NORTHWEST DELHI: Every person in the world, at least once in our lives, has stood still to observe nature’s grace. No artificial monument can compete with it. With some 250 major lakes in India and countless minor lakes, Bhalswa jheel is among the seven or so minor lakes in Delhi. But for the last few years this lake has been subject to artificial destruction.

Bhalswa was a horseshoe lake formed when the Yamuna left one of its meanders behind. Over the years, half of its area came to be used as a landfill by the government, destroying its horseshoe shape. And now a subsidised housing colony, an extension of the nearby town of Bhalswa Jahangir Puri, has been built on the lake.

Bhalswa jheel spreads across 34 acres – it used to be 58 – with the housing colony on its western side, and to the east a plantation of a few acres of acacia, babool and keekar trees, offering some habitat to those among the local wildlife who remain.

Earlier the lake played host to scores of local and migratory birds: waterfowls, stokes, cranes as well as Siberian birds.

The lake is disappearing over time because it has been cut off from the river Yamuna by building an embankment. The river was its main source of water apart from the monsoon rains.

Sanam Yadav, a resident of the area says, “I have been living here since my childhood and I have seen the lake getting destroyed over time. I don’t know about the horseshoe shape because I have seen the lake this way forever, but what I do know is that the quality of the water has degraded over the past few years.”

Yadav has seen the lake in worse shape than this. “It doesn’t make me very unhappy, because at one point the lake had almost completely dried up. Then water was let in from the nearby drain, which filled it up along with the rains.

“The problem was that the water from the drain was polluted, which led to the near extinction of marine life here. I wouldn’t say that it’s a good phase of the lake now, but it is definitely not the worst.”

According to Viren Rana, a visitor to the lake, “Apart from the drain water and its being cut off from the river, Bhalswa is polluted mainly because people from the nearby colonies dump their household waste in it or along the shore.

“This despite the services provided by the MCD. Worship materials like garlands and the remnants of incense sticks are also discarded here. People from the nearby Bhalswa Dairy even dump cow dung into the lake.

“After all this,” Rana explains, “there is nothing left for the lake but to get polluted. It is under the charge of the Delhi government’s tourism department and the land belongs to the DDA, but none of them have ever tried to clean it up.”

The Citizen asked Rajesh Kumar of the Bhalswa Dairy about the waste management services provided here. “The MCD vehicle rarely shows up in the area, and the nearest garbage disposal unit is 4-5 kilometres away. It becomes difficult for us to carry large amounts of garbage every day from the dairy to the unit, so we are left with no option but to dump it near the lake.”

What used to be an attraction for people from faraway places, is now only a pool of dark water with a foul smell. Conditions are such that even nearby residents think twice before visiting the lake.

N.L.Meena, assistant manager in charge of Bhalswa jheel, told The Citizen how “the government converted the lake and started promoting it for water sports like boating in 1992-93. But after a point pollution in the lake increased to alarming levels and all activities were banned from June 2015 to December 2016.

“I won’t hesitate to say that the condition of this lake is due to the negligence of the central and state governments. Sometimes we find it difficult to even sit in our office here, especially around the festivals. A wall was erected along the shore to stop the flow of garbage into the lake, but it hasn’t helped much.”

Meena adds that sports activities have resumed in Bhalswa, and about 20 young people come here in the evenings for a water sports class. But visitors and residents alike want conditions to improve, and Meena hopes the government will address the matter soon.

He suggests that building a water treatment plant for the supplementary drain, and using the treated water to recharge the lake might solve the problem.

Water pollution is among the biggest ecological concerns here and planet wide. Untreated sewage flowing unchecked into the Yamuna, together with empty platitudes, is only the best known of such hazards. And in the absence of sanitation services, people go on polluting water bodies by dumping garbage in them.

This despite the numerous court judgments which recognise that the right to a clean and healthy environment forms part of our fundamental right to life and liberty.

For Ankit Singh, a 63-year-old visitor to Bhalswa jheel, “It kind of breaks my heart to see the lake in this condition. I have been visiting it regularly since I was a child. The water used to be so clear that my friends and I could see fish swimming inside it right from the shore.

“But now, when my grandchildren ask me where is the beautiful lake now, I don’t know what to say. I hope conditions change soon, and the lake regains its lost glory.”