By Bashir A. Guroo / Tariq A Patloo
Ever since a PIL (People’s Interest Litigation) on Dal Lake was initiated in the High Court of Jammu & Kashmir, Srinagar more than a decade ago, the need for preservation of our lakes and waterways gathered unprecedented momentum.
Everybody seemed lamenting over the deterioration and depletion of our precious water resources. However, a particular community was injudiciously held responsible for polluting world famous Dal Lake. A vicious campaign to malign this forgotten community for the deterioration of this lake is now going on for last several years. Whereas the preservation of Dal Lake has become much focused, for unknown reasons, but anyone hardly talks about what happened to Anchar Lake, Gilsar Khushalsar and Chuntikul.
So, we feel it our duty to highlight some facts and bring forth the truth so that people will themselves judge as who are real culprits behind polluting our lakes and waterways.
To begin with, let us share the information that was made available to us by none other than the Divisional Engineer, Mechanical City Drainage Division of Srinagar Municipal Corporation under Right to Information (RTI) Act 2009.
The information reveals some frightful inputs on the management and disposal of sewerage of the Srinagar city. As per the data provided under RTI Act 2009, 80 pump stations, with a combined operational capacity of 1051 cusecs or 29732.85 liters per second, spread across the Srinagar City and on the suburbs are in operation round the clock. These pump stations collect raw sewage from underground sewers, storm water and discharge it in river Jehlum, Chuntikul and other water bodies untreated.
The approximate volume of discharge by these pumps is staggering 10,70,38,260 liters per hour. In addition to these 80 pump stations, there are nine more pumping stations which are operated and maintained by Urban Environment and Engineering Division (UEED) with operational capacity of 17.08 and 16.10 MLD (million liters per day) respectively.
According to the inputs given by the Executive Engineer Sewage and Drainage Division Ist UEED Srinagar, the sewage collected at these nine pumping stations is treated in two Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) at Brarinumbal before being flushed into river Jehlum via the Brarinambal cut. However, to the contrary, these inputs contradict the actual facts on ground. The truth is that both STPs at Brarinumbal do not work to their full capacity as these are shut down due to irregular power supply, most of the time. It has been observed that a large volume of sewage collected by the pumping station on the Boulevard is discharged untreated into Chuntikul near Dalgate Bridge rather than carrying it to Brarinumbal for treatment and final disposal.
Further, huge amount of untreated sewage is also being flown into Dal Lake through gravity drains on the Boulevard during power cuts or during a mechanical breakdown.
There are nine live drains found between Ansari Motors and Gawkadal which cater to these areas. The sewerage collected in underground sewer mains is flushed into Chuntikul through these drains at regular intervals. From the available inputs on the management and discharge of the sewage the picture that emerges is horrible. This reality cannot be denied that the future of our precious water resources is bleak and that we are heading for a catastrophe. The disaster is inevitable.
Now, coming to the issue of pollution of Dal Lake, the story is even more frightening. The present total area of the lake as per the satellite imaging is 27.339 kilometers. The shoreline is alarmingly receding due to encroachments on its periphery. The topography of this beautiful lake has undergone transformation over past several years, largely due to covert construction of macadamized motorable roads and concrete pedestrian mall in the interior of the lake.
This has seriously impacted its ecology and environment. It will not be an exaggeration to say that politicians are largely responsible for the deterioration of the topography of the lake as they perceive these areas as rich vote banks to cash on for petty political gains.
DPR for Conservation
In the year 2000, a survey on the conservation and management plan for twin Dal and Nageen Lakes was done by Alternate Hydro Energy Centre, University of Roorkee, for Lakes and Waterways Development Authority, LAWDA, Srinagar. The survey was sponsored by Ministry of Environment & Forests, Govt. of India. A Detailed Project Report (DPR) was duly published in the month of October of that year i.e.2000.
In the DPR all issues related to the conservation of Dal Lake were thoroughly discussed and evaluated and main problems facing the lake identified.
