Save Dal Lake from becoming 'Dull Lake'
Srinagar, Dec 5 (ANI): Ask a dweller of the Dal Lake what this world famous lake in the Kashmir Valley means to him and he is likely to reply rather vehemently, "Water means to us what land means to you." How ironical it is then, that today this deeply revered lake is losing a battle against high levels of pollution contributed to by these very dwellers.
The blame is not singularly theirs: many contributing factors are beyond their control, even if they are man-made. The catchment area of the lake is host to two hundred and fifty thousand people. Fifty thousand people live right on the lake. They, and more than one thousand houseboats, donga boats, hotels and others commercial establishments directly discharge their solid and grey water wastes into the lake.
Absolute negligence and outsight indifference has caused extensive damage to the lake, which is often known as the ecological lungs of Srinagar. It has shrunk today to 13 sq km from 75 sq km in 1200 AD. The State government, stirred to action, has announced several restoration programmes over the last decade, but the results are not as concrete as they should be.
Apart from the filth discharged by the dwellers on the lake and around, illegal encroachment, floating gardens, land reclamation, massive constructions, unchecked siltation and weeds have converted this aquatic glory into an environmental nuisance. Heightening the pressure on the delicate environment of the Dal is the prominent increase in the number of houseboats from 400 in 1975 to 1500 at present.
The core problem, experts argue, is the sewage discharge from the communities, hotels, houseboats and other illegal dwellings surrounding the lake. According to a senior retired urban engineer, "The problem started way back in the late 1960's with the filling up of the Nallah Mar (Serpentine Canal) that was the natural drainage to the city and an outflow channel to the Dal Lake. Blocking the outflow channel has resulted in improper control on the rise and fall of the lake waters, causing hydraulic problems like siltation and erosion."
It is a well- known fact that human excreta are an excellent source of nutrients for plant growth. In many countries, sewage effluents are processed and sold as soil enhancers, or soil sludge, to farmers. In Kashmir, since most of the effluents are discharged into the lakes without treatment, this highly nutritious concoction of nitrates, phosphates, potassium and numerous other trace elements give lake weeds an ideal environment to grow vigorously. The weeds have crowded out all other natural life in the lake.
To battle this crisis, the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) imported two weed-harvesters a few months ago, at a cost of Rupees 1.20 crore. Instead of working round the clock, one can find these machines standing still amid the gorgeous Shikaras (houseboats). Also, one can easily locate some of the older machines, no longer functional, floating on the surface of the filthy lake.
The shrinking of the lake on the one hand, and its senescence and drying up on the other, are fast destroying the beauty of the lake. The depth of the lake's open water has reduced from 10 feet to 4 feet. At Char Chinar, the depth has reduced from 18 feet to 6 feet over the last two decades. Vast areas of Dal have turned into cesspools, marshes, grass fields and grazing grounds.
A major source of drinking water, the Dal Lake fulfils the needs of over a billion inhabitants of Srinagar, besides the people living in the outskirts. The water is lifted at Pokhribal and Nishat before it is pumped into pipelines. Not many are aware that dirt, filth, rags, discarded materials, rusted metal - in short, everything obnoxious - finds its way into the lake.
Dal Lake contributes 40 per cent of the drinking water for the city's population; the rest is supplied by four supply plants - Rangil plant, Aulustabang plant, Dodgganga plant and Nishat canal flowing from Ganderbal. Dal is fast turning into a wasteland with little hope of revival or redemption.
It is imperative that the Government should design both short and long term measures to address the looming health disaster. As a short term measure, the Government can extend the supply from the four water supply plants to the area presently covered by the Dal. In the long term, rain water harvesting and source reduction can be considered.
The Charkha Development Communication Network is of the view that Dal Lake is the victim of the general apathy of the people who are not aware that they are desecrating a life sustaining water body. Should we turn a blind eye or is it time we heard the plaintive plea of this once serene lake? By Dr Basharat Chogally (ANI)
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