Work In Progress

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A chain of conservation schemes were launched to revive Dal Lake’s lost glory. Equipped with the latest contraption and expert advice from professionals, the authorities still seem to have a lot of ground to cover with regard to the cleaning of Srinagar’s main tourist hub. Saima Bhat met the concerned authorities to update the state and status of lake’s survival battle after consuming Rs 800 crores

A view of Dal Lake.

A view of Dal Lake.

The last time, Dal Lake was in headlines was when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi was trolled for his photo-op moment. For – a 10-minute drive,  to shoot a perfect picture for India’s chief executive about to go to polls, a drill for almost a month was undertaken in the aquatic body by the Lakes and Water Development Authority (LAWDA) in collaboration with the army, that helped ‘clear’ specific patches from the weeds.

Authority insiders said it was just a ‘face-saving’ drill as the army personnel who were snapping the weeds including lily out of the Lake were cutting it from its stem whereas the experts pull them out along with the roots. “That de-weeding was cosmetic,” one official said. “But there were no options.”

Over the past decades, the condition of lake is going from bad to worse. The chief justice of Jammu and Kashmir High Court also had not been happy over its condition and the conservation. The pollution has just not affected water but is threatening the lake’s very existence. There is no let up in indiscriminate sewage disposal into the lake, encroachments within and on its banks and the growth of the weeds deep inside.

Currently, five sewage treatment plants (STP) at Hazratbal with 7.5 MLD capacity, Laam with 4.5 MLD, Habak with 3.2 MLD, Brari Nambal with 16.1 MLD and Nalai Amir Khan with 5.4 MLD are operational so that the water flowing into the lake is pollution free. But over the past some years, three STPs are awaiting upgradation. Besides, the quality of water flowing into the lake does not follow the rules set by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) of India in 2017, which has worsened lake condition.

Brari Nambal is the most important among STP with highest capacity of -16 million litres per day. It is supported by 18 IPS (intermediate pump stations), which collect sewage from 18 city areas living on the lake bank and then supply it to the STP where it is chemically treated by the use of poly ammonium chloride (PAC), sodium hypo chloride (SHC) and dewatering polyelectrolyte (DWP), to separate sledge and to kill harmful bacteria and foul smell.

From the lake fringe up to the 200 meters around it, falls under LAWDA jurisdiction. Ishtyaq Ahmad Shah, executive engineer, Lake Division-II, said their Division has provided the “effective and efficient” sewerage network and 95 percent of the work stands completed. There are some missing links, though.

“The sewerage we get is treated before we release it into the water body,” Shah said. “We even pass the treated effluent through wetlands so that the vegetation stops the entry of nutrients into the lake.”

Three STPs at  Hazratbal, Laam, and Habak, have Fluidised Aerobic Bio-reactor (FAB) technology, which was set up in 2006 and their life span is considered to be 16 years. They need immediate up-gradation. As per the CPCB guidelines, it is already over and they need to be upgraded latest by January 2019. Once upgraded, they can work for 20 years more. There are lacunas though; experts told Kashmir Life that the parameters are not up to the mark.

“The presence of Biochemical Oxygen (BOD) in the sewerage in these STPs should be  275 to 300 milligrams per litre. After treatment, it should be less than 30 but not more than 50, but right now it is less than 60, which means it is not maintaining BOD level,” an insider said. Once this water gets into the Lake, it carries the effluents which are harmful to the aquatic life. “Sewerage treatment also means nutrient reduction like ammonia, phosphorus and nitrate. But the water tested in the lake shows ammonia and phosphorus, which leads to the accumulation of nitrate nitrogen after which the next process should have been de-nitrification which is not done. Nitrate and phosphorus act as fertilizers to the plants.”

“Local production of Schizothorax fish has also gone down tremendously in the lake as they do not survive in less oxygen,” admits Sushil Dhar, the LAWDA technical officer. “But in early 1970s, the Carb fish was introduced so that they will survive on plants but we fear instead they survived on the Schizothorax reducing its population to mere 25 percent.”

The newly constructed STPs at Brari Nambal and Nalai Amir Khan were constructed on sequential bioreactor (SBR) and are working below their capacities as they have not been used fully up to their capacities. Shah said  one more STP is coming up at Gupt Ganga with 30 MLD capacity, highest in north India, and it will be catering to areas in upper Shalimar, Tailbal, Batpora, Harwan, and Theed, the areas that do not have STP connectivity so far.

