Dying Dal: UNESCO Needs To Step In

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Decades of so-called efforts at the alleged conservation of the Dal Lake have proved to be a financial black hole as there is nothing tangible on the ground (water, rather) to account for the hundreds of crores of rupees spent on numerous projects to save the jewel of Srinagar. What is worse is that nothing will ever be found out about what happened to the money, as politicians, bureaucrats, engineers, contractors – you name them, have joined in the massive loot of what in official circles is regarded as a lucrative proposition. 

Amid this chaos comes news that the state government has stopped further funding for the Dal lake conservation programme. With this any hopes of state government ever taking any substantive step in stemming the rot in the Dal Lake have also died down. 

Over the years millions were spent for the restoration and preservation of the this water body but how much was actually spent for the purpose is not hidden from public. And whatever little was spent, was not spent wisely. 

The fiasco of the rehabilitation of the residents of the Dal  gives us an inkling into administrative acumen of our planners. Had the money been spent on restoration of smaller water bodies, like the Anchar lake, which are vital for the survival of the Dal situation would have been different.

It is difficult not to target authorities, past and present, for the steady degradation of the Dal, for the policies followed over the decades have made the destruction of the lake a foregone conclusion. In retrospect, it is incomprehensible that the political leadership did not see the disaster in the making, when, in contrast, it was sharply alive to the political inconvenience of the population along the Nallah Maar in downtown Srinagar, which it eventually broke up and dispersed by refilling the historic canal. The move, undertaken at great cost, is often attributed to the dictates of New Delhi, and not without reason. What is inexplicable is why New Delhi, so sensitive to the minutest nuances in Kashmir, could have overlooked the dire threat the callousness of successive state governments posed to what made Kashmir a brand name around the world. But then, New Delhi would not have been overly concerned about the fate of priceless Kashmiri symbols. 

The reasons for the lake’s wretched plight are rooted in politics. On one side, the lake houses what used to be a powerful vote bank of the National Conference, and on the other it houses a community that was condemned to government neglect as a matter of policy. To top it all, the scenic environs of the lake were sites coveted by big business houses who secured them by rendering exemplary services to the rulers of the day. Parceled out as rewards, the lands surrounding the lake today provide a variety of views, ranging from congested squalor to five-star opulence, wrought by sins of political omission and commission, and all equally responsible for the massive pollution of the water body. 

In yet another instance of criminal politics getting the better of good sense, the character of what where rural habitations in the lake’s catchment area has been changed beyond recognition, turning them into hovels interspersed with grand mansions which have been allowed to come up with utter disregard to the ecological demands of the region. Needless to say, the liquid waste from this burgeoning population also finds its way into the Dal as do the effluents of much of the city.  The half-hearted attempts to set up sewage treatment plants at selected points have fallen to victim to the omnipresent canker of corruption, and the lake is totally defenceless against the ravages of man. 

The government of the day cannot be trusted either with or without money meant for the lake. This newspaper has been advocating UN intervention in the grave issue and that includes declaring Dal Lake, a World Heritage Site. 

It is time all stake holders re-launch campaign for the purpose and impress upon UNESCO to take charge.  Till the time that happens, the High Court, which has taken some landmark decisions with regard to the dying lake, needs to step in. 

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