The Dal Lake, one of the worlds largest natural lakes is fading away at an alarming pace.
The lake covered an area of 75 sq km in 1200 AD. By the 1980s, only 25 sq km survived, and today this lake stretches barely over 12 sq km. Likewise the depth of the lake has been reduced from 45 feet to just 4 feet now.
The reasons for the deterioration and even impending death of Dal Lake pertain to a whole host of interrelated reasons. These include political, economic, social and even cultural reasons. The lake has been deteriorating at a rapid and faster rate especially since the past thirty years. This is despite the fact, number of restoration plans by national and international agencies viz., Srinagar Master Plan of 1971, Lake Area Master Plan by Stein (1972), Enex consortium Report (1978), Dal lake Development report by Riddle (1985), ODA (1989), Project report under NCLP (1997) and Project Report of AHEC Roorke (2000) were employed but still there is no improvement in the lakes interior, anterior and exterior environment.
A spate of legal cum administrative measures and initiatives to force action on saving the Dal also ensued but, to no avail.
In the year 1997, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests launched the Save Dal project with an amount of Rs. 500 Crores to clean the lake. In January 1998 Rs. Five lakhs were released to the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) of Jammu and Kashmir for preparation of pre- feasibility report on the pollution of water bodies in Kashmir. The said proposal was returned to the state government for its view in June 1998, as it was found not sustainable in view of the high cost of operation and maintenance.
On 24th July, 2000 Syed Mujtaba Hussain, a human rights lawyer and a member of Green Kashmir- a Srinagar based NGO- filed a writ petition to the Supreme Court against government of India, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, The J&K Lakes & Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA), the Pollution Control Board (PCB), the Urban Environmental Engineering Department and the Ministry of Urban Development, Srinagar to intervene to save the Dal Lake that, according to the petition, had turned into reservoir of sewage , wastes and effluents. Responding to this, in the year 2000, September 11, the apex Court issued a show cause notice to all the respondents and asked them to specify their respective roles in controlling the flow of pollutants in the lake.
In 2001, a petition was filed over the expenditure sheet submitted by the JK-LAWDA on account of expenses used for the improvement of lake. In the same year, the Supreme Court directed the Central and State government and other concerned authorities to file their responses within four weeks to public interest litigation(PIL) petition seeking protection of the lake against the growing pollution in and around it. Again in the same year, the Supreme Court referred the case to the High Court of Kashmir for further analysis. In 2002, Syed Iqbal Tahir Geelani wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of High court against the ever expanding construction around Dal Lake. The petitioner complained that the constructions were in violation of the Srinagar Master plan, 1971. This was later on converted to PIL and tagged to the PIL filed in 2000.
In July 2002, the first detailed direction was given by the High court bench to clean the Dal.
After an interregnum of three years in 2005, a stricture was filed against the LAWDA and SMC for misleading the Court and a three member committee was appointed headed by District and Session judge Abdul Wahid. A three member group of officials visited Dal Lake on October 5, October 10 and October 15 for an inspection. Their report indicated that many illegal constructions had been raised within the 200 meters of its peripheral area. The report further stated that LAWDA vice-chairperson was conscious of illegal construction raised within lake and its periphery but pleaded helplessness.
In the same year the court directed the commissioner to present before it the particulars of all people who had raised the structures in the lake and within 200 meters. The High court directed that if a person raised construction after demolition, he should be arrested. The court also instructed houseboat owners to realign their houseboats in a geometric form. In response to the strictures filed against Ms Tanvir Jehan of LAWDA, who argued there was no law which would ban use of polythene in and around the lake, though the District Magistrate had issued restriction orders under section 133. About the demolition of structures within the lake, Ms. Jehan said these constructions were raised in narrow channels and it was impossible for the LAWDA to demolish these structures manually. Again in the same year, the centre approved Rs.237.7 crore to conserve the Dal. The court directed the Registrar (Judicial) to open a Dal Conservation Fund so that fund will be open to the public for contributions to save water bodies in Kashmir.
In 2006, High Court directed LAWDA to resume demolition around the Dal Lake and file a status report on the illegal structures from Dalgate to Mughal Gardens in Srinagar. In the same year over 300 hotels, restaurants, government offices and residential complexes were put on demolition notice by the LAWDA following HCs directions. In the year 2007, Justice Bashir Ahmad Khan ordered the demolition of all constructions within a strip of 130 feet from the centre of the road. The state Pollution Control Board initiated prosecution against the famous Hotel Lalit Grand Palace and Urban Environmental Engineering Department for raising unauthorized structures around Dal Lake.
In November around the same year, Registrar (judicial) in his report revealed that water bodies have not been cleansed from the menace of polythene bags. The report further indicated that no illegal structure had been demolished during the last two years. Construction material has been freely allowed into the area which stood partly utilized in the construction of fresh structures. The dredgers and weed harvesters were found non functional. No scheme for treatment of sewage from house boats has been devised. In response to the report, the court directed Vice chairman LAWDA to report the improvement through a letter. On 5th December, the court monitoring committee was asked to conduct inspection of area in and around Dal Lake. The committee questioned the discrepancy between the reports produced by PCB and LAWDA on the Sewerage Treatment plants (STPs) installed at Grand Palace and Centaur Hotel in Srinagar. In 2009, the pollution control board submitted a report that stated that high levels of lead, arsenic, iron, manganese, copper and cadmium were present in Dal Lake which had affected the aquatic life of the lake. The report also said that the houseboat lavatories had polluted the lake to a very large extent. On account of this, the courts directed 1200 houseboat to shutdown or minimize their pollution. Around the same year, the Houseboat owners Association demanded identification and demarcation of territorial limits of Dal and Nigeen. Against the backdrop of this, the Ministry of Environment and Forest released the first installment under National lake conservation program to conserve wetlands of Kashmir. A sum of Rs.298 crores was released and it involved development of sewerage system, removal of encroachment, hydraulic works, cleaning of channels, solid waste management and conservation works in the catchment area of Dal Lake. In May 2009, Jammu and Kashmir banned further registration of houseboats. In 2014, High Court ordered ban on any illegal structure raised in and around Dal. Around this year, High court set up a committee to take a well defined report on the overall situation of the Dal Lake.
