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Delhi has lost 21 lakes since 1997-98: Intach

NEW DELHI: A decade-and-a-half is a long time when it comes to the rapidly changing face of a city. But is it long enough to make as many as 21 lakes disappear from the city's map? Delhi seems to have lost half of its lakes since 1997-98. Natural heritage scientists from The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (Intach) recently presented these findings at the annual meeting of Society of Wetland Scientists held in Minnesota.

These findings are based on their own ground level survey and comparisons with remote-sensing based and Survey of India khasra maps of 1997-98.

Most of these lakes, according to scientist Ritu Singh, disappeared because of 
encroachment by real estate projects while some simply dried up as their catchment area had been encroached upon. According to the 1997-98 data, there were 44 lakes and 355 ponds in Delhi. Intachhas compared only the number of lakes so far.

Some of these lakes were located in Rithala, Pappankalan, Pitampura (there is a building in the lake area now), Seelampur, Vishnu Garden and one between Tihar and Hari Nagar. "There are many more such lakes but these can be easily traced by anyone. These are completely non-existent now," says Ritu, who is working on a paper that would investigate the reasons for their disappearance. The paper is likely to be published in a couple of months.

Many of these lakes were located in villages where property prices went up gradually. This led to villagers filling up the lakes to make use of the land. "Rewla Khanpur once had seven water bodies. You won't find a single one now. These have been closed for a variety of reasons, including a huge jump in property prices," adds Manu Bhatnagar, adviser at Intach.

Interestingly, Delhi Parks and Gardens Society (DPGS) has a completely different count of water bodies in Delhi. It says about 779 water bodies are traceable in Delhi, including lakes, ponds, and tanks. This makes it over 200 water bodies more than what the ministry of environment and forest's remote-sensing data found in 2011. "I am not sure where they have found this data. It's absurd that they claim there are 779 water bodies in Delhi today. It's way higher than MoEF's inventory as well as the 1998 data," says Bhatnagar. A 
DPGS official, however, asserted these numbers were according to recent data.

The lakes that Intach has mapped as part of this study are different from the ministry of environment and forests categorization of lakes. Intach has mapped both small and large lakes. "We did not go by the size. We did a ground survey of all lakes seen in the khasra maps of 1997-1998. The north Indian terrain is such that even small lakes hold immense importance," adds Ritu.

The two large lakes that have been retained and have water are Bhalswa lake and Sanjay lake. "Many people don't know that the Bhalswa lake is as big as the one at Nainital. These two are the largest. But we are losing our small lakes. We have recommended to Delhi government that there should be a system of penalty for lakes that have been encroached on by private or government bodies. This should be on the lines of the tree act. For every lake or water body lost, the agency should create another water body at another location. This should apply to smaller lakes too," says Bhatnagar.

Intach will present the findings of this study to the Delhi government, along with other findings on Delhi's urban biodiversity.

The Times of India (10-09-2013)