Dal – The victim of official apathy, public indifference
The Dal Lake in Srinagar, the second largest lake in Jammu and Kashmir after the Wular, remains frequently in news for its degrading and deteriorating conditions. Though a full-fledged autonomous body, Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) was established in 1997 for preservation, management and conservation of this body, it continues to be in a pathetic condition losing its sheen and lustre with every passing day.
The locals, particularly those living inside and on the peripheries of the lake often joke that the amount of money that has been spent on the conservation of the lake would have helped to create several artificial lakes much bigger than the Dal.
Satire notwithstanding, people generally are very concerned about the well-being of Dal and several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and volunteers have also been involved in activities for the protection of the vital water body. However, the experts say that the lake, over the years and decades, has been damaged to the extent that it is impossible to restore its past glory to the fullest. They say pollution and encroachment are the two main issues the lake has been the victim of from the past several decades. Sir Walter Lawrence, the first Settlement Commissioner of Kashmir had recorded the total area of the lake as more than 25 sq kms. However, now it is reduced to 11 kms.
Even the Jammu and Kashmir High Court is keeping an eye on various issues related to the lake, including its protection and preservation part. The court has recently asked LAWDA to come up with an action plan for the cleanliness of the water body.
In the given situation, the experts while ruling out the possibility of restoration of the lake in terms of its past area dimension, emphasize on protection of what now remains of the lake. They say that the government and people, particularly those living either inside the lake or on its peripheries have to do a lot for the protection and preservation of the water body.
To understand the present scenario and situation about the Dal Lake, KASHMIR IMAGES, spoke to several experts.
The government is doing its job to preserve and protect the Dal and Nigeen lakes. We have recently cleared Tailbal settling basin, and it has been done for the first time ever. We have been cleaning the lake day out and day in. our priority is to keep lilies and other harmful weeds away from the lakes. Also, we are looking for alternative arrangements to manage the excreta from the houseboats. For this, we have installed as many as six biodigesters on a trial basis. If the results are beneficial, we will set up these biodigesters on all houseboats. We have several other plans in the pipeline as well. In fact, we are presently preparing an action plan to boost our efforts for the preservation and protection of the lakes. We will also submit this action plan before the court in the coming days. Since the action plan is not finalized yet, I cannot share its details with you at this time.
Having said that, let me also say that our efforts will not help much unless people living within and in the vicinity of the lake play their role to protect the water body. The Dal dwellers and those residing near the peripheries of the lake have a crucial role to play to safeguard these lakes. They must look into their soul and introspect because they are the people who have damaged the lake to a large extent. It is strange that on one side these people are propagating that the lake is dying, and, on the other hand, they leave no stone unturned to ruin the lake. For example, people have not only encroached into the water bodies in the past, but they are continuously trying to do so even now, resulting in a war going on between the LAWDA and offenders all the time.
Unfortunately, it is propagated that the Dal-Nigeen lakes are dying and nothing is being done to protect these water bodies. This notion is absolutely baseless. It is easy to make allegations, but difficult to play a constructive role instead. The problem with us is that we are better critics than better people. If we had been a better and proactive society, the situation would have been much better about lakes and other natural resources. To understand this, have a look at Anchar, Gill Sar, and other water bodies and see how pathetic condition these are in.
I say it with certainity that had LAWDA not been there to take care of the Dal and Nageen, these lakes would have turned into ‘housing colonies’ by now. Our efforts may or may not be up to the expectation but saying that nothing is happening at all, is not true at all.
In recent history, the damage to the Dal first came into focus in 1975–76, when the government started realizing that the lake is getting ruined; and, the then cabinet headed by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah took three important decisions. First, it decided that there should be a 150 to 170 feet distance between the shoreline of the lake and the buildings. Second, further registration of houseboats was banned to ensure no more houseboats are brought on the water of the lake. Third, it was decided to hire international assistance to have technical advisory and expert opinion on how to protect and preserve the lake.
In terms of hiring international assistance, a team headed by then chief secretary was sent abroad to meet the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) officials, who advised our officials to engage with a New Zealand based Consultancy called Enex Consortium.
After a comprehensive survey of the Dal Lake, the Enex Consortium came up with its report along with some suggestions and recommendations in 1977. Since then many consultancies have been involved in the Dal project. A major intervention was seen in 1997 when Saifuddin Soz was central minister of the Environment. He brought the Dal lake into National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP). Presently, the lake is under the consultancy of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).
However, most of the suggestions and recommendations for the protection and preservation of the Dal are the same that were given by the Enex Consortium in 1977. It had found that 70 percent of the pollution to the lake comes from the catchment areas and the rest from the houseboat sewage. Also, the consultancy, in its survey had identified the fact that the floating gardens are a great source of pollution in the lake. It had suggested that these floating gardens must be taken to the isolated corners of the lake.
Unfortunately, the government did not pay heed to these valuable suggestions at that time; rather, the committee formed to examine the Enex Consortium’s report ruled out that floating gardens were harmful to the lake. However, the government tried adhering and implementing the rest of its recommendations to some extent at that time and in following years.
In recent 20–25 years, however, everything has been messed up. Look at the Nageen Lake; you will find houses built on the shore of this water body. I believe the government does not have the will. It has lost the focus. There is no concept of governance here anymore. The place is just a conflict area and the priority here is only to control and manipulate conflict. Dal has gone to the back burner.
The deep disconnect between the people and natural resources is very much evident in Kashmir. This disconnect is either intentional or based on a fallacy. That means, we either are intentionally ignoring the importance of the critical ecosystem or we are assuming that everything is perfectly fine Kashmir continues to be a Jannat-E-Benazir —which unfortunately is not the case.
