Why area around Kalina Talao is out of bounds for locals

Large scale encroachment results in lake and playground vanishing; locals rue loss of area's 7.5 acre crowning glory

Broken benches, uprooted grass, mounds of unlevelled earth and a run-down structure that serves as a gate, this is the dilapidation of a local Kalina plot which once boasted of a scenic lake. Thanks to large scale encroachment, the 7.5 acre Kalina Talao, which includes a surrounding plot, near the well-known Our Lady of Egypt Church, has become out of bounds for locals.

Broken benches at the playground in Kalina. The ground has become inaccessible to the residents. Pics/Swarali Purohit
Broken benches at the playground in Kalina. The ground has become inaccessible to the residents. Pics/Swarali Purohit

The Talao first dried up 15 years ago, then people started dumping rubbish in it, and, finally, it disappeared altogether. The surrounding plot also fell to encroachers. Now, access to residents has been cut off, because of goons from the nearby Kunchi Kurve Nagar who have taken over the area.

The area reserved for the artificial pond is used by local slum dwellers for gambling and drinking, stalling work
The area reserved for the artificial pond is used by local slum dwellers for gambling and drinking, stalling work

Kalina Talao used to be a natural reservoir. Older Kalina residents reminisce about how they spent their days fishing, and learning how to swim in the talao’s clear waters, before the talao shrank substantially and slums encroached the area, making it inaccessible.

The Kalina Talao area has been encroached upon. The beautification project has been in limbo
The Kalina Talao area has been encroached upon. The beautification project has been in limbo

Restoration effort
In 2012, there was a restoration effort. The playground adjoining the lake was cleaned by the BMC and the civic authorities were seen putting in grass and installing lights. As soon as it was thrown open for residents, people from nearby shanties took over. “The BMC had appointed a watchman for the playground too. Goons from the slums beat him up, took away the keys of the garden, broke benches and destroyed the lights. Since then, nobody dares to go into the playground. For more than 15 years ,this space is lying useless. The Talao used to be the crowning glory of Kalina and look what has become of it.” rued Loy Dias, member of citizens’group, Voice of Kalina, Advanced Locality Management (ALM).

Loy Dias, a resident and local activist
Loy Dias, a resident and local activist

Harassment
V Savitri, long-time Kalina resident says, “While shanties on what used to be the lake and playground area are removed regularly, young men from the area harass women and female school students, here. After dark, this space turns into a gambling spot. We see alcohol bottles strewn around. There is no place we can go for evening walks, or take our children to play.”

When mid-day visited the ground, we saw a pit in the middle of the ground, which was originally earmarked for an artificial pond, in BMC plans. Today, the pit is full of debris.

“The pit is being used as a toilet on one side, shanty kids also use the pit to play in. It transforms into an open-air bar at night!” Dias added with a touch of sarcasm.

There have been sporadic attempts at making the area into a clean and accessible spot for people, but these have fallen flat, primarily because of encroachment.

Brian Miranda, Congress corporator, stated, “I have worked very hard to get the encroachers out of here. Since I became the corporator, I have gotten 400 shanties demolished. Dealing with the goons of the Kunchi-Kurve Nagar is stalling beautification progress.”

Notwithstanding problems, the corporator says with a dash of bravado, “the playground, and lake area will be thrown open to the public in a few months.”

Residents are skeptical of the assurances though. Cyril Estibeiro, activist said, “Beautification work for an artificial pond and a garden was given to a contractor almost a year ago. Yet, apart from piling mounds of earth, nothing else is being done. We have, on occasions approached the BMC, but no one seems to care,” he said, summing up the apathy for a once picture postcard oasis, in crowded Kalina.

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