Time to Get Serious on Dal

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DAL LAKE has been a timeless mascot for Kashmir’s breathtaking beauty. But the lake which has withstood the ravages of time and the general environmental degradation, is fast losing the battle of survival against its own people, who took advantage of the troubled situation over the past two decades to turn the swathes of its shimmering waters into a landmass. Already shrunk to 12 sq kilometres from its once 72 sq kilometres, the lake has been under an unprecedented onslaught of encroachment. And government agencies like Lakes and Waterways Development Authority have been able to make a little redeeming difference to the state of affairs.

It is in this context that the Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has asked the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority to undertake realignment of houseboats at Doldum to prevent influx of untreated sewage from entering into the lake. The CM has also directed the agency to develop a model housing colony with all basic amenities at Rakh-e-Arth where the Dal dwellers could be shifted.

Mufti’s instructions have come in the wake of the appointment of the two Vigilance Commissioners by the High Court to “regularly report to the Court the construction activity, if any, undertaken in the Lake and its adjoining areas so that action warranted is taken without any delay”.  A Division Bench of Chief Justice N Paul Vasanthakumar and Justice Hasnain Masoodi appointed former Principal District and Sessions Judge Muhammad Shafi Khan and former Senior Superintendent of Police Abdul Hamid Bhat as the two Commissioners. The court has directed the two to inspect the Dal Lake area possibly on daily basis and submit weekly reports. In an important observation, the court made it clear that the prevention of construction activity in Dal Lake and within 200 meters from the edge of Foreshore Road and other adjoining prohibited areas cannot be left exclusively to officers and the officials of LAWDA.

However, this is not the first time that the High Court has taken a keen interest in the conservation of the lake. In July 2002, the High Court had adopted the Dal in response to a Public Interest Litigation by a law student Sheikh Tahir Iqbal. The lake, then, was in the throes of an all-out encroachment and the indiscriminate weed growth. But the court’s pro-active pursuit of the case turned Dal restoration into Valley’s most popular public issues outside its treacherous politics and spawned a dedicated Government-civil society effort for its conservation. In 2006, 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 around three kilometres of its watery expanse. The close coordination on the case helped institutionalize the Dal restoration effort in the state.

However, nine years on, the lake has hardly been restored to its “pristine glory” which has by now become a clichéd term for the government efforts to safeguard the lake. Thousands of the trees that were felled on High Court’s direction have grown back. And they are again enveloping the ugliness of the dingy dwellings which had suddenly become visible revealing the extent of the encroachment creeping across the lake from its midst.

As such, the government as well as the court’s renewed interest in the lake is welcome. We fondly hope the dream of the restoration of the pristine glory of the lake is realized after all.

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