We are losing a great asset. Before it finally dies, let’s wake up!
British representative Francis Younghusband in his book ‘Kashmir’, narrates about splendor of Dal Lake. Francis writes, “The Dal Lake, with the canal leading into it, and the various gardens on its shores, is one of the chief attractions of the neighborhood of Srinagar. It is always lovely, but perhaps at no season more beautiful than early May——- The water is so still and so clear that the reflections of surrounding mountains are seen as in the most polished mirror. The reflected mountain is as sharp and distinct as the mountain itself. The luxuriant plant growth from the bottom and the numerous fishes are seen as in clear air”. Many other travelers and visitors to Kashmir have drawn a majestic picture of Kashmir and Dal in their travelogues, notes and books. But, Younghusband has portrayed the majesty and natural state of Dal in a splendid way and in very a few lines.
After more than hundred years of stride towards empowerment, progress and transformation, presently Dal stands no where near the benchmark of attractiveness as visualized by Francis Younghusband in the year1908. Existing Dal has not only shrunk in area and physical health but its charm and majesty has all vanished. First half of the twentieth century experienced very little degradation of Dal Lake, but post 1947 era and aura of emancipation did not suit well to ‘Dal’. So, it started its journey of dissolution towards death, a death brought by its own people, who would otherwise derive part of their earnings, pleasure and wellbeing from the magnificent waters of this Lake. After independence, materialist devil within the people was the first to enjoy its freedom and plunder on ecological wealth of lakes, waterways, pastures and attention-grabbing environs of the valley. With support from neo- political order and materialist elite this perpetual environmental loot has by now mount into huge quantities of ecological plunder. ‘Dal’ as most prominent environmental structure of Kashmir faced much of the vandalistic brunt.
After extensive damage to Dal and its environ; gradual extinction of flora and fauna in its vicinity, state and federal governments came out of deep slumber to save and restore the pristine glory of this world famous water body. A multi pronged strategy of restoration and conservation of Dal Lake was devised under the aegis of environment ministry giving shape to ‘Dal Development Authority’. Many plans and strategies were put into action by this authority, but practically did almost nothing on ground to address the root cause of Dal decay. The superficial measures of Dal conservation instead of improving its health and life pushed Dal into the oblivions of apathy and cycle of corruption. Over the period of time Dal development authority soon turned into a money spinning agency; encouraging its masters to broaden its contours of corruption and pillage by metamorphosing into ‘Lakes and waterways development authority’ (LAWDA). With vast area of operation, enormous patronage and huge funding from the central government and substantial allocation out of state budget, LAWDA was supposed to deliver wonders but got off the hinges. This conversion led to burial of all earlier carcass of deception. Unfortunately, a project of national importance and interest was suffocated with unbridled corruption and left to die its own steady death. For last more than a decade LAWDA is running this project with all fresh assurances of revival with every passing financial year, but on ground they seem to have conceived a novel idea to showcase the Dal. They have practically caged the remains of Dal with several of its obituaries embedded on its shores, passed on as foundation stones and commemorative plaques.
Dal is dying! It is a fact now. From earlier indigenous dredging and weed harvesting to modern imported dredging cum weed harvesting machines, Dal responds to none. Why? From the day one every effort and step towards Dal conservation was laden with loads of nepotism and corrupt mindset. The people who created a chaotic environmental situation out of once stunning Dal after inception of ‘Awami Raj’ turned Dal development into a lucrative business of minting money and wielding clout. Dal has reduced not only in size but its existing shrinking area is fast turning into a cesspool of filth, waste and other residual material. Its catchment area on all sides is devoid of any vegetative cover and plantation, a prerequisite for continuous recharging and sustenance of any active water body. Instead of vegetation and plantation its catchment area is growing concrete jungle of human habitations. This process has not come about overnight, but has flourished under the nose of regulatory authorities, LAWDA being one of them and the prominent one. For last two decades the whole landscape on the peripheries of Dal Lake has changed enormously, but for the worst and LAWDA has failed over and over to check this defacement. To boast regarding achievements and beating the `Clean Dal’ drum is nothing but rhetoric. Mowing terminal parts of Dal weeds and stirring polluted and putrefied waters of Dal with mechanical aerators is nothing but superficial acts of deception and fraud. It is Kashmir’s natural beauty; location of Dal and its ambiance that is playing its role in hiding our follies, otherwise the ugly face of Dal is staring starkly on our face.
No one can deny the efforts of many people within the Dal restoring agencies, but either they were knowingly sidelined or their faulty strategy could not yield the desired results (as desired by the nation, not by the political oligarchy of plunderers and swindlers). Over the period of time many sincere but inexperienced technocrats and so-called marine science specialists turned Dal into a laboratory for trying their random methods of conservation and improving biodiversity features of the Lake. From age-old manual de-weeding to mechanical measures and flip-flop to square one is simple hit and trial method and people can not afford this fiddling with its precious assets of enormous environmental significance? Plan of relocating Dal dewellers to far off flood catering basin of ‘Rakhe Arath’ is nothing but ‘Asmaan se gira Khajoor ma atka’. We are losing Dal and now we will be losing a precious and much needed flood water basin. A simple social audit and evaluation of planning and execution procedures of Dal conservation program by a layperson can lead us to many skeletons of ill-conceived projects left either halfway or abandoned after flawed completion. It is amazing! For the last more than a decade LAWDA is unable to plug few main trunk sewers and other drains emptying into Dal. Many of their STPs (Sewerage Treatment Plant) are either nonfunctional due to incompletion of feeding sewers pipeline or do not function as per the standing procedures of operation. A cursory look on the achievements of LAWDA, particularly in the interiors of Dal will reveal the factual position. And nation must know.
The biggest paradox of Dal conservation agenda of our agencies is their approach and strategy. They treat Dal exclusively a physical problem and are trying to restore it with steel and concrete. Whereas, Dal is an ecological tragedy with few patches of physical degradation and can be restored only with an eco-friendly regimen of restoring its biodiversity, fragile environs and above all ensuring curb on any future brute intervention into the Lake system by invoking both legal and administrative provisions.