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Is it time to write Dal Lake's epitaph?

Wednesday August 24, 2011 11:35:17 AM, Sheikh Qayoom, IANS

The Dal lake in Srinagar as it looks now

(Photo:  Zulfiqar Khan/IANS)

Srinagar: The Dal Lake, known as Srinagar's ecological lungs, has been under threat for a while now. Indeed, efforts to restore it to its pristine state are visible, but equally visible are attempts to destroy it.

One of the two new weed-harvesting machines, imported at quite a cost from the US, can be seen idling among the more attractive shikaras or houseboats. "This is supposed to be functional round the clock," a hydro biologist here says.

But what is the point? This one has run out of diesel and the operator waits for replenishment to arrive. Some of the older machines have been reduced to junk.

The Lakes and Waterways Authority, entrusted with saving the lake, imported these harvesters two months ago. "The machine and the barge cost around Rupees 1.2 crore each and the results have been quite encouraging," an engineer of the authority says.

He may be right. But experts and locals are cynical of whether this water body can be restored to its unsullied allure. Weeds are not the only problem. The level of pollution here can be 'felt'.

"You develop rashes and itching after you take a dip now," noted neurologist Sunil Razdan told IANS. "Our school used to take us for boating, swimming and other water sports in the Dal Lake regularly."

But now all that is as unimaginable for him as Srinagar itself will be without the lake.

"Some of the so-called weed harvesters, half sunk in the lake, are an ugly sight," retired veterinarian Bashir Ahmad War says. "The plight of these machines is a commentary on the plight of the lake itself."

Further, experts argue that official efforts are not properly prioritised.

"The biggest tragedy, for not only the Dal Lake but all of Srinagar, was the filling up of the Serpentine Canal (Nallah Mar) in the late 1960s, which provided natural drainage to the city and an outflow channel to the Dal Lake," said a senior retired urban engineer.

"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," he said while ruing the manner in which his suggestions have been ignored by the authorities.

Others blame the decline on encroachment, commercial establishments, increasing population around the lake, more houseboats and allied problems that the authorities have done little to check.

"Houseboat owners are even creating tea-stalls and lodgings," 45-year-old Dalgate resident Bashir Ahmad told IANS. He is referring to structures on stilts abutting the lake that are increasing.

Senior state government officials believe that the people living on the lake and along its banks must understand the seriousness of the problem; otherwise, the lake has no future.

"Unless people understand that Srinagar city will look like a desert without the Dal lake, nobody can do anything," a senior government official says.

Perhaps, frustrated by official efforts bearing no fruit, another officer in the chambers of the senior official says, "Dal Lake has become a bottomless pit into which millions and millions of the exchequer's money have been sunk so far without tangible results."

He could only be partly right. After all, the lake is becoming shallower with each passing day.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at





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