The heritage city of Srinagar is fast losing its shimmering waters due to rampant pollution and policy paralysis. As the muck and mess is amassing right under the nose of the authorities, the locals are staring at an imminent demise.
64-years old Zahida vividly remembers her childhood days when she used to bath and fetch drinking water for home from Tsoont Kole—a navigational canal running through the Srinagar city.
The water was so crystal clear, she recalled, that one could see face in it.
“For us,” she added, “the tributary was the makeshift mirror to groom our hair.”
Zahida was born and brought-up in Kanimazar area of the old Srinagar, known as the “Venice of East” for its shimmering and serpentine water bodies. Back then, she would find solace at the banks of the water body. But now, it breaks her heart to see its putrefying plight.
Tsoont Kole is presently gasping for breath, so do the other tributaries of the Dal Lake — that used to act like lungs for the iconic water body.
The streams are choked with garbage mostly polythene that could be seen piled up on the embankments as well as in the water.
Successive regimes, environment activists say, have failed to restore the glory of the pristine water bodies of Srinagar.
“In a place like Kashmir, when everything is dominated by politics and conflict, these things hardly get any space,” said Zareef A. Zareef, a chronicler once part of Kashmir’s ‘Chipko Movement’.
Zareef blamed “unchecked political corruption” in the successive governments and peoples’ ignorance towards religious and social values for the current situation of the water bodies.
“During my childhood days,” the chronicler continued, “Nallah Mar was an important link connecting the business centre of Srinagar. It was considered as a lifeline of the city. However, with the arrival of motor transport, it gradually lost its sheen.”
Also known as Mar Kol, Nallah Mar connected the Brari Nambal lagoon to the Khushal Sar lake and thus provided navigability between the Dal and Aanchar lakes. It was filled up and converted to a road in the 1970s. Environment activists and experts term the “mindless move” as a death-knell to the Dal Lake.
Today, most of the pristine water streams of Srinagar have become open dumping yards. From households to shops, everything and anything finds its way to these water channels.
According to a report by the Jammu and Kashmir State Pollution Control Board, Srinagar generates 201 million litres of sewage daily but has the capacity to treat only 53.8 million litres.
“Disposal of untreated sewage into the Dal Lake and Jhelum river is one of the main reasons for the degradation of the quality of the water,” the report explained.
The government has also failed to upgrade the three Sewage Treatment Plants (STP) around the lake, as recommended by the scientists from the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI).
To look after, manage and conserve water bodies and waterways of the erstwhile state, the Jammu & Kashmir Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) was created by the government of J&K as an autonomous body under development Act, 1970.
The management of the different streams and lagoons is one of the core responsibilities of the organisation.
However, activists blame LAWDA for deteriorating conditions of the water bodies.
Noted environmentalist, Dr Abdul Majeed Kak told Kashmir Observer that his repeated whistleblowing writings on the growing water body mess have been shrugged by the authorities.
“I’ve given many suggestions to LAWDA and other concerned authorities but nobody seems to be interested,” Kak said. “I am fed-up now.”
Terming Anchar Lake as a dead water body, the environmentalist described the condition of Khushal Sar, Gilsar and other tributaries flowing through the city very critical.
“People have constructed hundreds of washrooms on the banks of Tsoont Kole whose sewage goes directly into the stream,” said Kak.
When contacted, Tufail Matoo, vice chairman LAWDA, was not available for comments on the story.
Dr Manzoor A. Shah, Associate Professor, Department of Botany, Kashmir University told Kashmir Observer that the influx of the nutrients into the water bodies is also adding insult to injury.
“It’s difficult for the water bodies to cope-up with that high nutrient level,” Dr Shah, who is among the members of a working group formed by Kashmir University to ‘identify gaps’ in Dal Lake restoration, said.
“The government claims a counter action plan, but nothing concrete is happening on the ground.”
This inaction is being decried by the locals living in the vicinity of Sonar Koul in Srinagar.
“After 2014 floods, a dredging in the name of restoration was done,” said Khalid Shafi, a local trader. “And since then nobody seems bothered about the mess in the water body.”
At Tsoont Kole, local Mohammad Shaban, 58, blamed both the government as well as people for the degradation of water bodies in Srinagar.
“Any crisis should be tackled head-on,” Shaban said.
“There’s only one way to restore the lost aura of these water bodies,” he added. “Authorities should identify different sources of mess and tackle them on priority.”
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