Dal Lake Matters: HC Issues Slew Of Directions, Warns Against Non-Compliance 

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SRINAGAR — The matters related to Dal Lake, the flagship of Kashmir’s Tourism, have reached such an impasse that unless they are addressed immediately, “the battle may well have been lost—even before we have begun to fight the rot,” Jammu and Kashmir High Court as it passed slew of directions including empowering Vice Chairman of LAWDA and arresting pollution.

Hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed in 2002 , the court noted that crores of rupees have been pumped into efforts for saving and protecting the world famous water body but “none of the measures have shown any result at all.”

“The matters have reached such an impasse that unless the issues are addressed immediately, the battle may well have been lost—even before we have begun to fight the rot. This case is yet another reminder of the unassailable proposition that interests of the environment cannot be compromised, that they  must be placed well above individual interests and their impact is beyond any boundaries, that is to say universal in impact,” said a division bench headed by Chief Justice Gita Mittal. 

“From 2002 when the (PIL) was filed till 2018, a series of orders of the Court have also proved to be of no avail. These orders include the order dated 23rd March, 2009 declaring the Dal Lake custodia legis. Appointment of two Vigilance Commissioners who were required to visit the Dal Lake as far as possible on daily basis and submit weekly report, also did not stem the damage,” said the bench also comprising Justice Sanjeev Kumar.

Passive elaborate directions, the court directed the Chief Secretary to sufficiently empower the Vice Chairman appointed to head LAWDA to take steps for cohesion in its working and provide able and accountable leadership with commitment to the objective. 

“The Chief Secretary may examine the recommendation of the COE  (Committee of Experts) for creation of a fully dedicated and empowered Dal Lake Conservation and Development Authority. 

The court ordered that steps be taken towards gradual elimination of floating gardens and in this regard ordered that the COE may examine and recommend to LAWDA the manner in which the existing boundaries of floating gardens be marked immediately so that there was no expansion.

“LAWDA shall put non-removeable markers indicating present boundaries of the floating gardens. These may also be put on paper and supported with video and photographic evidence.”

The court also directed that LAWDA shall immediately ascertain the details of families exclusively dependent on vegetable cultivation within the Lake within a period of one week. LAWDA, the court said, shall draw out and implement the plan to rehabilitate such families providing them avenues for gainful employment including agriculture as there will result an unmet demand within the city for the vegetables itself, upon dismantling of these gardens. 

The LAWDA, the court said, shall undertake effective steps for simultaneous cessation of all vegetable cultivation and rehabilitation of the growers over the next three months.  

LAWDA shall forthwith issue notices asking all the commercial establishment to install technically suitable and environmental friendly arrangements within three months for treatment of sewage and sullage (grey water) within their premises itself without releasing any sewage or sullage into the Dal or into any Nallah that flows into the Dal or any other Lake, the court said. 

“The establishment shall be directed to intimate LAWDA of the compliance of the directions which shall be subject to inspection by LAWDA and the J&K State Pollution Control Board.”

Regarding stopping pollution of the Lake from Catchments, the court ordered LAWDA and the State Government to forthwith undertake steps for generating awareness among families living and cultivating in the catchment areas and upstream.

With regard to stopping the pollution from the Houseboats, the State Government and LAWDA must immediately assess and evaluate the optimum number of houseboats which could be permitted to be anchored in the Dal Lake and submit a report to the COE and before the court on next date of hearing, the division bench said. “In case the existing number of houseboats is beyond the ideal number, registrations/ licences of houseboats which lapse should not be renewed and steps should be taken to bring the maximum number to the ideal number of house boats.”

The LAWDA, court said, must identify houseboats which are anchored illegally in the Dal Lake and forthwith stop their operation and remove them from the Lake. 

LAWDA, the court said, shall take immediate steps for removal of the illegal encroachment and constructions effected by the houseboat owners near the houseboats. “LAWDA shall issue seven days notices to the houseboat owners for removing the illegal constructions, encroachments, activities and thereafter the same shall be removed by LAWDA. The notices issued shall inform the houseboat owner that its registration and licence would stand revoked/ cancelled in case the illegal construction/ encroachment and activity is not removed forthwith.”

The court further ordered that a report in this regard with photographs before and after removal shall be filed by LAWDA on court record before the next date of hearing in the PIL on December 17.

“Given the number and nature of encroachments reported by the Committee, it is essentially to determine the actual boundaries of the Lake. We, therefore, direct the Secretary, Department of Environment and Forest of the State Government to forthwith make available geological or any other maps; satellite, digital or other imageriesand maps setting out the boundaries of the Lake and the variations thereof over a period of time,” the court said, adding, “These documents shall be furnished within one week to the COE which shall examine the same and make its recommendations.”

The court made it clear that violations of any of the directions passed by the Court in its previous orders and now shall invite strict action against the violator(s) including initiation of the contempt proceedings under the Jammu & Kashmir Contempt of Courts Act, 1997.

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