The beautified Powai Lake is all set to be inaugurated on Saturday, giving Mumbaikars yet another improved green space. It is the first revamped waterfront in the eastern suburbs.
It’s been four years since the project began, during which time the cost shot up from Rs 8 crore to Rs 34 crore. A 2-km-long waterfront has been created along the 120-year-old lake, which has a Ganesh Ghat at the west end and the Powai Garden on the east.
The beautification is 90% complete, according to additional municipal commissioner Aseem Gupta, who till recently was in charge of water supply. Though the lake does not supply potable water to the city, it is part of the hydraulic engineering (HE) department’s assets and has been beautified with its funds.
The 2-km stretch, which is yet to be completed, is being developed as a seamless walkway. It skirts a children’s play area, then passes between the lake and landscaped slopes as it snakes upwards and runs parallel to the main road, where visitors can enter a park that again leads to the lakefront. Along the way, there are several viewing decks for visitors to relax and watch the lake. The biggest viewing deck is inside the park. It is semi-circular and has grass-filled stairs on which people can sit and watch the fountains set up in the lake.
A low retaining wall has been built along the lake to prevent visitors from stepping into the water and becoming potential food for the 70 resident crocodiles there. While the city can rejoice in getting yet another public space, something stinks, and that’s the lake itself. Though the lakefront looks beautiful, the lake itself has not been cleaned. One may not have to exactly hold their nose, but the water is filled with sewage. “The remaining beautification work won’t be taken up till the 13 sewerage outlets that empty into the lake are closed,” said Gupta.
Pictures By Elsie Gabriel.
The sewage lines had been shut as part of the lake-cleaning process, but they were opened after the MMRDA, which was widening Adi Shankaracharya Marg, damaged existing sewer lines. The damaged lines have not been repaired though the roadwork is complete. Gupta said the BMC would do the sewer repairs, estimated to cost Rs 4 crore. “HE department will spend the money,” he said.
Environmentalists added that Powai Lake was badly in need of desilting. Elsie Gabriel, resident and director of Young Environmentalists Programme, said, “The lake needs to be regularly cleaned as many visitors come here and throw trash into it. Security also needs to be tightened,” she said. Gupta said several lights in the area had been stolen. “Residents need to take an interest in the upkeep of the place,” he said.
The beautification has already begun to draw politicians looking for mileage before the BMC elections. Local MLA and cabinet member Naseem Khan on Thursday inspected the promenade and even sought to know if he could inaugurate it.
Civic officials were taken aback as they could neither refuse nor accede to his request. Journalists pointed out that the officials would get into trouble if they acceded to the MLA. The Shiv Sena-BJP is the ruling party in the BMC and the HE department has organized a formal inauguration on Saturday with Sena CEO Uddhav Thackeray as the chief guest.
A load of crock to the crocs
The beautification of Powai Lake has unfortunately not taken into account the lake’s original residents – the crocodiles, who number around 70 today. The crocodiles’ lifestyle could be adversely affected by the improvements.
They may no more have easy access to the shores, which they use daily to bask in the sun. “The parapet wall is too steep for them to climb and come onto land,” said Debi Goenka, convenor of the NGO Conservation Action Trust, who termed the project a waste of public money.
The BMC should have thought of the crocodiles first, said local MLA and cabinet minister Naseem Khan. “The retaining wall has been built in such a way that the crocodiles have no access to the shore. The reptiles come on land daily and even lay eggs on land. This could create a man-animal conflict,” he said.
Others said the fountains in the lake would disturb the crocodiles, who till now lived in serene waters.
“We are considering making a crocodile habitat at the Powai Garden end, which faces the lake,” said Aseem Gupta, additional municipal commissioner.