Bandra Talao in Mumbai's western suburbs needs a revamp

Amidst the congested streets of Bandra, residents have limited recreational and open spaces. The existing spaces, Bandra Bandstand and Carter Road, are swarming with shoppers, tourists and collegians. And yet, though the options are so limited, a potentially scenic spot remains closed to the public.

Bandra Talao, also known as the Pink Talao, spans 7.5 acres in breadth. Pics/Nimesh Dave

But it was not always so for Swami Vivekanand Sarovar, popularly known as the Bandra Talao. The initial makeover plan was proposed by the BMC in 2009, at a cost of Rs 33 crore. The comprehensive plan included a pathway, boating facilities, laser light show for 30 minutes, aquarium, and a musical fountain.

The plan also included dewatering and desilting the lake, which spans 7.5 acres. In 2011 and again in April this year, the plan to beautify the Talao was revived, though no action was taken. Today, when one visits the Grade II heritage site, one sees broken benches; a non-functioning water fountain, garbage flowing into the Talao from a nearby BMC dustbin and locals defecating near the surrounding wall.

According to BMC officials, the Talao’s beautification process has been stalled due to lack of funds

Residents’ Association, H/Ward Citizens Federation trustee, Vidya Vaidya claims that unplanned commercialization has destroyed the natural environment. She says, “Water bodies are perfect for holding run-off water during the monsoon, hence reducing water logging and flooding. Since the Talao is located near a residential area, preserving the Talao is essential for various reasons, including saving Mumbai’s ecological system.” She continues, “We want sustained all year round maintenance of the lake. Unless it is kept clean, the Talao is going to die. We want it to be distilled, make sure no garbage is going into it and its peripheries are clean. Otherwise, even if you put in boating, light shows, fences and so on, it is useless.”

Due to pollution, aquatic life in the Talao is in danger

Environmental activist and ecologist Jagdish Gandhi expresses concern over the fast declining rate of water bodies in the city. He says, “When you look at the current state of Bandra Talao, it is luckier than other water bodies. It has been provided with some assistance over the years. But the problem here is that it is decaying. Until and unless it is used, it is bound to die. Every water body is Mother Nature’s endowment to mankind. The fact is, that water bodies are disintegrating in the city, but the real scare is that the authorities, MLAs and corporators, are not interested in conservation.”

Parts of the water fountain, which was going to be a part of the revamp, lie unused

Corporator Asif Zakaria has been fighting for Bandra Talao’s revamp for the last five years. He says, “In the ‘80s, the Talao was well maintained and functioning. It was used as a recreational space. But once the BMC took over the Talao, its condition started deteriorating. “Then in 2011, architect P K Das and I, came up with a lower budgeted proposal to revamp the Talao. Our proposal statement was of R 3-4 crore. We both felt that de-watering the Talao didn’t make sense.

The cleanliness process attempted by the BMC in 2011

The water lacked aeration i.e. the process of increasing the oxygen saturation of the water. So we suggested installing water fountains since natural aeration would not be impossible. We also suggested creating a suspended pathway, similar to a dock, to assist visitors. I don’t think BMC lacks funds. In fact, I feel they should take it upon themselves and make sure the Talao is revamped. I don’t understand the need for the project to remain in limbo for such a long time, but I hope it is better late than never.”

Bandra Talao’s revamp process has been delayed by the BMC since 2009. Pic/Google Maps

Architect PK Das says, “We had submitted a proposal to the BMC two years ago. At first, the BMC seemed interested and we carried forward the cleaning of the Talao. But after that nothing materialized. It’s a shame the Talao is left hanging, without any beautification taking place.”Kasim Sheikh has been living and working as a watchman at the Talao since 1990s. He says, “Every year they (BMC) come here with some new plan to beautify; they have a ribbon cutting ceremony, clap their hands and go away.

