Sukhna Lake and Dal Lake

One is fresh and living, the other dull and dying!

During the last more than three decades I may have visited Chandigarh many times, but my wish to visit its most prominent landmarks—Sukhna Lake and Nek Chand’s Rock Garden materialised only last week.
Sukhna Lake created in the year 1958 is just one more man-made water body to harvest the runoff water from Shivalik hills catchment area. Created by Chandigarh’s designer Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier this well planned water reservoir portrays the sense of taste and foresight of this legendary urban planner. A stroll on well-maintained landscaped bank of Sukhna Lake reminds me of my own Dal Lake. Sukhna is nowhere close to Dal in anyway—natural scenic beauty, quality feeding water, but in the same breath we should concede that present Dal lake is nowhere close to Shkhna’s health, excellent management and its proper maintenance regimen. While Dal is a natural water body with huge catchment and water surface area, Sukhna is artificial Lake with limited catchment and water surface area of three square kilometers only. But with all limitations of natural beauty, hydrological cycle and other obstacles Sukhna is surviving not only because of proper planning and foresightedness of its planners, but commitment of its managers, managing this lake with dedication and honesty.

Sukhna experiment proves that people never encroach or interfere in nature unless they are encouraged and facilitated to do so. Otherwise Sukhna would have been a great feast for real estate mafia. And this hypothesis holds true for Dal as well. We know Dal is a multifaceted water body with many complex hydrological structures and a sizable population attached to it. But if we look into the annals of history, only half a century earlier Dal was a magnificent water body serving ecological and hydrological purpose of not only Srinagar city and its population but the whole valley for that matter. What made Dal to strive and struggle for survival? Obviously, over the period of time the official apathy and our greed that was encouraged by few unscrupulous elements within the supervision arrangement brought Dal to the brink of collapse. For the last several decades we claim doing everything to save Dal, but regrettably it is nowhere close to any revival. Dal is not a simple water body; it has its own natural cycle which requires a vigilant ecological monitoring and hydrological surveillance and least machine-driven intervention. Unfortunately, all these aspects lack in our scheme of Dal revival. At Sukhna while planning they acquired vast area of land in the foothills of Shivalik to treat catchment area with proper vegetation, while Dal catchment is losing its vegetation to uncontrolled illegal constructions and unrelenting man-machine interventions.

Dal is not only the victim of official apathy and people’s greed, but political victim as well. Vote bank politics, ensuring safe political constituency and several other political reasons are the biggest obstacles in relocation and resettlement of Dal dwellers. During last three decades this Dal dweller mystery spiraled into a huge problem that is not only eating the Dal, but draining coffers of the state too. The present state of Lake is worst by all standards and is deteriorating with every passing day. Encroachments within and in the vicinity of Lake clandestinely sponsored by some LAWDA (Lakes and Waterways Development Authority) agents is now an open story. Even Judicial activism and opposition from conservation activists could not discourage this defacement. Earlier encroachment was limited within the Lake and could have been easily managed once Dal dwellers would get relocated. But now encroachment on banks and in catchment area of Lake is choking the vitals of ecology and hydrological cycle of this once beautiful Lake.
Some people, particularly the so-called hydrological experts associated with Dal will mock at me for getting Sukhna Lake in between while raising pathetic condition of Dal. But it is a fact that professional administration, limited but scientifically proven interventions and proper biodiversity management at Sukhna, otherwise meant for natural water bodies is an eye-opener for Dal managers. And while working on Dal Sukhna can be considered as case study for chalking out a multi-dimensional strategy for Dal restoration and conservation. Alas! When somebody dares to raise Dal issue and undefined role of LAWDA in reviving and conserving Dal a barrage of voices sponsored by LAWDA overtly and covertly come to defame and demean such people.