“DPR is ready for 20 MLD and it will be having the capacity to be upgraded to 30 MLD,” Shah said. “We don’t have money presently as it will require Rs 1100 crores for 30 MLD capacities with an MBR technology. It is in pipeline and after approval, we will go for tenders.”

But reports from within the LAWDA claim that the STPs have to run with 60 percent of its capacity with the chemicals used PAC (separates mud and sledge from water) 1475 kgs per day, SHC (Kills bacteria and foul smell) 1475 kgs per day and DWP (keeps the equipment fresh ) 300 kgs per day. “But surprisingly they use only 170 kgs of PAC, 70 kgs of SHC and 3 kgs of DWP per day when the STP is used up to 90 percent of its capacity.”

“The STPs project was designed keeping in view the future needs for up to 12 years by the designers and was expected to reach its full capacity after 12 years from the year of establishment, but unfortunately it reached to 90 percent of its capacity within one year in 2014, forcing engineers to disconnect 15 IPS out of 18 IPS, otherwise it would have overflowed,” an insider said.

Weeds extracted from Dal lake.

Weeds extracted from Dal lake.

The STP has actually turned defunct as out of 18 IPS only 3 are connected to it while as the sewage of 15 IPS is directly sent to lake with a burden of huge electricity bills from the motors of these IPS.

The purpose of using these motors is not fulfilled as the sewage continues to go into the lake even without using these motors. However, these motors are put to use to cover up the faults, they claim.

Insiders allege that the STP was not designed properly. Some of the equipments do not match the technical specifications of the tender.

“The tender was given to the company without the proper rendering of the turnkey basis on a higher price of Rs 22 crores when the same company has established similar STP in Punjab with more or less same specifications for a mere Rs 6 crores,” an insider alleged.

Insiders believe the condition of the lake has deteriorated since LAWDA was headless for a long time or had an ad-hoc leadership. At one point of time, it was an additional charge to Deputy Commissioner Srinagar, who set up a WhasApp group to monitor the happenings.

As on date, lake has around 900 houseboats and a few hundred are in Nigeen but ‘their sewerage also gets into the lake directly’. “Some STPs (bio-digesters) were attached to houseboats but due to some technical faults they were not approved,” claims the insider.

To clean the Lake, four dredgers are deployed but out of them only two are working and they are supposed to work for three hours daily. “At present, they don’t work for even two hours.  Other than dredgers, 1300 shikara wallas are hired for de-weeding who have their own style of working,” the insider alleged.

Authority owned machinery includes four weed harvester (two old and 2 new), which they claim are all functional, but inputs suggest that one is non functional for years due to defect in a pump of the machine costing approximately Rs 6 lakh, which the LAWDA is unable to buy even after floating tenders.

LAWDA have two draggers also which suck the mud from the lake bottom and send it out through pipes to fill the wetland on the lake periphery. Besides, it has two Water Masters as well, that have been purchased from Finland along with their ‘free spare parts’ but these are defunct as the important machinery has turned defective.

These machines also have two new model Barges each. Besides the Authority has four mosaic classic machines, two carvel cradle water master classic as third one was purchased in 2010. All these machines require repairs. 

DAL SHRINKAGE?

LAWDA PRO said there is a wrong impression that the lake has shrunken. “We only have one reference, Sir Walter Lawrence who has written in 1895 that lake is 25 sq kms and water expansion, open space water, was 18 sq kms,” Tariq Ahmad Malik, said.

LAWDA, he insisted, added a large area to the lake from Nishat to Hazratbal, which was land mass and kids used to play on it. But in 1989 the LAWDA got commissioned, and they got dredgers. In 1998 they filled the right side of the lake with the dredged out material, which was then an open space, 50 meters from the shoreline, which later became the Foreshore Road. He claims the decision to construct Foreshore Road proved right otherwise it would have been encroached by now as it protected the lake. The 2009 satellite images by remote sensing imaginary shows the lake continues to be 25 sq kms, but the water expansion had increased from 18 to 20.21 sq km.

“It increased by adding the 5 sq kms from Nishat to Habak which was a land mass, that included 300 houses of Dug Park, which were removed in 2001 and were rehabilitated in Chanapora area. Other than that Kila Mount’s 70 houses were also rehabilitated,” Malik added.

In 2009-10, an Electronic Total Stations (ETC) mapping was done and it showed 20 sq km water expansion in 25 sq km lake, he said.

