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TheNewNormal: Mystic Dal Lake turning into a swamp lake due to pollution

TheNewNormal: Mystic Dal Lake turning into a swamp lake due to pollution

The pristine-looking Dal Lake, one of the main attractions for tourists coming to Jammu and Kashmir, is slowly turning into a swamp due to rising pollution levels in and around the famous lake. The lake is slowly turning into a “weed-clogged swamp” one environmentalist says could have a negative effect on tourism in the state.

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

Shahzada Begum, 45, a Dal dweller, told GroundReport.in 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 continue to flow through it.

Dal Lake pollution, Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

“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.

Kashmir’s iconic Dal Lake is immortalized both in literature and in countless popular movies, but sadly today it has become a victim of political, social and economic neglect over the years. According to a response filed by the state government in November 2018 in the J&K High Court, Rs 759 crore has been spent on the lake since 2002, but the situation of the lake continues to worsen day by day.

Various restoration plans from national and international agencies were documented over decades: Srinagar Master Plan 1971, Stein Lake Area Master Plan (1972), Enex Consortium Report (1978), Dal Development Report Riddle’s Lake (1985), ODA (1989), the project report under NCLP (1997), and the AHEC Roorkee project report (2000), have been played with, but there have been few improvements to the lake environment.

In 2018, the J&K High Court constituted a three-member High-Level Committee to suggest measures to save Kashmir’s iconic lake and the report is likely to come before the court at the end of November.

Dal Lake development timeline

1997

The former Union Ministry of Environment and Forestry launched the “Save Dal Project” with a large allocation of Rs 500 million to clean up the lake.

1998

In January of the year, Rs 5 lakh was given to the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) of Jammu and Kashmir for the preparation of a pre-feasibility report on pollution of water bodies in Kashmir. The proposal made was returned to the state government for its comments in June 1998, as it was considered unsustainable in view of the high cost of operation and maintenance.

2000

On July 24, ‘Green Kashmir’, a Srinagar-based NGO and Syed Mujtaba Hussain, a human rights lawyer, filed a written petition with the Supreme Court of India against the Government of India, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, J&K Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (JK-LAWDA), State Pollution Control Board (JK-PCB), Department of Urban Environmental Engineering and Ministry of Urban Development, Srinagar. The petition sought intervention to save Dal Lake which had become a “reservoir for sewage, waste and effluent”.

Dal Lake pollution, Photo credit: Flickr

That same year, on September 11, the Supreme Court issued a notice of good cause to all the defendants, asking them to specify their respective roles in controlling the flow of pollutants into the lake.

2001

A petition was filed regarding the expense sheet submitted by JK-LAWDA on account of the expenses used for the improvement of the lake. In the same year, the Supreme Court ordered the central and state government and other concerned authorities to submit their responses within four weeks to the public interest litigation seeking Dal’s environmental protection.

2002

Syed Iqbal Tahir Geelani wrote a letter to the Chief Justice against the construction around Dal Lake. The petitioner wrote that the constructions violated the Srinagar Master Plan, 1971. This later became a PIL and was flagged in the PIL submitted in 2000.

2005

A censure was filed against LAWDA and SMC for misleading the Court. A three-member committee, headed by Session and District Judge Abdul Wahid and co-opted by three officials, visited Dal Lake on October 5, 10 and 15 for the inspection.

The report indicated that many illegal constructions had been built within 200 meters of its peripheral area. The report further said that the LAWDA vice president was aware of the illegal construction going on within the lake and its periphery, but declared himself powerless.

Center approved Rs.237.7 crore to conserve the Dal. The court ordered the Registrar (Judicial) to open a Dal Conservation Fund, which would be open to the public for contributions to save the water bodies in Kashmir.

2006

The High Court ordered LAWDA to resume demolition around Dal Lake and file a status report on the illegal structures from Dal Gate to Mughal Gardens in Srinagar.

In the same year, LAWDA placed more than 300 hotels, restaurants, government offices, and residential complexes on demolition notices, following court instructions.

2007

Judge Bashir Ahmad Khan ordered the demolition of all buildings within 130 feet of the center of the road.

In the same year, the state pollution control board (JK-PCB) launched a lawsuit against the famous Grand Palace Hotel and the Department of Urban Environmental Engineering for erecting unauthorized structures around Dal Lake.

