Wednesday, 13 January, 2010

A Bureaucratic Cesspool

Built in the 12th century, the Banganga Tank is a part of the complex of temples at Walkeshwar. It is not only a heritage site but a place of deep mythological and religious significance, a cultural hub for dancers and musicians and above all a source of fresh water to a city already plagued with water shortages. None of these reasons however seem important enough for government authorities to ensure it's speedy restoration.

Environmental NGO SOCLEEN ( Society for Clean Environment) in collaboration with NEERI has conducted the assessment of the Banganga water tank for the past two years after recurring complaints of the dying fish population. Activities like washing clothes, bathing, immersion of food material and pooja items and unchecked sewage waste is slowly destroying the tank ironically known for it's medicinal and purifying properties.

"We had provided the BMC with remedial measures for maintenance of the tank in 2007. As there was no implementation of these measures provided by SOCLEEN, therefore there was no gross improvement in water quality and maintenance of the tank observed in 2008," says researcher Avick Sil , who assessed the water quality and restoration of the Tank.

The onus of responsibility for the restoration project shifted from the BMC to the State Archeological Department in February 2008. ' We have received no such remedial reports from the BMC, says R.D.Nipane, junior engineer for the project at the Archaeological Department, " the BMC work was shabby, we have at least repaired the steps and the stone flooring leading to the tank."

A budget of Rs.1.81 crore was allocated by the government for the restoration of the Banganga, but the project has run out of steam and money with only 50% of the work done and an approximate 2 crores and 2 years more needed for the restoration to be complete. Nipane lists out various reasons for the delays "The budget was allocated 3 years back, since then rates have increased by 30 to 40 percent, it takes time till the money is actually received by the department, the materials are ordered from distant places like Ahmednagar, Kolhapur and Nandev and construction projects always come to a halt during the monsoons."

Merely concentrating on temporary beautification instead of taking long term conservation steps, a visit to the tank now in 2010 shows a classic case of the casual approach of the government towards maintaining heritage sites. While the authorities drag their feet ,those who bear the brunt of the delay are the residents living with this squalor amidst them, the once thriving fish, tortoise and ducks of the tank ecosystem and the regular visitors of the Banganga Music Festival.

The Festival started in 1992 is an annual 2 day event in January organized by the MTDC (Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation), to boost travel and tourism in the state. Sine the restoration project though, the festival has taken a back seat. Reflecting on the mismanagement of tourism across the country, the Banganga Tank is an example of lucrative, environmentally sound business opportunities botched up by bureaucracy.

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