Famed Dal Lake may get new lease of life

The Dal, a famed lake at the heart of Kashmir’s holidaying industry which serves as a quiet host to thousands of tourists, has drastically degraded and its water has become unhealthy.
The lake may now get a new lease of life as Governor NN Vohra has taken a proactive position by ordering a series of corrective measures and scientific recourse to conserve it.
Once a favourite spot to shoot Bollywood songs, the Dal Lake is now a dirty shadow of its past and its large expanses are now covered with floating vegetation, weeds and cultivated land.
The increased human interference over the decades and the slow and unscientific conservation efforts have resulted in continuous degradation of the lake with the entry of sewage and high-nutrient load posing a major challenge to its existing ecosystem. Abdul Hafiz Shah, vice-chairman of the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority, said the lake faced “long-term problems” which needed “long-term solutions”. “In order to prevent sewage from the catchment area, we need a 30-MLD sewage treatment plant but we do not have money for it,” he said. The houseboats, which dump the sewage into the lake, have been put on notice of a month to install holding tanks, he added.
The houseboat owners have so far been reluctant to install the holding tanks but the authority officials have held negotiations with them and are nearing a “middle ground”, Shah said.
The lake, located at an average altitude of 1,583 metres, is spread over an area of 24.60 sq km of which only 15.41 sq km is an open expanse with submerged vegetation and more than 8 sq km being covered with floating vegetation and cultivated land. In recent weeks, Governor Vohra, who has been for the past two years pointing out the lake’s degradation, held a series of meetings to discuss the “rapidly increasing congestion” of the lake and also sought the help of the Indian Navy and the Dredging Corporation of India to identify and assess the problems faced by the lake.
The measures initiated by the Governor include a scientific recourse for the conservation of the lake and seeking opinions of experts for shaping a roadmap which can achieve “a positive outcome within a tight time frame”.
Rajesh Tripathi, chairman-cum-managing director of the Dredging Corporation of India, in his assessment, painted a grim picture of the lake and said its water quality had “deteriorated due to intense pollution caused by untreated sewage and solid wastes”. He also noted that the lake’s capacity had gone down due to silt and encroachment and the discharge from houseboats was causing “extreme pollution”.
Following the Governor’s proactive intervention, 600-700 skilled and 300-400 semi-skilled workers have been engaged in lily extraction, de-weeding and skimming activities who have removed 81,461 cubic metres of lily pads and 49,825 cubic metres of weed from the lake.
Governor Vohra, who undertook an extensive tour of the lake on Sunday, also ordered a number of measures to check the flow of sewage into the lake, including formulating a separate sanitation proposal for the houseboats.
The entry of sewage was described as a “major handicap” in the conservation of the lake last year by AR Yousuf, chairman of the scientific advisory committee for the conservation of lake and a former expert at the National Green Tribunal.
He said nothing had changed since. “You know how the governments work, it takes time,” he told Kashmir Post, ruing that governments have lacked a consistent approach. Yousuf said the concerns regarding the conservation of the lake remained the same “as they were 20 years ago when the problems started”. “It is the same story; the concerns are the same — encroachments have to be removed, siltation has to be cleared, sewage has to be stopped,” he said.

Several measures initiated
In recent weeks, Governor Vohra, who has been for the past two years pointing out the lake’s degradation, held a series of meetings to discuss the “rapidly increasing congestion” of the lake and also sought the help of the Indian Navy and the Dredging Corporation of India to identify and assess the problems faced by the lake
The measures initiated by the Governor include a scientific recourse for the conservation of the lake and seeking opinions of experts for shaping a roadmap which can achieve “a positive outcome within a tight time frame”