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ranchi lake tops the list of must-see tourist spots of the state on the Jharkhand Tourism Development Corpo ration kiosk at the Ranchi railway station. But one visit to the nearly dried up and filthy water body will deter even a diehard rubberneck from returning to the site.
The lake -- situated only four kilometres from the station in the fledgling state's capital -- has not once been cleaned in the past three years. This despite an inspection committee, set up by the then Ranchi bench of the Patna High Court during the hearing of a contempt petition in 1998, terming it as a "cesspool" due to its polluted condition.
Two years ago, a group of students of the environment and water management department of J N College, Ranchi, carried out a study of pollution in the lake in association with the environmental laboratory of public sector metallurgy consultancy firm mecon. The report noted that the water's excessive green colour in the originally 54-acre lake indicated the presence of "algal bloom (scum formed by algae on water surface)". Due to the discharge of excess nutrients into the water body, the process of eutrophication was also taking place, wherein rampant plant growth was killing animal life by deprivation of oxygen.
Dug in the 1840s, Ranchi lake was a pioneering effort to conserve water during monsoon. The water body played a crucial role in Ranchi emerging as a new town. After independence, the Ranchi Municipal Corporation (rmc) wrested control of the lake under a perpetual lease. Around the mid-1980s, it was alleged that a hospital -- Nagarmal Modi Seva Sadan -- had encroached upon a part of the city drain. The rot had set in.
The general secretary of the hospital, Raju Kedia, says nonchalantly: "We are negotiating with the civic authority for a settlement in respect of the encroached land in favour of Seva Sadan." The hospital has been putting off relocation despite court orders. The rmc, too, has failed to take the offenders to task for employing dilatory tactics.
In 1985, the administration drew up a largely cosmetic plan to ostensibly free the lake from pollution, remove encroachments and beautify it. Local residents, particularly the Purani Ranchi Fishermen's Society, opposed it in vain. The result: a drainage system, which opened into the lake at several points.
The water is now too polluted to be used for domestic purposes and fisherfolk have been divested of their fishing rights despite court orders. Over the years, the periphery of the lake has turned into a veritable garbage dump. The extent of pollution in the lake can be gauged from the fact that only one variety of fish survives in it now.
When enquired about the plan to clean the lake, rmc administrator Satya Deo Singh said, "The Ranchi Regional Development Authority (rrda) has usurped our rights and taken up some developmental work." On his part, the vice chairman of rrda, Ravi Shankar Verma, admitted having floated a tender "six months back" inviting interested parties to undertake a beautification and boating project for Ranchi lake. But following the protest by the rmc administrator, rrda has dropped the idea.
mecon experts suggest draining out the water, desilting and setting up a permanent water treatment plant as the way out. But this could be an expensive proposition. The fisherfolk's society believes that the rmc can cut costs by employing labourers and using earthmovers. The civic body will, however, have to first seal off all the drain outlets into the lake and enforce a ban on dumping of garbage in its vicinity.