The fascinating Mansagar Lake of Jaipur

Adnan Faisal, back from JaipurThe very heart of Jaipur City lies in its history. And the spectacular monuments are a blessing inherited from this glorious history. With an endless evidence of thoughtful architecture, there is even still one monument that Jaipur an alluring destination for people all over the world.Amidst pure waters of the Mansagar Lake, the beautiful Jal Mahal observes the city in pleasant silence. Correctly known to the world as the Jewel of Jaipur, the monument is a symbol of the glorious past of this historic city.
The Mansagar Lake is a 300-acre lake, surrounded by the Nahargarh hills. The artificial lake was formed as a result of instituting a dam across river Darbhawati during the 18th century. It is today, the only significant water body in the city of Jaipur. Jal Mahal, an architectural monument, is situated in the midst of Mansagar Lake. .
The lake is approximately 130 hectors in its full spread. The lake has been a natural habitat for more than 150 species of local and migratory birds. Water provides sustainable living to countless species of the aquatic ecosystem like fish, birds, insects, microorganisms and aquatic vegetation.
The Mansagar Lake may now fascinate the beholder, but sadly enough it has seen the most horrible times in the recent past. With decades of expulsion of the city’s toxic and organic waste through the Brahmpuri and Nagatalai Nallah, the lake suffered the most chronic diseases and neared its death.
The lake suffers from serious problems of siltation and settled deposits, contamination from inflow of wastewater, decrease in surface area due to artificial land formation as a result of eutrophication and loss of water due to the outflow for downstream irrigation during summer. Majority of the sewage is flowing to the lake body untreated and hence there is severe contamination of the ground water in and around the lake area. .
This contamination makes the ground water unfit for drinking and in addition results in a serious health hazard. Moreover, the rainwater mingled with the polluted water of this lake makes it stink. The lake has BOD-20 mg/L and Total nitrogen-20 mg/L.
During the past, several attempts have been made by Government of Rajasthan to restore the ecological and environmental condition of the lake and its adjoining area.
Since 1990s, the government made many efforts to restore the lost lake, but all efforts were in vain. The 2002 decision of acceptance of PPP (Public Private Partnership) mode for the revival task attracted many private giants, but none found the idea of investing hefty amounts in the project pleasing. Finally, Jal Mahal Resorts Pvt Ltd (JMRPL) entered into a partnership with the government and took much awaited revival measures.
A grant of Rs. 24.72 crores was allocated for the restoration under the National River Conservation Program (NRCP), in 2002. JDA (Jaipur development authority) was appointed as the nodal agency for lake restoration part of the project.
In 2007, JMRPL took the whole area of the lake (310 acres) and around it (totaling 432 acres) on a 99-year lease from the government of Rajasthan, for restoration.
From 2008 onwards, three wetlands of total 40,000 sqm area are under construction in the vicinity of Jal Mahal (Mansagar Lake) to facilitate fill up the Mansagar Lake with clean water. The sewage water, which is at present routed to the lake, will be diverted into these wetlands. Plans are made to plant algae and water hyacinth to absorb the toxic elements. The clean water will then flow into Mansagar Lake.
The two nallahs were bypassed in a manner that the sewerage doesn’t flow directly into the lake and undergoes treatment twice in two different plants. Following the de-siltation process, new species of aquatic vegetation were introduced from Bharatpur. Eight earthen islands have been created artificially, using the dredged silt, within the lake and indigenous species have been grown to serve as a habitat for the resident and migratory bird species. Also, twenty one enclosures of artificial wetlands were created to treat water overflowing from storm drains, so that detoxified/clean water enters the lake. Both BOD and COD have been significantly reduced to 11-21 and 65-90 respectively.
But the revival of Mansagar Lake by a private company didn’t happen as a standalone exercise. The PPP deal involved transfer of 100 acres land to the company for 99 years on lease, in lieu of rupees 3 crore per month. The FSI is only 0.13 and also the area serves as a buffer to the encroaching city. Yet there are questions raised from various quarters over the desirability of mode of restoration.
The royal Jal Mahal, which was almost in ruins, has been commendably restored by the company. Jal Mahal Resorts Pvt Ltd (JMRPL) invested heavily to infuse royality into a structure that was withering away to the extent that its former occupants would not have envisaged.
And going by the economics of it, the rights to allow entry into the Jal Mahal, rests with the company which is managing it. However, Jal Mahal project of the company currently is entangled in legal webs, and all its construction activities on the leased land are halted. The breakeven point for the company is nowhere in the near sight. The creditor banks of the company are also the suffering stakeholders in the project.
Mansagar Lake revival happened because of the Jewel it harbours. Few lakes in the country can boast of such a privilege. This mode of ecological restoration of natural and archealogical bodies cannot be a common strategy. No guesses are needed to figure out that only those with deep pockets will be fortunate to enjoy this archeological and historical legacy. Another social divide has been ensured by adopting this mode of managing ecology and archeology.
The Man Sagar is teeming with birds these days compared to previous years, the lake has significantly improved. The stench is now a thing of the past, but there is still a lot that needs to be done to restore the eco-system of the lake. Though the lake is restored for its visual and aesthetic attributes, the aquatic ecology is dismal and has led to over 25% decline in the population of migratory as well as local birds at this time of the year.
About 2,500 migratory birds can be seen against 10,000 birds reported a few years back. Diving shovellers, pintails, coots, resident ducks like spot-bill duck and common moorhen, and four species of egrets too can be seen though barely 400 in number.
“Lakes are getting dried up at an alarming rate owing to lack of priority and inadequate administrative control at a time when crisis for water is increasing. Surprisingly, the authorities prefer to maintain the proverbial sphinx-like silence over such issues,” said Harsh Vardhan, honorary secretary of Tourism & Wildlife Society of India (TWSI).
He said Man Sagar lake is a classic example of the authorities’ lack of attention. Its administrative control has changed hands from Jaipur Municipal Corporation (JMC) to Jaipur Development Authority (JDA) which as on date is ‘in charge’ of the lake.
However, JDA has not officially visited the lake for a review – for better or worse – since 2005, he said. Its water is with the irrigation department, fish with fisheries department and road cleanliness with the JMC, while sewerage treatment process is pitch forked between JDA and JMC, Harsh added.
Various such PPP routes have been taken in past in Udaipur district of Rajasthan to restore and maintain archaeological sites. Today, a less fortunate person visiting Udaipur would find himself/herself staring at historical marvels but from distance. One cannot therefore help being cynical in seeing this kind of ecological entrepreneurship as a mere coincidence. The sheer lack of interest and will on part of governments further complicates this debate.
What the Mansagar miracle does exemplify is the fact that with well conceived restoration, conservation, and financing strategy it is possible to halt and reverse the decay that is currently rotting many of our lakes across the country.
Bharat Kudal, Project Administrator of the Jal Mahal Torurism Project, said that the revival of the artificial water body would encourage more tourists to visit the district which has few more Mughal monuments including huge tombs.
Kudal confirmed that the monument has already started attracting visitors including foreign tourists. Earlier only 100-200 tourists used to visit the Mahal. But in past couple of weeks, between 1000 and 2000 tourists have been visiting the site per day, the administrator claimed.
He said that they have planned to beautify the area, create necessary facilities for tourists in the near future, besides illuminating the monument.

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