Schemes, plans, money and all, but no action
As young kids our elders made us believe that Sopore and its adjoining areas will experience doomsday a decade earlier than the rest of the world. How far it proves correct, I could never get a satisfactory answer? But, the present state of affairs of our ecosystem, and the way we vandalize our forests; deface and denude pastures; encroach and pollute water bodies: my elders are bound to prove right not only in case of Sopore alone, but for the whole of Kashmir as well. We are fortunate enough, for having bestowed with enough of natural wealth and beauty and our water bodies are like jewels in beautiful crown of—Kashmir valley. Wular Lake (Mahapadmasar), the most prominent water body of Kashmir is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. Nearly, elliptical in shape, the Lake is located towards the north end of the valley in the catchment area of erstwhile Khuihama pargana (presently Bandipora district) spread up to Sopore and adjoining Zaingeer the Lake varies in size (aquatic area) depending on the season. River Jhelum eternal companion of Wular flows into Wular on its eastern side near the middle of the Lake, leaving it at its south-west corner. Numerous species of fish and water-nut (Singhara) within the Lake provide livelihood to many people living in the vicinity of the Lake.
Presently, the onetime ‘Mahapadmasar’ is dying because of our greed and administrative apathy and is marred by extensive pollution and encroachments. Earlier, Wular acted as efficient basin for floodwaters, maintaining a balance in the hydro-graphic system in the Valley, Kamraj area in particular; but now the situation will be different at the time of any future huge floods. Previously, the lake with its associated wetlands served as a significant habitat for migratory birds within Central Asian flyway and supported rich biodiversity in the area. At the moment the Lake has shrunk to mere 250 odd square kilometres due to massive encroachments and siltation. After conniving denudation of nearby catchment area of its precious forest cover, leading to continuous influx of silt turning a large chunk of the water body into a land mass; ill-conceived social forestry cover over thousands of acres within the Lake area is the glaring example of administrative mismanagement and indifference. Due to plantation within the Lake, water circulation and navigation, the most significant features for health of the Lake, has almost ceased, particularly on the peripheries of the Lake.
The murky international political status of Kashmir also had its toll on the Wular. Under the camouflage of Indus water treaty, rejection of Tulbul Project a ‘navigation lock-cum-control structure’ at the mouth of Wular Lake, by Pakistan, is the outcome of hostility in the region. By objecting to Tulbul barrage Pakistan tried to pester India, but in fact robed people of Kashmir of their right of self-reliance. Ramsar Convention an international treaty for the conservation and sustainable utilization of wetlands, to which Pakistan is a party, has declared Wular a wetland of international importance. This treaty should provide an occasion to Pakistan to reconsider its earlier decision in the best interest of Wular Lake and people of Kashmir. After, Wular Lake was listed with wetlands of international importance under the aegis of Ramsar Convention (held in Ramsar town of Iran) the central government two years ago contemplated a contingency plan to conserve the Lake and promised a substantial financial support for the project. Central government under ministry of environment and forests in its 13th finance commission award has sanctioned twelve hundred million rupees for conservation and restoration of Wular. It is a welcome step. But, without proper expertise and competent executing agency all this money will go down the River Jhelum and ‘Mahapadmasar’ will turn into ‘corruption-sar’! .