Wahid Bhat |Srinagar
Kashmir’s iconic Dal Lake immortalised by literature as much as by countless popular movies but sadly, today it has become a victim of political, social and economic neglect over the years. According to a reply submitted by the state government in November 2018 to the J&K High Court, Rs 759 crores of rupees have been spent on the lake since the year 2002, but the plight of the lake continues to become poorer by the day.
A number of restoration plans by national and international agencies documented over decades — the Srinagar Master Plan of 1971, Lake Area Master Plan by Stein (1972), Enex consortium Report (1978), Dal Lake Development report by Riddle (1985), ODA (1989), Project report under NCLP (1997) and Project Report AHEC Roorkee (2000) — have been toyed with, but there has been little improvement in the lake environment.
In 2018 J&K High Court has constituted a three-member High Level Committee to suggest measures for saving the iconic Lake of Kashmir and the report is most likely to be submitted by the end of November before court.
Dal Lake Development Timeline
The erstwhile Union Ministry of Environment and Forests launched the ‘Save Dal Project’ with a huge allocation of Rs.500 crore to clean the lake.
In January of the year, Rs 5 lakh was released to the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) of Jammu and Kashmir for preparation of a pre-feasibility report on the pollution of water bodies in Kashmir. The proposal made was returned to the state government for their comments in June 1998, as it was found unsustainable in view of the high cost of operation and maintenance.
On July 24th, ‘Green Kashmir,’ a Srinagar-based NGO and Syed Mujtaba Hussain, a human rights lawyer, filed a written petition to the Supreme Court of India against the Government of India, the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the J&K Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (JK-LAWDA), the state pollution control Board (JK-PCB), the urban environmental engineering department and the Ministry of Urban Development, Srinagar. The petition sought intervention to save the Dal lake that had turned into a ‘reservoir of sewage, wastes and effluents.’
That same year, on September 11th, the Supreme Court issued a show cause notice to all the respondents and asked them to specify their respective roles in controlling the flow of pollutants in the lake.
A petition was filed over the expenditure sheet submitted by the JK-LAWDA on account of expenses used for the improvement of the lake. In the same year, the Supreme Court directed the Central and State government and other concerned authorities to file their responses within four weeks to the public interest litigation seeking environmental protection for Dal.
Syed Iqbal Tahir Geelani wrote a letter to the Chief Justice of the High Court against the construction around the Dal Lake. The petitioner wrote that the constructions violated the Srinagar Master Plan, 1971. This was later converted to a PIL and tagged to the PIL filed in 2000.
A stricture was filed against the LAWDA and SMC for misleading the Court. A three member committee, headed by District and Session judge Abdul Wahid and co-opted by three officials, visited Dal Lake on October 5th, October 10th and October 15th for the inspection.
The report indicated that many illegal constructions had been raised within 200 metres of its peripheral area. The report further said that the LAWDA vice-chairperson was conscious of illegal constructions raised within lake and its periphery, but pleaded helplessness.
Centre approved Rs.237.7 crore to conserve the Dal. The court directed the Registrar (Judicial) to open a Dal Conservation Fund, which would be opened to the public for contributions to save the water bodies in Kashmir.
The High Court directed LAWDA to resume demolition around the Dal Lake and file a status report on the illegal structures from Dal Gate to Mughal Gardens in Srinagar.
In the same year over 300 hotels, restaurants, government offices and residential complexes were put on demolition notice by the LAWDA, following court’s directions.
Justice Bashir Ahmad Khan ordered the demolition of all constructions within a strip of 130 feet from the centre of the road.
In the same year the state pollution control board (JK- PCB) initiated prosecution against the famous Hotel Grand Palace and Urban Environmental Engineering Department for raising unauthorized structures around Dal Lake.
On December 5th, the court 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 Sewerage Treatment Plants (STPs) installed at Grand Palace and Centaur Hotel in Srinagar.
The PCB submitted a report that showed high levels of lead, arsenic, iron, manganese, copper and cadmium present in Dal Lake, affecting the aquatic life in the lake. The report also said that the houseboat lavatories had polluted the lake badly. Following this, courts directed 1200 houseboat to shutdown or take steps to minimize the pollution.
