By Madhukar Swayambhu
Laharatara – as the name suggests, “Lahar” means “waves” and “Tara” means “attained salvation”, the name itself explains the significance of the lake, where the saint, the poet, the epitome of religious harmony, the institution of spiritual correction – Sant Kabeer was found, floating on a lotus flower as a newborn infant to Neeru and Neema, the couple who adopted him as foster parents.
After Kabir, his followers formed the Kabir Panth, to follow the principles and teachings of the great teacher and master, and the global headquarters of this sect is situated at the same age-old water body, which is believed to be the lake of appearance of Kabir. This is Lahartara lake, the global headquarters of Ancient Kabir Math.
Unfortunately, like Kabir’s philosophy of universal brotherhood, today even his lake of appearance was also in great peril due to Gross encroachments, massive urbanization, and excessive sewage dumping. Therefore, NOC Foundation along with NOC & Research took upon this seemingly impossible task for reviving and reinstating the lost glory of the water body as the start point of their campaign for “Resurgence of Kashi” with a program called “REWAMP – Reviving & Reinstating Waterbodies of Archeological Importance”. The idea was to resurrect, restore and rejuvenate the native ecology of this historic and spiritual lake of appearance of the Messiah, the legend, the Indian mystic poet and saint called Kabir.
The Project team of NOC Foundation along with NOC & Research contemplated with many prevailing technologies of the conventional approaches like physical cleaning with de-weeding, decantation, dredging, and refilling the water, but that had already been done many times in the past and the lake used to return back to its decaying process. They explored many chemical treatments as well, but NOC & Research being dedicated to the environmental restoration domain, understood the overall negative environmental impact of the chemical treatments, thus left the ideas. Then came the latest buzz words like bio-remediation, phytoremediation, floating islands, constructed wetland approach, decentralized wastewater treatment (DEWATS) techniques, nano-bubble technology, and so on. They did research on all these approaches but nothing seemed to be proving sustainable and ecologically viable, since all of them happened to be anthropogenic interventions to the limnology.
They wanted something that was ecological, nature-based, non-invasive as well as sustainable and, thus the research went on and on, searching for the most apt and suitable approach. Like always, a herculean task always receives its share of public wrath and skepticism. There was a lot of dissuasion and caution warnings given by all the well-wishers around, but the determination of the core team of NOC Foundation, Delhi and NOC & Research, Kashi lead them to reach Vaidic Srijan LLP – the organization that invented the Cownomics™ Technology, based on Vaidic Science for “resurrection of native ecology for wetlands/ water bodies”.
They studied this new emerging indigenous technology and their success stories across the country, interacted with the Vaidic Srijan team, took presentations, has brainstorming sessions, invited them for site survey, discussed the possibilities, and evaluated them from all angles for over two quarters. But then finally both the teams of NOC Foundation along with NOC & Research decided to go ahead with Cownomics™ technology.
On 18th November 2021, at old Kabir Math, Lahartara, Kashi, the inaugural symposium for the launch of the city-wide project on building water awareness and abundance in the city of Varanasi was organized. The project was divided in two parts called PAWS and REWAMP, wherein PAWS was “Public Awareness on Water through Symposiums”, and REWAMP stood for “Reviving and Reinstating Waterbodies of Archeological Importance”.
The organizers of the event were – NOC Foundation, Delhi and NOC & Research, Kashi, while the strategic alliance partners included – UP Pollution Control Board (UPPCB) – for laboratory testing parameters for pollution abetment, Environment Department, Banaras Hindu University (BHU) was an academic partner for carbon sequestration study, Vaidic Srijan LLP Delhi was the technology partner for Cownomics™ technology for the resurrection of native ecology of wetlands and water bodies, Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) was the groundwater impact study partner, Archaeological Survey of India, Uttar Pradesh division was an archaeology and heritage restoration partner since the Lahartara lake was under their jurisdiction, Centre for Ganga River Basin Management & Studies (cGanga) was our study partner for an impact assessment on in-situ rejuvenation, and Central Mine Planning & Design Institute (CMPDI) Ranchi was our strategic alliance partner for hydro-geological impact assessment.
The inaugural session was chaired by Dr. Ram Boojh (CEO Mobius foundation, Stalwart Environmental Scientist and Ex-representative of India to UNESCO for over a decade), and our Hon’ble Chief Guest was Gopal Arya, Sanyojak – Paryaavaran Sanrakshan Gatividhi, (Rashtriya Swayam Sewak Sangh), whereas Dr. Tapan Chakravarty (Veteran Geologist) was our special guest and Padm Shri Anuradha Paudwal, the famous Bollywood playback singer and environmental enthusiast was the celebrity guest, who did the inaugural dosing treatment on 19th November 2021.
Both the events (18th symposium as well as 19th inaugural dosing treatment) were widely covered by the media, in spite of many other programs going on in the city. And a huge population of the vicinity of Lahartara and Madwadih, were quite hopeful of some positive changes in the lake, primarily because they were suffering the most. In spite of so many attempts in past, and even the ongoing beautification attempts from Varanasi Development Authority, the problem in the vicinity were intact – like the massive foul smell in the vicinity, and the enormous mosquito population in neighborhood.
