200-year-old Bandra Talao is drowning in neglect

Crores have been spent to spruce up and ‘beautify’ the 200-year-old Bandra Talao, but there is much to be done, both by citizens and the BMC, before it begins to look attractive

The Bandra Talao, a 200-year-old lake in Bandra, is a Grade-II heritage structure. Floating serenely across its surface, are packets of chips, plastic bottles and containers, juice boxes and other food waste. At one end, a construction site juts into the lake, where visitors and inhabitants of the slum casually dump trash into it.

Over the years, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has proposed multi-crore plans to revamp and beautify the potential tourist attraction. But despite plans for boardwalks, fountains, boating and light shows, nothing seems to have fructified. A solitary trash can, a single canoe in a far corner where the boardwalk doesn’t reach, and a non-functioning fountain decaying in the middle of the lake, are the only visible results of the money poured into the upkeep of the talao.

The neglect has raised the hackles of residents in the area. “It is a mess,” says Anil Gupte, a Bandra resident. “No one takes care. There are beggars sleeping on the benches, using the space as a toilet. I am ignored when I bring these things up.”

Many residents blame the BMC for the talao’s poorly-maintained state, and say the lack of trash cans and infrequent cleaning of the water represent threats to the heritage site. Said Firoz Ali, another resident, “People throw trash everywhere but there is no one to monitor what is being done. The BMC does nothing for the talao.”

Kishore Kshirsagar, Deputy Municipal Commissioner of Gardens, while refusing to comment on the citizens’ complaints, said it was a work in progress and the results would be known in a year. “A Bandra Talao Cleaning Agency will also begin operations in a month’s time.”

Sharad Ughade, Assistant Municipal Commissioner, H-West ward, refused comment.

The project

The Bandra Talao beautification project was unveiled in 2013, but did not see any results till it was re-conceived in 2017.

The BMC approached the Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) with a ₹8.81-crore beautification project, since structural changes require the MHCC’s approval. The proposal included the construction of a boundary wall around the lake and a glass tunnel to give visitors an underwater view.

The MHCC scrapped the idea of the underwater glass tunnel and insisted the corporation focus on desilting the lake and preventing leaks from sewage and storm water lines rather than window dressing. Sewage flowing into the lake has reduced levels of dissolved oxygen, a measure of a water body’s ability to support marine life. On account of the poor quality of water, many varieties of fish in the lake are dying.

The BMC’s Garden Cell modified the proposal and did away with the underwater glass tunnel and boundary wall. It is, however, keen on building a glass-floored walkway. The corporation recently appointed an agency to carry out bio-remediation, under which water will be treated, and water fountains and aerators installed.

Phase I of the project, which ended in April this year, consisted of restoring the railings and walkway and a ₹50-lakh desilting of the lake, which led to the removal of 2,500 tonnes of silt. This led to an increase in water clarity and a 5% rise in water level. The ₹6-crore Phase II, currently under execution, is estimated to take around a year. It will focus on making the park a better attraction and make available more public space.

Function, not aesthetic

Despite these efforts, the method of cleaning has raised a controversy. Asif Zakaria, H-West ward corporator, said, “They (the BMC) carried out the desilting very unscientifically, putting the ecosystem of the talao at risk. There are so many new methods; simply sending machines into the lake is risky and outdated. A 2010, BMC-sanctioned report of the lake by Fugro Geotech said aerating the lake was sufficient to clean it, so the ₹50-lakh desilting was an unnecessary endeavour.”

Mr. Zakaria said the aim should be to make the talao more user-friendly rather than ornamental. “This can be done by connecting it on all four sides and creating open space. Maintaining it will also become easier once it is in the public eye.” He said a 1-km walk will be created, and aerators deployed to improve water quality and oxygenate the lake, “with a few minor lighting and horticultural additions.”

Not everyone has a grouse about the BMC’s functioning though. Shyama Kulkarni, a trustee of the NGO Agni, which advocated the talao’s heritage status and appealed to the government for its recent cleaning, said, “Ashish Shelar (Bandra West MLA) is doing a good job, cleaning the lake and installing fountains. He is trying his level best to ensure the local people do not throw garbage, which is the biggest challenge.”

To what extent these efforts will bear fruit and be sustained remains to be seen. Garden Department officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on re-routing sewage lines away from the talao and its future maintenance.

Similar projects such as the Powai lake beautification dragged on for years before any results were seen, and is currently stalled because of Mumbai Metro work. The future of the talao may therefore be uncertain.

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