Basically, 95 percent silt-loaded water to the lake comes from the catchment areas through Dachigam Nallah and Malori Nallah that joins at Tailbal and then reaches Habak, where settling basis separates the silt. “Its settling capacity is 18000 tonnes silt deposition at the mouth of Tailbal Nalla and a buffer zone was also constructed on Foreshore Road, as whatever slit comes it gets deposited. Ninety percent of the water comes from the glacier and only 10 percent of the water comes from the springs,” Malik said.

This water used to come directly to the lake after passing through some gates but now it has been diverted and the gates have been closed so that the water also gets purified through basins. Otherwise, it used to get slit, solid waste and garbage along.

The authority had identified 50 to 60 springs in the catchment blocked by cow dung and out of them, Malik said 50 were restored and demarcated by Devri stones.

MULTIPLE PROJECTS

Presently two projects are being implemented in the lake: Rs 298 crore National Conservation of Lake and a state project for accusation of land and structures under PMRP worth Rs 356.30 crores, development of housing colony at Rakh e Arth at Rs 417.62 crores, development of Doldrum area for relocation and realignment of houseboats for Rs 29.50 crore, rejuvenation and conservation of Brari Nambal lagoon for Rs 16.91 crore.

“We have already constructed five STPs which have 100 percent connectivity,” Malik said. “A new STP with 30 MLD capacities is coming up. We have sent the proposal but have not been sanctioned so far. It will connect Tailbal, Shalimar areas.”

As early as September 2018, the LAWDA has informed the High Court that for the last 16 years, since the petition was filed against the encroachments in 2002 and the orders that followed runs into 13 volumes, Rs 759 crores were spent on conservation of the Lake and the infrastructural development for the affected dwellers of the water body.

In compliance to court directions, Jammu and Kashmir government has filed a status report attesting Rs 829.25 crore funds allocated by the state and central government. Of the Rs 400.96 crores which were allocated by the central government for conservation of the Dal Lake, Rs 359.93 crores have been spent so far. From state’s Rs 428.29 crore funds, the Authority has spent Rs 399.07 crores.

Under the Central Government’s National Lake Conservation Project (NLCP), Prime Minister’s Reconstruction Programme (PMRP), Rejuvenation of Brari Nambal Lagoon under AMRU, and Basic Services to Urban Poor, the state government has received Rs 295.85 crores, 83.18 crores, Rs 1.50 crores and Rs 20.43 crores, respectively.

Asserts an insider: “Around 65 percent of the money was utilized for the rehabilitation of Dal dwellers. Only 35 percent must have been used for conservation of the Dal.”

Malik said the sewerage zone 2A that includes Rainawari, Saida Kadal and Nowpora, the most  congested areas, is considered to be as a major source of pollution but it comes under UEED. They have considered seven  intermediate pump stations at Rs 25.64 crores under a project coming up under AMRUT and its deadline is set for June 2019.

2014 FLOODS

Post-September 2014 floods, the LAWDA officials claim the condition of lake has deteriorated and 2016 situation added to its crisis.  “When Jhelum breached near Ram Munshi Bagh, the muddy water got into our conservation section and it damaged the Dal’s gate and the water came inside Lake. Nalai Amir Khan gate is usually open so I thought it will take 50 percent of the rush of the water and the water surface increased from 19.5 to 21 feet level. That water got slit along and around 1ft of silt deposition happened which destroyed the Lotus stem, the Nadru,” Malik explained. “It took us at least one month to get the extra water out and we managed to revive the lake because of the glacier water. It was God’s miracle.”

Mechanical de-weeder in operation.

Mechanical de-weeder in operation.

After floods and the much-hyped project of dredging in BJPDP government, the state government ordered LAWDA to depute water master and dredgers to Jhelum on a complimentary basis. “It had an impact on machines as well, it needs to be assembled and dissembled for shifting from Dal Lake to Jhelum,” Malik said. “They had our operators, but the machines got to wear and tear.”

In 2016, when Kashmir remained shut for almost six months and had almost no tourist flow, the lake witnessed the bloom of red algae (harmful algal blooms). None of the shikaras were rowing on lake. “We had to run motor boats for aeration, and we had already got aerators that increased the efficiency,” Malik said.

To help the lake conservation, Malik believes they need at least 5 or 6 machines full time but they are working with just four. “We have to use them in intervals as we shift these machines from one place to another,” Malik said. “Till the time we go back to an earlier position, the requirement grows. I believe we have a requirement of at least 20 machines if we need a clear lake. Presently we just have Hazratbal and Nigeen clear, but when we move towards the pact at GD Goenka, that is a problem. It is not connected. All the drains in that locality are emptied into the lake.”

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