Wular needs Dal-like attention

Despite its progressive shrinking over the past several decades, Wular lake has not garnered the same amount of public attention as Dal and Nigeen. This is despite the fact that  the lake was declared a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance as far back as 1990. The reason for this partly is Wular's distance from Srinagar which has denied the lake the media and government attention which Dal and Nigeen by virtue of their location in the summer capital. And unlike Dal and Nigeen, it was only in 2011 under the 13th Finance Commission that the centre agreed to release Rs 120 crore in four instalments for its conservation.  So far only Rs 60 crore have been allotted out of which Rs 37.5 crore have been utilised for survey and demarcation, catchment conservation and water management of the Lake.

The forest department has felled a small chunk of around 24 lakh willows. The lake has been demarcated as per authentic revenue record which has put the lake’s area at 130 sq kms. As many as 1,159 geo-tagged boundary pillars have been erected delineating the lake boundary from the adjoining areas. Besides so far 9.11 lakh cubic meters of silt have been dredged out. Also, dams and protection banks have been erected to arrest soil erosion in the catchment area and over 3 lakh conifers have been planted in the adjoining forest area. But as it has turned out, there has been little redeeming difference on the ground. Not only have encroachments continued with impunity, the water-body has gone through a sustained environmental degradation. 

The major problems facing the lake are by and large same as with Dal.  There is 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 and the hamlets within the lake, excessive weed growth etc.  , there is a long way to go before Wular could regain some of its earlier majesty. Recently Chief Secretary B R Sharma reviewed the progress of Wular Lake Conservation Project. Sharma emphasised the lake’s importance as the “huge water-storage reservoir” which was vital to safeguard Valley from the floods. The lake has therefore a significant role in the hydrographic system of the Valley. The conservation efforts, Sharma said, needed to be speeded up to enhance the water-holding capacity of the lake.

But Wular is not only important from a flood protection point of view. It is one of Asia’s largest fresh water lake. It is also an important fish habitat and the fish catch from the lake is a source of livelihood for thousands of people living on its shores. But as the fast reduction in the area of the lake underlines, there is an urgent need to salvage the lake. Dal lake has been the prime beneficiary of the judicial activism with High Court supervising the government efforts for its conservation. In 2006 court stepped in to evacuate the Dal lake of scores of illegal structures projecting obnoxiously on its banks but also drove the government effort to clear it of around two lakh trees which had eaten into three kilometres of its watery expanse.   Though court has also been involved in Wular restoration effort and has expressed disappointment over the slow work of Wular Conservation Management Authority, the lake demands more attention.  And considering its existing plight, Wular should be an environmental priority for all of us. The lake like Dal is too important to our existence to be allowed to be further allowed to shrink and become extinct.

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