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

A different perspective on Dal from the Lakes and Waterways Developmental Authority (LAWDA)

Is Dal Really Dying?

Srinagar: Irfan Yaseen remembers the mid 90s when the Dal Lake was barely alive; being eaten and without a future. “The psyche here is that we hold no responsibility for anything,” said Yaseen, who took over as Vice Chairman of Lakes and Waterways Developmental Authority in 2008.

More than a decade later, a common person walking on the shores of Boulevard and looking into the waters, still sees weeds everywhere. His first words are those of dismay: “This lake is dead, and the people managing it are corrupt.”

“This cynicism that nothing has changed, is the real problem,” said Yaseen, who believes that negative news coverage and ignorance regarding conservation efforts waste all the good work his department and government have been doing from the past few years.

The primary source of pollution to the Dal Lake comes from within, and from the catchment areas that dump thousands of cubic sewage and sediments, as well as “some of the nastiest containments ever,” claims Showket Ali, JE, LAWDA, who has been engineering works of the department inside the lake for over 8 years.

This summer the State government has procured four new machines worth Rs 6.5 Crore, in an ongoing effort to bring the Dal Lake back to health. There are 15 machines which dredge and clean the lake seven days a week from 6am till 9 in the evening. The State government is also continuing to work on a project worth Rs. 356 Crore to rehabilitate the Dal dwellers.

“Right now we are implementing a conservation project that has been designed by IIT Roorkee, the aims of this venture being to tackle the problem of conservation from multiple dimensions,” said Yaseen.

Under the design, sewage that directly goes into the Lake and enriches the water body with nitrate and phosphorus, will be checked through sewage treatment plants.

Dal Lake by nature is a macro Fertility Lake that promotes vegetation. “To have flora inside the lake is not bad, but the problem is the excessive weed growth,” said Yaseen.

LAWDA officials say that they are encouraged by the progress they have made even before the peak season of work begins. Yaseen too, who now overlooks and plans the entire work with a team, said that he is expecting reduced water pollution into the Lake by the end of this year.

“We have stopped more than 80 percent of direct sewage going into the Lake, and by the end of this year there will be no toxic wastes coming into the Lake from catchment areas,” said Yaseen.

Under this scheme all the catchment areas that start from Dal Gate to the city periphery in Habbak, will be connected to sewage treatment plants, and when ready, will treat 36 million litres of water per day. As of now, 16 million litres of water are been filtered and Yaseen is confident that by the end of this year, the whole capacity will be build for sewage treatment.

At a briefing, officials from LAWDA described plans to begin the dredging of 28 channels, most of which are presently blocked due to sediment and encroachment.

For the experts, however, the fundamental problem for the overall preservation of the Lake comes from its dwellers, which are around 6000 families. According to Yaseen, there are still 58 localities which live inside the lack, and for their rehabilitation, a place called Rakh-e-Arth is being constructed over 7000 canals with all modern facilities that, when completed in 2015, will be a state of the art facility.

Many locals think that the project should be moving faster, and are especially worried about the interiors. In the 1990s, the lake was so toxic, polluted and encroached from all ends, but since then so many illegal localities, parks, and structures have been removed, increasing the Lake’s area from 18.7 square km in 2004 to 21.53 square kilometres, says Ali.

To prevent siltation, a process by which soil and other sediments get deposited into the Lake, the department plans to plant 16 lakh trees in the catchment area in the space of two years.

One thing that has always haunted LAWDA are charges of corruption and malpractices. “If the projects are implemented and worked on ground, the question of corruption on LAWDA is answered,” said Yaseen, who believes that the corruption in LAWDA is more perception based than reality. “Unfortunately, we are in direct confrontation with the people, and when we stop them from encroaching, vested interest always plays against us,” said Yaseen, admitting that there is some degree of corruption at certain levels, particularly in the lower ranks. “If anybody is aware of such happenings he should file a complaint or go for RTI.”

In this regard, LAWDA has also set up a website that gives details of procurement, contracts and purchase of equipment and other issues.

The Dal Lake is a national spotlight due to its historical, cultural and ecological significance. Its main problem, however, has been encroachment, untreated sewage and general carelessness from some quarters of society.

“The only untreated sewage which goes into the lake now comes from the houseboats,” said a LAWDA official who wished anonymity. According to him the houseboats community is a very powerful lobby as they know how to benefit from vote bank politics.

“Removing Dal dwellers is a very difficult task, but to move the houseboats even an inch is next to impossible.”
(Rising Kashmir)