2021 GS1 Answer

Q. What are the environmental implications of the reclamation of the water bodies into urban land use? Explain with examples.

Question from UPSC Mains 2021 GS1 Paper

Model Answer: 

The reclamation of water bodies for urban land use is a common phenomenon in many developing countries, including India. While it may provide much-needed land for urban development, it also has several environmental implications. In this answer, we will explore the environmental implications of the reclamation of water bodies into urban land use, using examples from India.

I. Loss of Ecological Functions of Water Bodies

The reclamation of water bodies for urban land use can result in the loss of the ecological functions of these bodies. Water bodies provide a range of ecological services such as flood control, water purification, and habitat for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. The reclamation of these bodies can lead to a reduction in these ecological services, with serious consequences for the environment and the communities that depend on them.

Example: The Bellandur Lake in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India, is an example of a water body that has been heavily impacted by urbanization. The lake has been subjected to massive encroachment and pollution, resulting in the loss of its ecological functions. The lake is now a site of toxic froth, and the water is unfit for human consumption and for sustaining aquatic life.

II. Increased Risk of Flooding

Reclamation of water bodies can increase the risk of flooding in urban areas. Water bodies act as natural reservoirs and help in regulating the flow of water during heavy rainfall events. When water bodies are filled up or built over, they lose their ability to hold water, and this can lead to flooding in the surrounding areas.

Example: The Mithi River in Mumbai, Maharashtra, India, is an example of a water body that has been reclaimed for urban development. The river has been heavily encroached upon, and the banks have been built over, resulting in the loss of its flood control function. As a result, the surrounding areas are highly susceptible to flooding during heavy rainfall events.

III. Loss of Biodiversity

The reclamation of water bodies can result in the loss of biodiversity in the surrounding areas. Water bodies provide habitat for a range of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, including fish, birds, and insects. The loss of these habitats can lead to a reduction in biodiversity, with serious consequences for the environment.

Example: The Sankey Tank in Bengaluru, Karnataka, India, is an example of a water body that has been heavily impacted by urbanization. The lake has been subjected to massive encroachment and pollution, resulting in the loss of its aquatic and terrestrial habitats. The lake is now largely devoid of wildlife, with only a few species of fish and birds remaining.

IV. Increased Pollution

The reclamation of water bodies for urban land use can lead to increased pollution in the surrounding areas. Water bodies act as natural filters, and they help in removing pollutants from the water. When these bodies are built over or filled up, the pollutants are no longer filtered, and they can enter the surrounding environment.

Example: The Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad, Telangana, India, is an example of a water body that has been heavily impacted by urbanization. The lake has been subjected to massive encroachment and pollution, resulting in the loss of its ability to filter pollutants. The lake is now heavily polluted, and the water is unfit for human consumption and for sustaining aquatic life.

In conclusion, the reclamation of water bodies for urban land use has several environmental implications. These include the loss of ecological functions of water bodies, increased risk of flooding, loss of biodiversity, and increased pollution. To mitigate these impacts, it is important to prioritize the conservation and restoration of water bodies in urban areas, and to adopt sustainable urban development practices that take into account the ecological and environmental needs of these bodies.

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