Dal And Demolitions

The dismal picture the High Court-appointed commissioners have presented of enforcing a check on illegal constructions in and around the Dal Lake reveals either an ingrained culture of administrative apathy or a deliberate loss of interest in saving the shrinking water body from eventual destruction. In their first report on Tuesday, the commissioners, who had been appointed earlier this month, have truly made what the amicus curiae in the case has termed as “astonishing” disclosures: the number of police personnel accompanying the LAWDA’s demolition squads has been reduced from the original 25 to just five; the Enforcement Wing has just two functioning motorboats, and its only JCB is out of order. What is more, the police rarely ever takes measures to curb illegal vehicular ingress and egress into the lakes prohibited areas during the night, thus allowing unhindered flow of construction material, obviously in lieu of a generous consideration. The report points out that many illegal constructions are untouched though some have been pulled down in certain areas, and that most FIRs lodged have been the new enforcement officer’s doing, with no credit going to the police.

Tasked with regular monitoring of the ban the High Court had placed on construction in the designated zones in July 2002, the commissioners have yet to tackle the other aspects of their mandate like earth filling and discharge of untreated effluents by “commercial establishments” virtually choking the lake to death. But their pointed stress on the need for “looking into the wealth amassed by LAWDA officials” has its own tale to tell – a tale true of the state’s official apparatus across the board, with hardly any surprises for the public. Central funds announced at various stages for the lake’s conservation are now said to total a whopping Rs 1,000 crores, accounting, among other things, for a plan to relocate nearly 11,000 families from its peripheries to upper Srinagar areas. Media reports in February, quoting sources, suggest that a minuscule 90 families had been shifted so far, with LAWDA officials pleading “lack of public support” for the project rolled out in 2006.

A lack of clarity on the number of illegal structures, the extent of encroachment, and lake shrinkage, coupled with failures to check the flow of untreated effluent into its waters and indiscriminate commercialization can only hasten the Dal’s death. Due to a young law student’s efforts in 2002 to move the courts over the lake’s alarming condition, the HC has passed a slew of directions to goad the state’s moribund administrative machinery into action, and has had actually to take the lake into its (the HC’s) custody in March 2009. The commissioners’ report highlighting the decrepit state of the LAWDA’s Enforcement Wing six years on sheds adequate light on the seriousness and priority governments in J and K have accorded to saving what they never tire of selling to the world as the city’s pride and glory.