It hurts to see that instead of saving and preserving our critical ecosystem, we are indulging in a criminal mistake of putting more stress on our water bodies every second, every minute, every hour, and every day. Worst, to hide our crime we always find and build narratives that help us to point a finger towards everything and everyone other than ourselves. Sadly, even the media has been selling such narratives to us for decades. We bash the government and accuse and abuse everyone except ourselves. By doing so, we are trying to hide the crime because it touches our own inner ego. People here are not even ready to hear about the perspective, indicating their negligence that has been causing the degradation of our natural resources.
Surprisingly, the degradation of natural resources has started only after the so-called democratic setup took place in this part of the land. In 1889, Sir Walter Lawrence wrote a book on Kashmir and referred to Dal and Nageen lakes as ‘Jewels’. In the 20th century, the Maharaja’s regime took care of these ‘Jewels’ till 1948. Onwards, the degradation and deterioration started taking pace, and it continues till date. Only a few days ago, I saw some people throwing a huge quantity of garbage into a water body, violating the law that says, it is the constitutional responsibility and duty of every citizen to protect forests, water bodies, lakes, wildlife, and so on and so forth.
Not only the law of the land, but the guidelines and teachings from the Quran, hadith, sunnah, and Islamic jurisprudence also emphasize safeguarding natural resources. However, the fact of the matter is that every person who has been damaging and encroaching into the water bodies has a Muslim name, even most of them having a beard. Our religion has given us well-defined guidance in these matters. As per the Islamic jurisprudence, we cannot offer prayers in a mosque that is built on an encroached piece of land. Islam teaches us not to damage natural resources. Have we not been told by our prophet (PBUH) that we should not cut down a tree even if we are in a war? Anyone who throws a diaper of his/her kid into a freshwater flowing stream is doing a crime according to the Islamic rules. But these rules are being violated everywhere. Take the example of the river Jhelum. The entire waste and excreta directly goes into it and we are least bothered about it. However, if a single drop of urine from a tourist from Bihar goes into the lake —which actually should not happen — we suddenly become champions of ethics and morality. Is it not hypocrisy on our part? Should we not act before we preach? Even if we talk only about Dal Lake, the harsh reality is that this lake has been exploited by a certain class of people over the years.
Let me say that it is not Dal, which is dying; it is our conscience that is dying. Let us show a mirror to our society. Let us tell them to mind their business, morality, conscience, and ethics. Let us remind them that we are not answerable to this world only, but we have also to face the hereafter.
The Dal Lake, which once used to be called a ‘jewel’ of Kashmir, has been losing its charm and grace over the years. The things responsible for the deterioration of this lake are: the exponential growth within the Lake and its peripheries; encroachment into the lake area, garbage dumping into the water, pollution, weeds, and excreta coming from the vicinity, and so on.
We can examine all these reasons on be one. Take, for example, the filth, which has been drained into the lake for years. Even now, if you go from Dalgate to Ashai Bagh bridge via Nawpora–Rainawari –Saida Kadal, you will find that the excreta from the population living on the peripheries of the lake directly going into the lake. Garbage, filth, and other kinds of pollution have chocked the natural ecosystem of the lake over the years. Once there were 390 springs feeding this lake. These springs within the lake were oozing out all the time, enriching the lake. We have lost most of them. Now we have been left with only as many as 80 springs in the lake. We need to dig out the missing springs to ensure the lake is fed by its natural freshwater resources.
The extensive natural growth of different kinds of obnoxious weeds, lilies, chestnuts, Azolla, and jawhar in Dal has also played its role in blocking the springs. Some of them are literally killing the fragile ecosystem of the lake. For example, Azolla is something that looks green in the morning and turns pinkish in the evening. It is very harmful not only to the ecosystem of the lake but also to the fish and birds. Although LAWDA is removing it from the lake regularly, these weeds need to be uprooted by manual labor.
As for the population growth inside and on the peripheries of the lake is concerned, it has created havoc to the lake. Some eight years ago, a survey by the Roorkee University pegged the population of the Dal dwellers as 95 thousand. However, today according to my records, the population has risen to 1, 20,000. You cannot save the lake unless you provide alternative places to the Dal dwellers in the vicinity. I have been fighting for the settlement of these residents for the past 35 years. Let me admit that I have failed because the governments, that be, did never cooperate to ensure that these dwellers, which have been there for centuries, are adequately shifted from here. The political parties, who have been ruling Kashmir, wanted these people to stay here just because the politicians used to treat them as a vote bank. Even people who wanted to leave their floating gardens were refused to be paid the promised compensation of these floating gardens, which are undoubtedly harmful to the lake ecosystem. In addition, the authorities ruined the lake with unplanned constructions inside or on the peripheries of the lake. Take the example of the Centaur Hotel. This huge building was built after filling a portion of the lake.
Lastly, let me say that it hurts to see the pathetic condition of the lake. Nature created the lake over a process of centuries, but we have ruined it just in few decades. History tells us that the Dal was not there in the shape of the lake during Lalitaditya’s regime in 720 CE. It was there in different parts; shapes, lagoons, pastures; and, it was there with various river depths at different places. Lalitaditya during his regime raised the water level and with the result Nigeen, Pakhari Pur, and Saderabal, Khushhaal Sar and many other adjacent areas emerged as one lake named Dal Lake. History also tells us that the Dal was about 95 sq km in 1350. Now it has reduced to just 11.5 km. Mark my words: if we fail to protect this remaining part of the Dal Lake now, it will not be there after a few decades from now. This is my prediction that busses will be playing here and buildings will come up here by 2065, if we fail to protect and preserve the lake now.