Kashmir’s picturesque Dal lake losing charm as pollution and sewage level spike

Wahid Bhat | Srinagar | 12 November 2018

The pristine looking Dal Lake, one of the prime attraction for tourists reaching Jammu and Kashmir is slowly turning into a swamp due to spike in pollution levels in and around the famed lake. The lake is slowly becoming a ‘weed-clogged swamp’ opine environmentalists which could have a negative effect on tourism in the state.

The Dal Lake, famous for its ornately-carved cedar houseboats, is the centrepiece of Srinagar’s sprawling tourism. However, in a span of over two decades, the lake has shrunk by more than half to just 11 square kilometres and lost over 10 meters of depth. “This lake is dying fast. It’s turning into a swamp,” says Manzoor Ahmed, a leading businessman who is spearheading a campaign to conserve the lake.

Weed filled Dal Lake, which is imapcting tourism business in Srinagar.

Shahzada Begum, 45, a Dal dweller, says that her children have fallen ill due to the foul smell of the lake. “We are suffocating, for the last few months, the lake has witnessed a sharp rise in pollution. The government is not doing anything,” she rues. The lake is facing a dismal fate as sewage and high-nutrient load continues to flow through it.

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“The rising pollution and discharge of sewage into the lake from Rainawari and Babdem localities are a hindrance in its conservation,” said 65-year-old Ghulam Muhammad, a shikara owner, maintaining that the tourist inflow has been affected. “No one wants to stay in the houseboats as the surroundings are unpleasant,” he says. “Thousands of people are dependent on the lake for their livelihood. Be it houseboat owners, vegetable sellers or shikarawalas, everyone has been impacted. The sewage is discharged into the lake and the authorities are doing nothing about it,” says Bashir Ahmad, a local at the Dal.

Pollution is sometimes so bad it turns the lake a brackish green. Last September, a court slammed authorities for not doing enough to save the lake, saying it had become “a slum.” According to India Waterportal, a public-interest litigation on the conservation of Dal Lake filed in 2002 is still pending. Over the past years, the J&K High Court had passed many directives but, as advocate Nadeem Qadri says, even the best efforts of the authorities have failed to help conserve the lake.

A picturesque Dal Lake in Srinagar. (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Tests showed high levels of lead, arsenic, iron, manganese, copper and cadmium that accumulate in fish which are then consumed by humans, posing serious health risks, a government report said. “Effects of these elements can cause damage to the brain, liver and kidneys of the consumers,” it warned. Another research report published in November 2017, Status of Pollution Level in Dal Lake of Jammu and Kashmir, estimates that besides nitrates and phosphates, about 80,000 tonnes of silt get deposited in the lake every year.

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In addition to the 7,500 people living on houseboats, another 50,000 people inhabit small islands in the area. “The lake’s environmental deterioration can be attributed rightly to human settlements in and around the lake,” said Shafiq-ur-Rehman, a professor at the region’s agriculture university and an expert on the lake.

People in the area have been demanding for increasing the number of sewage plants to improve the condition of the lake, at present three sewage plants are operational and involved in maintaining the pristine quality of the lake.