Anchar Gone, Wular on Deathbed


Srinagar: Lakes, waterways and water bodies which fed and sustained the fragile ecosystem of Kashmir  are gradually but inexorably dying. While it is the Dal lake, because of its visibility and location in the heart of Srinagar city, which hogs the headlines and thus the attention of authorities and other concerned agencies, other less visible but equally important water bodies like the Anchar and Wular Lakes are fading into oblivion as well. The slow death of these lakes and water bodies bodes ill for the fragile eco system of Kashmir, its bio diversity and thus perhaps even climactic patterns. All this is alarming; if left unchecked and left to die, the ramifications and consequences of their death will have ripple effects across generations.

The project ‘Strategy and Action Plan for strengthening the ecological integrity of the Dal Lake’ is being implemented by the Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and Environment (ATREE), a Bangalore based environmental think tank in collaboration with Kashmir University, sponsored by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). But Dal isn’t the only water body dying. Steps need to be taken to save the rest of thewater bodies ofKashmir, which too are fast deteriorating in view of the continued water pollution.

Once regarded as the prominent water bodies of Kashmir, our Anchar and Wular Lakes too are shrinking fast. Focus of the authorities has only been on the ‘Dal Lake’ while other water bodies have been completely ignored.Wular, one of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia located in north Kashmir’s Bandipore district, has been identified as one of the 26 Ramsar sites in the country.  Even though the lake is shrinking rapidly due to siltation and encroachment, no steps have been taken for its restoration. Almost 40 percent of the lake area has been converted into agricultural land and theunabatedusage of fertilizers is seriously threatening its ecological balance.

The size of the lake has drastically reduced from 157 sq km in 1911 to 86 sq km in 2007. According to experts, the lake needs de-silting, dredging, de-weeding and proper embankment. In 2007, the Forest and Environment Department of the state tasked the conservation and preservation plan to the Consultancy Wetland International, South Asia. The cost of the project was estimated at Rs 386 crores out of which the centre agreed to provide Rs 120 crores, but only 60 crores have been provided so far. This project, which was started in 2012, will come to an end this month.

Chief Executive Director of the Wular Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA), Mian Javed said,“Wular is dying because of eutrophication and unabated encroachments. The flora and fauna of the lake has drastically reduced. A project was started in 2012 for preservation of the lake, for which Central govt. allocated 60 Crores despite assuring a sum of 120 Crores. But even after four years, no funds were provided nor any instructions for the renewal of this project, which is ending this year in March. Chief Secretary of the state BR Sharma had asked the Forest and Environment Department to submit a written proposal for requirement of funds to continue the project but no response has been received so far.”

“Until and unless every water body is not cleaned, no singlewater body can survive irrespective of the amount spent on it.  They are all interlinked and all need saving. The authorities have to understand this and act swiftly or floods like the one in September, 2014 will become a common occurrence. The capacity of the Wular Lake to hold water has been drastically reduced because of siltation and sewage pollution. For this, a plan was mitigated after floods to dredge out 26.5 lakh cubic metres of silt. 10 lakh cubic metres of silt have been removed so far and 2.5 cubic metres would be removed by the end of this month. This will increase the water intake capacity of the lake but a lot more effort needs to be taken for preserving this lake,” he further added.

Saving Wular Lake is at least a possibility but the Anchar Lake has almost disappeared completely. The size of this lake has been reduced from 19.4 sq kms to a mere 6.8 sq kms. As per the study carried out by Environment Services and Research organization (ESRO), encroachment on this lake is taking place at a rate of 0.142 sq km/year. Annual pollution load of 5.73 tons of phosphorous and 82.39 tons of nitrogenous substances has converted the lake into a shrunken lagoon in only a span of 10-15 years. The flora and fauna that once thrived in this Lake has long since been destroyed and it is now infested with weeds.

Lakes and Water Development Authority (LAWDA) can partly be blamed for the present condition of the lake because of their underestimation of this grave crisis and also due to theirwoeful mismanagement of funds for this purpose. Besides, there are no plans like Dal lake for restoration of this lake.

“About a decade ago, the whole lake flourished with floating gardens. Most of the vegetables and fodder for cattle was obtained from the lake. Fishing was done on a large scale, every fisherman would catch 15-20 kg of fish per day. But it is all gone now. The lake has been replaced by concrete houses and commercial establishments”, says Bashir Khanday, a fisherman from Anchar locality.However, the authorities appear unconcerned and are busy in passing the buck to other departments.

VC-LAWDA, Dr. Sarmad Hafeez said,“We have been given the mandate for conservation and management of Dal and Nigeen Lakes under National Conservation Plan (NCP). There are other government bodies like Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and Pollution Control Board who also look after the water bodies of Kashmir and they are also answerable”. However, he too agreed that Dal Lake cannot be completely restored until other water bodies are restored and preserved.

Chairman SMC, Showkat Ahmad Zargar said,“the maintenance of lakes comes under LAWDA. We have nothing to do with it. With regards to the menace of encroachments, we are already dealing with the matter.” Director Pollution Control Board, Abdul Razzak could not be reached for comment as his phone was switched off.

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