The Environmental Battle:

At times lopsided development of the city, based on ulterior motives, causes a threat to the balance of the city's ecology. In these situations, the city's aware and active citizens and NGOs should come together and fight to save the environment from deteriorating. Similar is the story of this environmental battle, in which Dr. Meera and Arwind Bondre, under the auspices of Arbutus actively participated and finally succeeded in conserving a natural resource in an urbanized and fast developing city like Pune.

The story is of a lake in Pune's Model Colony area, which was leased out by the Municipal Corporation of the city to a construction company in 1985, and a five star hotel was to come up in its place. Here is the story of the battle in the words of Dr Meera Bondre, who as a researcher in Botany and Hydrobiology, had been observing the lake with keen interest since 1969:

"I have always been struck by this unique place right in the midst of a crowded, fast industrializing city. Its natural beauty is intact and undisturbed. One feels completely cut off from the normal hustle and bustle of the city when one climbs down from the road and comes near the water. So serene is the atmosphere around this green pool with herds of buffaloes bathing in a leisurely manner, a large number of ducks and even keels swimming about, so many different varieties of birds perching on the branches of trees which are on the banks and fluttering of wings in the dense growth of Ceratophyllum, the thick growth of Lemna giving the feel of a floating carpet! It also had large harvests of edible fish everyday. In my opinion, it had the potential of being treated as a small bio-reserve. It was with this thought in mind that I approached the Pune Municipal Corporation authorities because I wanted to have a dialogue to know what they had in mind. It was then that I came to know that a part of the lake was already leased out to a local school and the remaining half to a construction company.

"With this background, and armed with the research data I had already collected, I decided to address this issue in my own small way. My meetings with the Corporation officers and a discussion with the then Municipal Commissioner were not very encouraging. I also handed over a letter to the Commissioner requesting him to take steps to stop the proposed construction work.

"After my meetings with these authorities, I sought support from some environmentally aware friends and social workers. We all were trying to convince people who we thought were in a position to do something about it top reverse the process. We met the then Vice Chancellor of the University of Pune and requested him to offer to take charge of the lake, as a property of the University, as it would be of immense scientific interest for studies in natural sciences. We also requested the Coordinator of the School of Interdisciplinary Sciences to look into the matter.

"Meanwhile, anti-preservation work was in progress. Heaps of construction material was seen deposited on the deep side of the lake. Suddenly on April 9, 1985, we were taken aback to see a big pump-set that went into action pumping hundreds of litres of water through a 6 inches diameter pipe. The water which supported such a rich variety of life was being pumped with full force into the nearby drainage system. The pond area was suddenly on the brink of an ecological sabotage. Something had to be done, and done most urgently. It was the starting point of the unique battle: an environmental battle.

"We gathered support of citizens and got organized into a very active group. It was as if all of us were totally committed to this one cause. There were sleepless nights, frantic phone calls and hasty meetings. We contacted the governmental and intergovernmental environmental and social organizations. We also wrote letters to the Chief Minister, the Urban Development Minister, and even the Prime Minister. We approached the press, gave interviews, wrote articles, and even came over the radio. We organized signature campaigns. We filed a suite in the Pune court. A lot of editorials were written and many news items appeared in the daily newspapers. The 'Lakaki' lake, as it is commonly referred to, became the burning issue in the city. As a result of all these concerted efforts, the pumping of water was stopped. However, the water level had gone down by about 8 inches. Although we were very happy, we kept our fingers crossed. We were worried that once the storm was over and the newspapers stopped writing about it, pumping of water could again be started. The pipelines were not yet removed from the site.

"The best thing to do under such circumstances was to create an environmental awareness among the young and the old, literate and illiterate, knowledgeable scientists and laymen. Not everyone supported our cause; in fact there were many who opposed it. Some were even scientists who themselves carried the impression and also propogated it that the lake was nothing but a huge garbage bin. However, we were not ready to leave the battle half way. We, through Arbutus, organized an open air laboratory on the very banks of this lake. We took hundreds of children and adults of the city, including corporators, MLAs and other respected citizens. Those who attended the laboratory saw for themselves that the water did not smell in spite of the heavy load of organic pollution, and that there were no mosquitoes. The beautiful birds attracted their attention. The children particularly enjoyed the sight of the swimming buffaloes. They also saw fishermen using their nets and harvesting large amounts of Tilapia everyday from this lake. We explained the concepts of interaction and interdependence with the help of coloured charts, made by older Arbutus children. We explained how open spaces and water bodies play an important role in regulating a city's climate. The whole programme was a great success.

"Our combined efforts finally produced the desired result! The then Urban Development Minister, Mr. R. M. Tripathi visited the area and announced that the lake shall be preserved. On July 9, 1985, a resolution to that effect was passed in the Standing Committee of the Pune Municipal Corporation.

"Today, in 2010, we are celebrating the silver jubilee of this environmental battle, which we fought and won in all its glory!"

Dr. Meera Bondre
Founder Trustee, Arbutus

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