Environmentalist and ecologist Jagdish Gandhi, Resident Vidya Vaidya wants annual maintenance and Assistant Engineer of Bandra H/Ward, Rajesh Yadav

There is so much of dirt lying beneath, it has to be cleaned. They don’t even pay me for my work and they say, ‘tum free mein, yahaan ek jhopde mein reh sakto ho, issi ko apna pagaar maan lo aur shukar karo ke ab tumhare paas ghar hai’ (you can stay in the adjacent hut of the Talao for free, consider that as a payment. You at least have a home). However, responding to Sheikh’s allegations about lack of payment and security, Assistant Engineer of Bandra H/Ward, Rajesh Yadav, says, “I don’t think there is a family living there, since so many years.”

Dry cleaner Babu Kumar lives at Panchwadi Bhavnani estate, adjacent to the Talao. His 17-year-old daughter was recently diagnosed with dengue. He says, “With dengue, you can’t really blame any specific source, but that does not mean we can rule out the Talao. During the rains, the Talao overflows with garbage and the stink is unbearable.”

Resident Mani Patel has been living in Bandra since she was born. She says, “Though I have lived in Bandra all my life, the Talao was never a part of my hangout destination, since the environment of the Talao was never welcoming. If the Talao is not maintained, I am sure we will lose out on a landmark.”

Shyama Kulkarni, trustee of Action for Good Governance and Networking in India (AGNI), an NGO which works for city issues, says, “We usually end up blaming the BMC, but I don’t think it is only their fault. As citizens, we need to be more conscious and not throw garbage there. The slums around the Talao, should have cleanliness drives regularly, and people should be educated about littering and defecating in public. The Talao is a valued landmark and it should be protected and conserved.”

Yadav says, “MLAs and councillors hold regular meetings for discussing the beautification process of Bandra Talao. But the Planning and Design Department (PND) has to sanction funds and only then can we move ahead with the plans. In the last meeting, held a couple of months ago, everyone agreed that the project has been stalled for many years.”

Executive engineer of the PND department, Dharma Adhikari, says, “The estimate and the plan to revamp the Talao is in place. The only reason why the revamp process is stalled, is because, we lack funds. For Bandra Talao a provision of only R 50,000 is available. We require R 28 crore. Once the plan is passed by the standing committee, the beautification process will start.”

Talao redevelopment plan
In 2011, Corporator Asif Zakaria and architect P K Das came up with a proposal to revamp Bandra Talao. The proposal was submitted to the BMC and the initial cleanliness process of the Talao was conducted, after which, according to Zakaria, the proposal was not followed by the BMC.

The plan above displays walkways, boardwalks and other beautification ideas to be constructed at the Bandra Talao

The proposal stated lack of public interaction, seclusion of the Talao from its surroundings, garbage disposal into the lake and pollution of water as the existing problems of the Talao. The plan proposed interaction by creating a boardwalk and boating facilities, creating setbacks by constructing walkways and carrying out continuous aeration of water by installing multiple water fountains, as solutions. The estimated cost of this proposal was Rs 3-4 crore.

History of Bandra Talao
Bandra Talao is a strategically located, man-made lake. The lake, also called ‘Motha Sarovar’, was constructed by a rich Konkani Muslim of Navpada, some 200 years ago. A Grade II heritage site, it was formerly known as Lotus Tank or Pink Talao, as the lake was covered with lotuses and water lilies. The maintenance of the Talao was taken over by the BMC and the lake was renamed Swami Vivekanand Sarovar in 1987. The Talao was functional during the 1990s with boating facilities and pisciculture activities, but it has been non-functional since 2000.

Popular lakes in the city

Powai Lake
Powai Lake is an artificial lake and it was built with a depth of 12 metres (39 ft), at its deepest. The Powai Lake has gone through many stages of water quality degradation. Government of Maharashtra reports that due to untreated sewage and garbage from nearby residential and slum colonies, the lake water is unfit for drinking use.

Tulsi Lake
Tulsi Lake is the second largest, fresh water lake in northern Mumbai. It is located within the densely forested Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Four million imperial gallons is supplied to Greater Mumbai per day. Fresh water crocodiles inhabit the lake.

Vihar Lake
It is located near Vihar village on the Mithi River within the precincts of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, in North Mumbai. Vihar lake is hemmed between Tulsi Lake and Powai Lake. It partly meets the city’s water demands, and the lake is able to supply only 3 per cent of Mumbai’s water requirement. 

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