Now, in the context of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeeds recent statement that all houseboats must be realigned and relocated, houseboat owners are demanding that first the structures on the peripheries of Dal should be dismantled and channels which have been choked by unabated pollution must be dredged.
Tariq Ahmad, the owner of Hollywood Houseboat said, I have been campaigning to save Dal from the last 20 years. If government is saying that houseboat owners are the main polluters then all drainage pipes found on the peripheries of Dal Lake should be plugged immediately as these are dumping harmful effluents into the lake every second. One month back dredging took place in the lake and the same has been used for making concrete pave ways and filling of the interiors of the lake to convert it into land. This has, choked the channels would definitely lead to more pollution and stagnation of the Lake.
The machines used for deweeding have resulted in more growth of weeds as these machines cut the upper part of the weed not the roots which has made the lake a weeding bed. Restoration of age old wrap and pull method of deweeding is the need of the hour, he further added.
There is some merit to these assertions.
According to Research conducted by the Ludwig University, Munich only 5.5 percent of polluters are houseboat owners, 25.5 percent of the pollution is caused by huge restaurant chains surrounding the lake and 35.8 percent of pollution is caused by a people who live along the peripheries of the lake, and surprisingly 37.8 percent of the pollution is caused by the administration itself because of its wrong approach towards the restoration of the Lake and 4.8 percent of the polluters are the tourists who visit the lake.
The Devil, as they say, lies in detail.
Experts are of the view that Dal cannot survive in isolation if its channels are choked. All water bodies are interlinked. Aanchar Lake, for instance, still the second biggest water body in Srinagar was declared dead way back in year 2010 thus choking the major outlet of Dal and making water polluted and stagnant. Even if billions of rupees are spent on Dal, it is impossible to restore to its pristine glory unless focus is shifted towards other water bodies.
Aanchar Lake, the main outlet of Dal which was once vibrant with tourists has become a marshy sewerage ground with excessive pollution and has reduced from 19.54 kms to 3.4 kms in size. The Lake which is connected with Dal Lake through a channel called Nallah Amir Khan has been completely choked with unabated sewage and other pollutants. The water of the lake which was once crystal clear and used for drinking as well as for other domestic purposes is stinking. It is on records that tourists used to take a boat ride from Dal Lake to Khushal Sar Lake. It is also said that tourists used to come in house boats spending nights and savoring the cool breeze and gazing at the gigantic mountains like Mahadave and Tungal Ball.
The then Chief Secretary of the state Vijay Bakaya said in an interview with the Kashmir Observer in year 2000 that the Government will not be earmarking any more funding for Khushhal Sar.
The pollution and the discharge of untreated effluents besides encroachments have contaminated the lake. The flora and fauna that once thrived in the lake has been destroyed and the lake is now infested with weeds. The water here has contaminated due to direct dumping of sewage and waste material in the lake from human settlements and more importantly government has turned a blind eye to massive ongoing encroachments and earth filling of the lake.
If we have to save Dal, the first priority is to restore other water bodies which are directly linked with it. Otherwise if we spend billions of rupees on Dal, still we wont be able to restore it back, said Prof. Shakeel Rhomsoo, HOD of Earth Sciences Department, University of Kashmir.
The nagging question that arises is that if millions of rupees are spent on the restoration of Dal Lake, there is no discourse or policy activism over the other water bodies which are in bad condition since the last 20 years.
Experts are of the opinion that a multi pronged approach needs to be taken recourse to salvage what is left of the Dal. The steps include: an immediate ban on polythene use, immediate widening of water channels leading to Rainawari and Naidyar, rehabilitation of Dal dwellers, periodic inspection of all water treatment plants at Kral Sangri, Habak, Hazratbal and Brari Nambal, halting of construction along the western foreshore road of Dal Lake including Miskeen bagh restoration of needle type water gates at Dalgate as the machine driven iron gates which are in place at present often get stuck due to rust and mechanical snags.
Finally, a word about Houseboats and houseboat owners: they are not an obstructive force; almost all of them are fully prepared to co-operate with the authorities and honour all directions, orders and recommendations of the High Court. They unanimously have stated that they will help in preservation and restoration of these water bodies as their livelihoods are dependent on the longevity of the Dal . However, what appears to be missing is will , determination and a detailed vision to restore and save the jewel in the crown of Kashmir.
Dal Lake shelters 50 hamlets with a population of over 1 lakh people, who have property rights over 300 hectares (6,000) kanals of agricultural land and 670 hectares (13,400) kanals of water area. Besides this, a large number of commercial and residential buildings such as hotels, guest houses, and restaurants have sprung up in and around the Dal. The effects and consequences of these developments have been insalubrious and negative for the Lake. Large portions of it have effectively been turned into a sewage reservoir. This, in turn, entails the gradual death of Dal lake due to a high rate of, what is termed as eutrophication. Eutrophication is a form of severe water pollution which happens when the environment becomes enriched with nutrients
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