Our dying lakes

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In a fresh push to conserve the water bodies in Srinagar, the State Government has said that it would remove the encroachments in and around the Nigeen lake, one of the city’s primary tourist destinations besides Dal and Mughal gardens. The relocation and the rehabilitation of the families living inside Nigeen will be part of the drive to arrest the continuing onslaught on the already shrinking waters of the lake. 

The Minister of State for Housing and Urban Development Ashraf Mir has said that the government will take all the necessary steps “to restore the past glory of Nigeen”.  But in making this statement, Mir has only repeated a hackneyed pronouncement associated with hyped government initiatives to rescue the major water-bodies of Valley like Dal, Nigeen, Anchar and Wular. But as it has turned out, there has been little redeeming difference on the ground. Not only have encroachments continued with impunity, the water-bodies have gone through a sustained environmental degradation. Investments of massive sums of money have produced little results.  

In 2009, an RTI audit had shown that the government had spent Rs 215 crore on the conservation of Dal between from 1997. The major problems facing the lake were identified as shrinkage of the area due to encroachment, excessive sediment entry due to catchment degradation, increased pollution because of entry of untreated sewage and solid waste from the periphery as well as from the houseboats and hamlets within the lake, excessive weed growth and reduction of fresh water entry into the lake.  The major focus areas of the conservation efforts has been sewerage treatment works, dredging, acquisition of land and structures, restoration and development works. But despite the investment there isn’t much that has changed for the better. In 2007, on the directions of the High Court, Dal was not only evacuated of scores of illegal structures projecting obnoxiously on its banks but also cleared of around two lakh trees which had eaten into three kilometres of its watery expanse. But ever since things have gone back to square one. As a recent report tellingly pointed out, out of the 11 thousand families who had to be relocated from Dal, only 90 have been moved out so far. However, this state of affairs is not peculiar to Dal, the other water-bodies have suffered from the similar neglect, with Anchar as the worst victim of the government indifference. 

The encroachment, pollution and illegal constructions within its vicinity have brought the lake to the point of extinction. One of the major factors which has caused havoc with the Anchar’s ecosystem is the heavy inflow of effluents from SKIMS. A large expanse  of the lake has silted, as a result. But while Government has taken measures to rescue Dal and Nigeen, there have been fewer initiatives to conserve Anchar. As it is, the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority hasn’t been pro-active on Anchar. Nor has media or civil society paid much attention to the silent ecological degradation of the lake. And if the situation goes on like this, it will be a matter of time before Anchar is converted into a filthy patch of land mass. Anchar deserves an ambitious conservation plan on the pattern of Dal and Nigeen. And considering the existing abysmal ecological state of Anchar, the delay on this score could be fatal to the survival of lake.

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