For instance, shrinking of the lake has been attributed to encroachments by hamlets towards western side of Dal Lake and floating gardens and reduction in volume to silting due to catchment area degradation.
Similarly, the sources of pollution have been listed as being multiple. Some of these are increasing number of lake dwellers, entry of untreated sewage and solid waste from the peripheral areas and from hamlets and houseboats and agricultural return flow from catchment into the lake, clogging of water channels within the lake which has lead to reduced circulation, reduction of fresh water flow into the lake and excessive weed growth due to nutrient rich water and sediment and change in bio-diversity, substantial quantity of polythene bags and high amount of compostable material generated by peripheral areas. The survey thoroughly addresses all these issues.
From the observations made in DPR of October 2000, it can be deduced that houseboats are not the prime source of pollution of Dal Lake.
The DPR further reveals that 15 drains were identified during the survey which brought an inflow of waste water and sewage around 40 million liters daily into Dal Lake. Sixteen long years have passed since the DPR was made public and it is likely that during the intervening period the number of these drains might have gone up. From the careful study of DPR, the solid waste generated in human settlements within the lake and on the periphery of the lake was identified as being contributory factor for the deterioration of Dal.
The statistical data collected during survey reveal that 38000 people were residing in Dal Lake at the time survey was made. Of these 10,000 persons lived in houseboats/doonga boats whereas 2,20,000 people were living on the periphery of the lake, contributing to the pollution of the Lake through `indiscriminate disposal of solid waste into the lake water.
Fifty seven streams around the Dal Lake were also covered in the survey which once carried fresh water from springs to the lake joining nearby drains before reaching the lake in a highly polluted form.
The content of Phosphorus (main constituent of pollution) from point sources (Telbal and other nallahs and sewage drains, according to DPR was calculated to be 56.36 tons/year whereas flow from non source points including flow from houseboats and farmers living in lake figured 4.5 tons of Phosphates and 18.14 tons of nitrogen/years.
Quoting the inputs based on the Socio-Economic survey jointly conducted by UEED and LAWDA for collecting information about lake dwellers in 1980, the DPR put the number of houseboats at 775, doonga boats 328 with total occupied area at 1,39,716 sq.m or 0.1397 square kilometers whereas the number of pucca houses (4210) and huts (3493) occupied 2,48,120 sq.m of floor area respectively.
It is worth mentioning that the number of houseboats in Dal Lake witnessed considerable decline over last 15 years as more than 100 of them decomposed and sank and were never allowed to be rebuilt due to ban in force on the construction or re-construction of houseboats or doonga boat. So far as doonga boats are concerned those are now extinct.
The conservation measures recommended by the University of Roorkee in 2000 were not seriously put into practice by LAWDA and other concerned government agencies.
For instance, mechanical harvesting of weeds continues to be unsystematic and not as per the recommended guidelines as envisioned in the survey. Similarly, guidelines for the treatment of sewage and its final disposal were not followed. Encroachment inside Dal and on its periphery continues unchecked. And sewerage drains around the lake – especially found in areas like Dalgate, Miskeen Bagh, Jogilanker, Naiyadyar, Saida Kadal, Pokhribal, Gilsar and Khushalsar continue depositing tons of phosphorus and nitrogen into it round the clock.
Last but not the least among the prominent factors that contributed to the poor circulation and flow of water was the replacement of traditional needle type lock system at Dalgate and at Nallah Ameer Khan exit points by motor-driven shutter type locks.
Needle type lock system was built by a distinguished British Engineer Lord Avery about 110 years ago. This time-tested system, which is still widely used in waterways in England and many other countries in Europe, proved highly ingenious for a well controlled and calibrated release of water from Dal Lake. So, it has become imperative that the rusted shutter locks be replaced and former needle type lock system be restored at earliest at both exit points of Dalgate and Nallah Ameer Khan.