Army to the rescue

By Supriya Singh
Published: Saturday 28 February 2009

Men in uniform roll up sleeves to restore lake

on february 1, the army was out in full strength in Bhopal. They were not out to tackle riots or terrorists but in response to the city administration's appeal to citizens to solve a civic crisis. The Bada Taal, the main drinking water source of the city, had shrunk by three-fourths and authorities had asked people to help restore the lake under a shramdaan (voluntary work) programme.

Bhopal has been facing acute water shortage the past few years. When the lake, fed by river Kolans, was reduced to less than 8 sq km in November 2008, there was a crisis. Residents got water supply for just one hour on alternate days. Army camps were equally affected prompting army corps commander Lt General A S Lamba to order operation jal sahayata. Officers and jawans pitched in with 14,000 man-hours to desilt Bada Taal and Bairagarh lake.

Over 50,000 people including celebrities have pitched in, said Arvind Dubey, additional commissioner of Bhopal. He said 150,000 square feet area in the lake would be treated and the work completed by June-end at a cost of Rs 70 crore. Earlier, encroachments were cleared from over 2,000 hectares of catchment area of the lake. Scientists with the non-profit Lake Conservation Society said 0.6 metres of silt would be removed in the area under treatment. But desilting alone will not solve the problem.

"Desilting will help improve storage for a few years but for the long term health of the lake, we need to take the watershed approach," said R Sreenivasa Murthy, conservator of forest and member secretary of the state ecosystem services cell. He said excess pumping of groundwater, agriculture and construction of houses has affected the entire river basin.

A watershed approach would require afforestation and soil and moisture conservation in the Kolans river basin, said Murthy.

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