Saving Dal Lake

Over the years, people in general and Kashmir media in particular have debated the future of Dal lake thread bare. The regulating authority however claims that all accusations are not founded on facts. Hamidullah Dar reports.
People in general and environmentalists in particular decry that Dal lake is dying while concerned authorities watch the perish sitting inside their offices. The authorities, however, disagree. They maintain that scarcely any news depicts the efforts that are ‘underway not only to save the famous lake from extinction but also to beautify it further’.
Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA), the agency responsible for development and preservation of the lake, says that it has several programmes in hand to bring back the lost glory of Dal. Top most priority is given to stop sewerage flow into the lake besides relocation of lake dwellers.
 “The problem of pollution is taken head on by reducing it to the minimum possible level. We have installed three sewerage treatment plants at Lam, Hazratbal and Habak. We lay pipes to collect the sewerage from neighbourhoods along the shores of the lake to prevent it from mixing with the waters of Dal,” says Ashok Kumar Koul, Superintendent Engineer at LAWDA.
Encroached over decades, Dal has been shrinking in area. Revenue records state that 6000 families were putting up in Dal in 1986. The numbers have been growing ever since.
“We have rehabilitated 1299 families at other places and dredged out the land they had occupied, thus increasing the area under water,” says LAWDA’s Vice Chairman Irfan Yaseen while giving details of the efforts in preserving Dal.
But the relocation has not been a smooth process despite wide media coverage about encroachments into the lake area. There have been protest demonstrations by Dal dwellers whenever authorities – who define them as encroachers – order their removal from the area so as to make it a part of the lake after proper dredging. An estimate puts the number of habitations in the Dal at 58. “Their relocation and rehabilitation is one of the biggest challenges in restoring the serenity of Dal,” says Yaseen.
Located in the vicinity of Srinagar, the lake used to be exquisitely beautiful. Tales about a 1960’s Swiss tourist having sought the lake in exchange of all the lakes in Switzerland are still a fresh memory. In fact, it is this lake that attracts a major chunk of tourism to Kashmir by lending a unique feature to the beauty of the city – a nearby lake with a houseboat charm. LAWDA officials say that they are consciously working towards preserving the attraction without letting the lake get polluted.
“LAWDA provided houseboat owners a sewerage system so that it does not add to the vitiation process anymore. It is a positive thing. We have a Catchment Area Development programme through which forestation is undertaken to minimise the soil erosion and silt deposition in the Dal,” says Koul. “Also check dams and tramps are constructed to halt the speeding flow of many flash flood canals before emptying their content in Dal. We provide help in maintaining hilly pastures so that clean water adds to the lake bellow.”
“LAWDA ensures that the depth of the lake is not altered and it presses dredgers into service to increase the depth the moment shallowness due to silt or any other reason is witnessed. It is a tedious job but nevertheless the necessary measure to arrest the decrease in water area due to island formation,” Koul says while providing details of the programmes undertaken by LAWDA.
The authorities claim that the debate about shrinking area of the lake is not well founded. The claims that the area of the lake has shrunk drastically and the continuing trend will wipe out the lake in a few decades is seen by authorities as a baseless assessment.
“It is absurd to watch some people saying that total area of Dal in 1960’s was 50 sq kilometres. Tell me have Zabarwan, Shankar Acharya, Hariparbat and Dargah Sharief moved an inch from their places? If not then anyone can measure the area of Dal even today with its clear boundaries. Revenue records do not go beyond 25 sq kms. It is approximately same today,” says Koul.
Koul, however, admits that weed growth is a scare and one of the major distractions that diminish the beauty of Dal waters. “De-weeding is a continuous process and is done twice a year in April and October. Although there are many machines for it but we also hire people who clear the weeds manually so that the lake looks attractive to visitors,” Koul says.
With officials claiming to be doing their job without a hitch, it remains to be seen how Dal shapes up in the coming years. A pollution-free lake with no encroachments on its crystal face is what everyone has been aspiring.     

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