“ There is nothing new in world except the history you do not know.” – Harry Truman

Imaad is a young man with a passion to see his birthplace restored to its pristine condition. But as things stand, even a return to environmental and ecological conditions that prevailed in 1980’s is a dream. He writes about Pahalgam and the Dal

(Mr. Mir Imaad Rafi, 20, was born in Srinagar. He completed his high schooling from the Delhi Public School (DPS), Srinagar, and is presently a 2nd year Law (B.A. LLB) Student at the Symbiosis Law School in Pune. He recently started a civil society group in Kashmir that assists youth of Kashmir by providing career counselling to students, inviting guest speakers, and reaching out to schools in remote areas of the valley to encourage interest in knowledge and proper education. In leisure time, Mr. Rafi interacts with people to comprehend public thoughts on issues of interest, and writes about social and environmental issues in leading English dailies published from Srinagar.)

Pahalgam – a Lost Paradise

In a state where there is a lot of talk about tourism industry, a viable tourism policy and implementation of current laws on ground seems to have taken a hike. Pahalgam, one of the most preferred tourism destinations in the world is gradually turning ugly due to sheer mismanagement by authorities. Men who vandalize nature have no interest in maintaining the balance in ecology. His aim is to suffice his own needs. Here comes the role of government which needs to counter such actions and protect the environment.

With much fanfare Pahalgam development Authority (PDA) came into being in 2003. It was expected that PDA will serve the purpose with what intention the government constituted it. Unfortunately the development authority got embroiled in the usual red tape and its inefficiency has led to what we see today, massive illegal constructions.
Currently, the tourism department has extended the limits of PDA to the lower villages of Pahalgam but it forgot to question its achievements in its earlier jurisdictions. People have witnessed illegal constructions under the nose of PDA officials. Some say that it’s a nexus between the land mafia and the officials. It seems as if the illegal constructions have overshadowed the pace with which the development authority would issue the permission.
The basic flaw in the whole system is of monitoring. When the authorities grant permission for repair to any structure, it usually gets misused. It was primary duty of PDA to cease the construction and take lawful action against the violators but it didn’t happen. Already having sufficient bed capacity, many hotels came up without any permission. Pertinently the hoteliers curbed the existing laws as they enjoyed proximity to the government. The centralization of powers has led to abuse of power which has not only led to large scale failure but the genuine concerns of the local villagers who are unaware of their basic rights have been ignored.

In such a scenario, one could imagine working of a typical corruption stuck government department. Now the extended jurisdiction would only mean extra icing on the cake for the officials who would leave no stone unturned to disobey the position they hold. Mufti led government, with an idea to promote tourism at local level and to empower the local population, gave permission for converting residential houses into boarding lodges as is a practice in the U.K but the locals misunderstood the concept and did the reverse which resulted in mushroom growth of structures.
Delhi Municipal Corporation which takes the violators’ head on and have taken on the mighty. Powerful business houses have been demolished be it the Haldiram’s food outlet or any other showroom, every illegal building has been removed. Therefore, there is special need to replicate such steps here in Kashmir particularly in Pahalgam.
With the Pahalgam ecology under threat, some locals who approached the honourable court with a PIL staying ban on constructions and other works, paved way to some extent but at the same time it deprived the poor people of shelter needs as in winter season their structures get damaged. The PIL was filed with mollified interests to satisfy their political agenda but the honourable High Court’s strict orders and constituting a one man committee proved successful when it came to deal with the encroachers. With support from the court, the development authority could have strengthened its roots in Pahalgam and administer it better. But to no surprise the authority’s functioning led to further deterioration in administration as the concerns of the needful were left unnoticed. And the losers in all this were the tourism players particularly hotels.

For a tourist it makes no difference whether the repair has been done or not, he pays to enjoy the services of a hotel and make best use of it during the stay. The unanswered call of the hotel industry brought a bad name to Pahalgam tourism. Although one witnessed Bollywood’s presence in the scenic valley be it Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar or Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Pahalgam has played a vital role in revival of Bollywood. Much recently Actors Aliyah Bhat and Randeep Hooda have shot across the lengths of Pahalgam. Thus reviving its connection with the film industry.

Government’s political approach towards Pahalgam was unexpected as we saw closure of amusement park on grounds of environmental concern while as hundreds of hotels without proper STPs whose drainage directly pollutes the river lidder have been given permission to operate. The concern of the government was so one sided that it led the honourable court to intervene into matters of public concern. We must thank the judiciary for its necessary action and taking suo motto cognizance of the worrisome situation.

I hope the honourable high court would take cognizance of it and try to evolve a strategy which benefits both ecology and the tourism players. Secondly the locals must also understand the value of the green gold for the ecological imbalance would lead to an inevitable disaster for the future generations.

