabilitated.  The water body has been totally re-excavated, banks have been strengthened by concrete walls. 

Urban water bodies fulfill a host of requirements of the local people. It serves people for bathing, cleaning, pisciculture, immersion of idols and other uses.  The organisers have seen earlier that a number of water bodies renovated by civic authorities have again been turned into a mass of polluted water. There are again some water bodies kept relatively clean by the initiatives of local community. The organisers felt that to preserve the renovated water body in a scientific manner there is an urgent requirement of a guideline or manual for environmental management of these urban water bodies. 

This is a new exercise not to be readily found in the textbooks. It requires understanding of the local problem at a micro level and some experimental approach to achieve a technical and social solution of the problem. Only experts with social commitments can take up this challenge. Vasundhara has always tried to highlight the management aspects of the waterbodies. On 16th July 2000 an interface between the community organisations already involved in protection of water bodies, academics and technical professionals involved in studies of water resources and environmentalists was organised in a local club by the side of the Jheel with the help of Vasundhara.. 

It was a new experience for the local community. The participation was overwhelming. Mohit Ray of Vasundhara acted as a facilitator and encouraged debates so that a lively interaction could take place. Dr. Subir Ghosh of Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) placed a new approach to preservation of the urban water bodies. He feels that too much stress is being given to preserve these water bodies for pisciculture. It is difficult to maintain the water quality as pisciculture takes a toll on it – to increase profits, the owners forget that the very purpose of pisciculture has been the preservation of that water body. He suggested controlling the extent of bathing and stopping any commercial fishing. He proposed to use the water body and its banks to preserve different species of water plants and important medicinal plants. This can turn the water body as a nature park.  He would not like to see the water body just as another source of revenue earning for the community. 
Dr. Madhumita Mukherjee, Deputy Director, Department of Fisheries, Government of West Bengal, well known for her zeal to save the waterbodies, wanted in contrast, the preservation approach to take up the pisciculture more intensively. She feels that scientific commercial pisciculture can raise enough fund to preserve a water body and sustain other community activities. This can be the incentive for a community to save wetlands. Shri Badal Nandi, a community organiser who has been maintaining a pond for a decade had a mixed view. They have raised money from the pisciculture and even built up a community hall. But still he felt that this commercial pisciculture affects the water quality of the pond as for more profit the concerned fishermen adds more food and chemicals in the water. The health aspects of the pond users are not properly taken care of..
Professor Siddhartha Dutta of Chemical Engineering Department, Jadavpur University and an advisor to the State Pollution Control Board took up the issue of water quality. He is of the opinion that a lack of any database of these water bodies has made the situation difficult. The water quality will depend on lots of factors including the possible sources of pollution from different wastewater streams or run-offs near the water body. He thought the community bodies should start to build up a data base of the water quality of the pond and his department would try to help. And this will help to identify the important aspects for preparing the Manual for preservation. Dr. Madhumita Mukherjee also supported the issue stating that there should be a regular water quality monitoring. She also offered her help in this matter.
Shri Bamacharan Chakraborty, a former member of Mayor Council of Calcutta Municipal Corporation and a community organiser for water body preservation raised the issue of water harvesting. His first priority was to see the urban water body as a reservoir of water as water scarcity will be a major urban problem soon. And for this also water quality of the water body is of much significance. Professor S.C.Santra, Head of Ecological Sciences Department, Kalyani University again drew the attention of plantation around the urban waterbodies as this can help to improve the local environmental quality. He feels the preservation of water body should be a holistic job, which needs a balance between all these requirements. 
The organisers are in the process of preparing a manual for preservation of urban water bodies to take into account all these suggestions, to make it really holistic in nature. The manual intends to serve the requirements of other similar community efforts for preservation of urban water bodies. It also wants to highlight the need for developing a database on water quality of urban water bodies and the urgent requirement of creating institutions and capabilities by civic authorities to save the remaining urban water bodies.