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On December 5, the court’s monitoring committee was asked to conduct another inspection of the area in and around Dal Lake. The committee questioned the discrepancy between the reports produced by the PCB and LAWDA on the Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) installed at Grand Palace and Centaur Hotel in Srinagar.

2009

The PCB submitted a report showing high levels of lead, arsenic, iron, manganese, copper, and cadmium present in Dal Lake, affecting aquatic life in the lake. The report also said that houseboat toilets had severely polluted the lake. After this, the courts ordered 1,200 houseboats to close or take steps to minimize pollution.

Around the same year, the Houseboat Owners Association demanded the identification and demarcation of the territorial boundaries of Dal and Lake Nigeen. In this context, the Ministry of Environment and Forests launched the first instalment of the National Lake Conservation Program to conserve wetlands in Kashmir.

A sum of Rs 298 million was released to spend on the development of the sewage system, removal of intrusions, waterworks, canal cleaning, solid waste management and conservation works in the Dal Lake catchment area.

In May 2009, Jammu and Kashmir banned the registration of houseboats. A 2009 report from the state pollution control board says that houseboat toilets have severely polluted the lake.

2014

The High Court imposed a ban on any illegal structures erected in and around Dal. The High Court also set up a committee to prepare a well-defined report on the overall situation of Dal Lake.

2015

LAWDA was ordered to plug all open drains and update STPs. The Authority had presented in court that the department was already working on upgrading and building new STPs, but no such effort has been seen on the ground to date.

Dal Lake pollution, Photo credit: Flickr

2016

Court-appointed watch commissioners were asked to submit their reports regarding the lake. In their various reports, they have continually informed the judiciary that illegal construction has continued in and around the lake.

2017

The court ordered that an assessment of the lake’s water quality be carried out and also ordered that the water lilies be uprooted.

2018

The court once again called for immediate action to save the lake, noting that restoration of the lake would otherwise be “desperate”.

Uncontrolled invasions through human interventions and inefficient sewage treatment plants (STPs) played a huge role in the deterioration of the lake, as the timeline above shows. But experts also point to various infrastructure projects that have been detrimental to the lake’s health.

While Dal has always drawn public attention, the reality is that the other major lakes in Kashmir such as Anchar, Wullar, Gilsar, Khushalsar and Nageen are also in dire condition due to unchecked encroachment and pollution. Dal Lake’s restoration is particularly important because it also holds the key to its future.

The lake is divided into four basins namely Nigeen, Hazratbal, and Bod Dal. The deepest and shallowest basins are Nigeen and Gagribal, with a depth of around 6m and 2.25m, respectively.

Dal Lake was reckoned in one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. “Perhaps in all the world, there is no corner as pleasant as Dal Lake” quoted by Sir Walter Lawrence in his book. But if we now see that Dal has reached a disastrous state, which may contradict the statement.

Dal Lake has a very high social and economic service.

However, the lake remains the main attraction of Srinagar and also provides the city with water for domestic use. Dal Lake has a very high social and economic service, but still the lake has reached its final stage. The destruction of the Dal Lake invasions has been mainly caused by the Hanji community, which in turn degrades the environment of the lake. Fazal and Amin state that the hanji community that was economically dependent on the lake triggered the social transformation that in turn led to the conversion of land use classes in and around the lake.

They also state that the increased flow of tourists to the lake has resulted in city residents acquiring space to set up and run their businesses in the form of hotels and restaurants on and around the lake, which in turn has led to the transformation of the lake land. One of the main drawbacks is the swampy areas around the lake that have been converted to building land and floating gardens.

9,000 metric tons of waste dumped into Dal Lak

The plantations/orchards also saw an increase in the land in the swamp zone and the lake zone. During the study, it has been recorded that the land dedicated to agriculture is also gaining ground from the water of the lake and the plantation/orchard. It is also reported that 1,200 houseboats within Dal Lake generate approximately 9,000 metric tons of waste annually which is dumped into Dal Lake. Including these wastes, 15 major drains are also dumped into the lake which extracted 18.17 tons of phosphorous and 25 tons of inorganic nitrogenous nutrients. Waste generation in Lokut and Bod Dal districts is about 97,000 kg/day.

Obstruction and blockage of the internal water channels that circulate and distribute the waste that causes diseases and epidemics such as malaria, dengue and cholera, resulting in the increase in the average temperature of the city of Srinagar. Having said all this about the deterioration of the lake, it is very important to continuously monitor the condition of said bodies of water.

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