Dal Needs a Vision not Rhetoric

Our inheritance, the majestic Dal Lake with a history of over hundreds of years is losing its charm by every sunset. The Dal, which used to attract thousands of tourists every year to the Valley, is no more the recipient of compliments. Today one hesitates to stand by the Dal shore as the smell doesn’t allow one to enjoy the charm of the Dal wrapped in arms of the Himalayas.

Our actions and the persistent silence over the dying Dal have lead to what it is today, from being 75 sq km; Dal has shrunk to 25 sq km in area and from 45 ft to 20 ft in depth. These indicators play a secondary role as compared to the continuing activities in and around the Dal which habitats almost 50,000 people who demand property rights on 300 hectares of agricultural land and 670 hectares of water area.

The number of establishments mushroomed around the Dal such as commercial buildings, restaurants, hotels and guesthouses which lack proper drainage facilities have contributed to the reduction in the size of the lake. There are a number of factors which promote the growth of the weeds in the lake which according to the authoritative survey is responsible for its deterioration. According to an international survey, it is said that if weeds cover more than 25% of the surface of a lake then there should be implementation of weed control. 

Unfortunately our state without any concept and expertise, using a single method went on to serve the cause. Starting from non-technical methods to prevent growth of weeds, the presence of livestock around the Dal is a major concern as their fecal wastes and other pollutants around the surface adds as manure to the weeds. Therefore, excluding livestock from the lake will significantly reduce water-weed problem.

In places like Hyderabad, Hussain Sagar Lake has fencing all around its circumference, thus preventing pollution by visitors and locals. The same can be adopted in Kashmir around Dal and other lake bodies. Secondly, the agricultural activities undertaken by the inhabitants of Dal also contribute to the growth of weed. In the interiors of Dal, their are small pieces of agricultural land with trees along the borders, which shed leaves and branches into the water. This adds to the build-up of organic bottom trash, the same is a common practice in the interiors of the Dal. The use of fertilizers on agricultural land by them is hazardous as ultimately the fertilizers are drained off in the lake and again manure the sediments of the deadly weeds. 

Thousands of houseboats that host a major chunk of our tourist influx is without any sewage solutions, its ironical that in the 21st century, we still stand primitive, without any remedy and action. In my opinion, after every thirty houseboats a portable odor free sewage plant should be installed or mounted on a wooden base and the same shall be transported to the shore where there is a nearest Sewage Treatment Plant (STP). This will encourage eco tourism and also help in regaining the pristine beauty of the Dal. The hotels around the Dal too can install portable odor free STPs jointly which do not occupy much space and energy. Such portable STPs are available not so far but in states like Maharashtra.

Besides that we need to imbibe in ourselves the passion to save the environment and avoid practices which pollute the lake. It is to be noted that the lack of government commitment, insufficient cohesive academic research centered on in understanding the importance and essence of conservation and management of the Dal, owing to financial constraints and required expertise is an issue.
There are a number of ways for preventing weeds besides the mechanical harvesting which is adopted by the authorities. The accumulation of rich organic bottom materials feeds the weed and algae growth. Eventually something must be done either natural or biological to reverse the build up of these bottom materials and other sediments or the entire lake will reduce to a swamp. The organic bottom deposits rob the water of valuable oxygen that fish and other organisms need for health and growth. This will also affect the flora of the Dal. The Decomposing water weeds can deplete the oxygen supply, resulting in fish kills due to suffocation. Dense plant growths can provide too much cover, preventing predation, and leading to stunted (small-sized) fish populations

Over the years, many new methods have been developed for controlling the weed. When the water level is dropped, it exposes some of this material to the air, sun, and freezing. This allows the material to break down much faster in the air, while drying and freezing kills many of the rooted aquatic weeds. The organic bottom material is what supports the weed and algae growth that causes so much trouble in lakes. The level should be dropped to expose as much of the bottom area as practical and maintainable for the survival of the fishes. 

The white Amur fish (grass carp) are weed eating fish that are native to the Amur river of China and Russia with ability to control moss and weeds at a wider range of temperatures than most other fish. They have been utilized in order to regain the dying lakes across the world and presented successful results in places like Arizona. A three kilogram white amur can eat nearly three-quarters of its weight in weeds every day. Machine cleaning of weeds has become a rare occurrence in other countries since the fish were introduced. This translates to saving additional maintenance costs. The Fish can save the government hundreds of crores in annual operating costs and promote innovative and environment friendly water management practices.

The Dal authorities should develop catchment areas and fish grates on experimental basis with sterile fishes. If found successful, then the same can be done on a larger scale. Reducing light penetration is another factor in limiting weed growth, as the direct sunlight supports their growth so the water can be darkened with commercially available nontoxic water dyes to color the water in order to reduce light penetration and shade out nuisance plants.

It is, therefore, the need of the hour to approach professionals available across the globe who have achieved successful results in lake conservation and outsource can be viable option for the same.