Around the same year, the Houseboat Owners’ Association demanded identification and demarcation of territorial limits of Dal and the Nigeen Lake. In the backdrop of this, the Ministry of Environment and Forests released the first installment under the National Lake Conservation Programme to conserve wetlands of Kashmir.
A sum of Rs 298 crore was released, to be spent towards development of sewerage system, removal of encroachment, hydraulic works, cleaning of channels, solid waste management and conservation works in the catchment area of Dal Lake.
In May 2009, Jammu and Kashmir banned further registration of houseboats. A 2009 report from the state pollution control board says that the houseboat lavatories have polluted the lake badly.
The High Court imposed a ban on any illegal structure raised in and around Dal. The High court also set up a committee to prepare a well-defined report on the overall situation of the Dal Lake.
LAWDA was directed to plug all open drains and upgrade STPs. The Authority had submitted before court that the department was already working on upgrading and construction of new STPs, but to this date no such effort has been visible on the ground.
The court-appointed vigilance commissioners were asked to file their reports with respect to the lake. In their various reports, they have continuously informed the judiciary that illegal constructions have been continuing in and around the lake.
The court directed a water quality assessment of the lake to be undertaken and also called for uprooting lily pads.
The court, yet again, called for immediate measures for saving the lake and observed that otherwise the lake’s restoration was ‘hopeless’.
Projects that failed Dal
Unchecked encroachments through human interventions, and inefficient sewage treatment plants (STPs) played a huge role in the deterioration of the lake, as the above timeline shows. But experts also refer to several infrastructure projects that have been detrimental to the health of the lake.
While Dal has always caught the public eye, the reality is that Kashmir’s other major lakes such as Anchar, Wular, Gilsar, Khushalsar and Nageen are also in pitiable condition, owing to unchecked pollution and encroachment. The restoration of Dal Lake is particularly important for it holds the key to their future as well.
The lake is divided into four basins namely Nigeen, Hazratbal, Bod Dal. The deepest and the shallowest basins are Nigeen and Gagribal with depth around 6m and 2.25 m respectively.
Dal Lake was counted in one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. “Perhaps in the whole world there is no corner as pleasant as the Dal Lake” quoted by Sir Walter Lawrence his book. But if we now a days see the Dal has come to a disastrous state, which may contradict the statement.
Dal lake has very high social and economic service
However, lake is still the main attraction of the Srinagar and also providing water to the city for domestic use. Dal lake has very high social and economic service, but still lake has come to its end stage. The detoration of encroachments of Dal Lake has mainly brought by the Hanji community which in turn degrade the lake environment. Fazal and Amin states that the hanji community economically depended on the lake have triggered the social transformation which in turn led to conversion of land use classes in and around the lake.
They also states that the increased tourist flow to the Lake has resulted in that the increase in tourist flow to the lake has resulted in city residents acquiring space to establish and run their business in the form of hotels and restaurants in and around the lake and which in turn have led to the land transformation of the lake. One of the major drawback is the marshy areas around the lake that have been converted into build land and floating vegetable gardens.
9000 metric tons of waste dumped into Dal Lake
Plantation/orchards has also recorded increase in land from marshy area, lake area. During the study it has been recorded that Land under agriculture is also gaining land from lake water and plantation/orchard. It is also reported that 1200 house boats inside the Dal Lake generates approximately 9000 metric tons of waste annually which is dumped into Dal Lake, Including this waste, 15 major drains are also emptied into the lake which withdrew 18.17 tons of phosphorous and 25 tons of inorganic nitrogen nutrients. The waste generation in the Lokut and Bod Dal wards is about 97000 Kg/day.
Obstruction and blockade of inner water Channels which circulate and distribute the waste which causes diseases and epidemics like malaria, dengue as well as cholera, which results the rise in mean temperature of Srinagar city. All that being said about the deterioration of the lake, it is very important to continuously monitor the condition of such water bodies.