THE PRE-TREATMENT CONDITIONS
A physical site survey was conducted jointly by teams of NOC Foundation, NOC & Research, and Vaidic Srijan before the launch of the project, wherein there was a lot of interaction done with local communities, administration, political leaders, industries, and other social associations. Data was captured from the site and a detailed study was conducted. Following were some of the key observations of the site:
- Varanasi Development Authority was getting beautification work done at the lake, by getting the stair and ghat made. Their contractor was also getting the hyacinths removed physically. Interacting with the contractor’s representative, our team came to know that they had pumped out water too for their construction work.
- Massive sludge deposition was spotted.
- Water was black in color.
- Foul smell was observed, possibly due to the ongoing de-weeding and decantation work.
- Weeds: Hyacinth, Azolla (duckweeds) were observed.
- Insects: Aquatic insects were spotted in the lake. Additionally, a lot of dragonflies were seen hovering over the lake, which means there was substantial feed for them too.
- Mosquitoes: There was a massive population of mosquitoes.
- Sewage: Domestic sewage was coming into the lake from both ends.
THE TREATMENT METHODOLOGY
As the satellite imagery shows in Figure 2, the present leftover remains of the lake is spread over 13.62 acres of area and is all surrounded by a dense population. The encroachment plan is executed to the extent that this remaining part of the lake has already been dissected at four places with the placement of walls in between the water.
And the rejuvenation is supposed to happen in situ conditions. Therefore, the treatment started with 10,000 liters of fresh water from the old Kabir math campus, being poured in the first open segment of five acres, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 3 depicts the exact structure installed at the old Kabir Math, through which the regular dosing treatment is being done on a daily basis, since the inception of the project in November 2021.
Vaidic Srijan team did the detailed site survey and their research team prepared the medicine, which they call the “Cownomics™ Concentrate”, which is a liquid medicine made up of 100% botanical extracts.
This concentrate is amalgamated with fresh drinkable water from the same agro-climatic zone as the water body. This homogenous mix of concentrate diluted in fresh water is poured into the water body at the time of sunrise. In presence of sunlight, the medicine gets synthesized in the aqua-ecology and the resurrection of limnology starts to happen. This is the treatment dosing process.
Dosing treatment is done every day for the first quarter (3 months, the resurrection phase). The testing for water, sludge, and air quality monitoring is to be done on a regular basis throughout the project tenure of 12 months, by UPPCB regional office at Varanasi. IIT-BHU shall be conducting the study, after completion of the first quarter, for the amount of carbon being sequestered by the lake.
Every month the reports given by UPPCB shall be compared to arrive at the efficacy of the treatment.
Although the results started showing immediately after the treatment started, the major communication and press release was done for the first time on 18th December 2021, i.e., exactly one month after the launch of the program. While that was for the complete media community in a holistic and channelized manner, our team’s interaction with the local community on a day-to-day basis, in itself, was very gratifying.
Within the first week of the treatment itself, the following was experienced by the community around the lake:
- Foul Smell Eradication: Was observable from the third day of dosing.
- Improvement in Water Viscosity: The first waves were spotted in about 4-5 days.
- Increased Transparency: The water was able to show the bottom by end of the week itself.
- Mosquito Colonies Abolishment: By the end of the second week, the mosquito population was substantially reduced.
- By third week, a remarkable improvement in aquatic life was, clearly evident.
- By approximately the 20th day of treatment, flocks of birds returned to the lake.
- In between (around the 15th ~ 20th day) there was a sudden influx of dragonflies around the lake, after which the mosquito population was observably negligible.
- The water level started receding every day from the first week itself, and by end of the month, it was down almost by 2 feet.
The second event for monitoring the progress of the Laharatara lake rejuvenation project was held in Old Kabir Math, Laharatara on 18th December 2021. The event was under the chairmanship of Mr. Anupam, Regional Organizational Minister, Bhartiya Majdoor Sangh (UP, Uttaranchal, Delhi, and Nepal). The test reports for pre-treatment and post-treatment, measured and monitored by UP Pollution Control Board, Regional Office, Varanasi were made public during the meeting and the sea change difference in the water quality was reflected in the report. With over 100% improvement in the dissolved oxygen level, the lake water for the first time in recorded history exceeded the levels of river Ganga. A 90% drop in fecal Coliform denotes the improvement in sanitation.
About the Author
Madhukar Swayambhu is a TED speaker, awarded by Jal Shakti Mantralaya as Water Hero, having published many articles in various water and environment magazines and given many lectures in national and international institutes including IIPA, NIFTEM, FSM, NEERI, ADRI, etc. He, along with his colleagues in Vaidic Srijan LLP have developed an indigenous technology, based on Vaidic Sciences which they call Cownomics® Technology for the resurrection of native ecology of wetlands and water bodies.
This case study was published in the annual “Finest-50 Global Case Studies” Special Digital Edition, March-April 2022. Click here to read the complete e-Magazine issue.