By Syed Iliyas Ali Rizvi & Masrat Jan
Modern society is vulnerable to environmental degradation, in general, and human health, in particular. The forests are shrinking, deserts are expanding, soils are eroding, the levels of carbon dioxide and other heat trapping gases in the atmosphere continue to build in all too predictable manner. Planning land use, projecting food production, and assessing human effect on climate – all depends on understanding the major control on environmental variability. Water Pollution adversely changes the quality of water. Across Kashmir , water quality in our lakes and river systems has reached critical crisis proportions. On the basis of the findings of the studies done, the major sources of our water pollution are: sewage and discharge of domestic and industrial waste. Thus, it is critical to understand some aspects of environmental issues in our Kashmir in order to study the potential effects of “Kashmir’s Future Environmental Disasters”. One such example is Khoshal Sar.
Khoshal Sar – literally meaning “Lake of Happiness” has been a famous lake of old Srinagar city’s Shahar – e – Khaas. Through its historical journey, the name itself refers to the healthiest and flourishing lake has been once famous for its picturesque, scenic beauty and cool breeze. Through Khushalsar, people in past would use water transport – Shikaras and Dongas – for navigation and go to picnics and various places like even to famous Sufi of Qamar Sahab, Ganderbal. Records show that even tourists from Dal and Nageen lakes used to pass through Nallah e Ammer Khan and via Khushalsar into Anchar Lake. People would bathe and swam in the clear lake and even would drink its pure tasty waters. Being considered as the hub of the most mouthwatering Kashmiri Nadur cultivation, our famous ‘Khoshal Sar’ has seen tremendous pressure for the past few decades. The lake is in a highly deteriorated condition and is now battling for survival due to massive encroachments and land filling.
Khoshali to Badhali …. …
Located northwest of Srinagar between Zadibal and Soura, the Khushalsar Lake is a part of Anchar Lake, the second largest water body of Srinagar. The lake receives water from Dal Lake via Nageen Lake though Nallah e Ammer Khan and is interconnected to another lake, Gilsar – “Gulsar”, via a narrow strait spanned by a bridge named Gil Kadal. Scores of springs scattered throughout its area would be another major source of lake water. The Gilsar Lake is in turn connected to the Anchar Lake. Its surface elevation is 1,582m (5,190 ft). As per the survey conducted by the Kashmir University Earth Sciences Department, there has been nearly 40 percent decrease in the size of this lake during last five decades. In year 1965, it was spread over a sprawling 0.96 square kilometers, but now it has been left to mere 0.60 square kilometers which is an alarming sign for environmentalists owing to its importance in the biodiversity. Khushalsar once stretched up to Ze’inmar, Ali Masjid and was linked up with Anchar Lake.
Haven for Migratory Birds
Khoshalsar has been literally the heaven of migratory birds. The lake has been always first priority of these guest birds, which come from different parts of the world to visit the valley during winters. Every year, Khoshalsar has been home to thousands of such birds. As per reports, almost 250,000 migratory birds, in flocks, would fly from as far as Siberia, Europe and Kazakhstan and visit Khoshalsar. Migratory birds including mallards, common teals, gadwalls, pintails, coots, graylag geese, pigeons, pochards, shovelers, cormorants and Sheldrake ducks used to be seen between September and April.
As per reports explaining the importance of the lake, Professor Shakil Romshoo, Head of the Department Earth Sciences, “it has been one of the urban wet bodies which would act like sponges that soak all the natural drainage. The fact that these were linked together; they were excellent means to divert water in case of an emergency. During floods, with excess of water in the major water bodies, they used to house the extra water. Overall it has been helping in maintaining ecological and hydrological balance”.
Over the last few decades, the sprawling lakes in Kashmir have been ravaged and turned into waste dumping sites. According to Center for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, over the last century, 50 percent of lakes, ponds and wetlands of Srinagar have been encroached upon. Even if we are not yet an Industrialized State, the water systems are in alarming and thus dangerous levels of pollution. On one hand, all effluents, surface drains, garbage, polythene along with non-degradable are depositing in Khushalsar lake. The areas near this water body have a poor drainage system which has added to its woe. Water from kitchens and bathrooms has nowhere to go except into lake. On other hand, waters from different Nallahs of Srinagar like Nallah Ammer Khan which were famous for the therapeutically and medicinal properties are proving to be a major source and cause of diseases.
Khoshalsar has been encroached upon at many places with illegal land filling and illegal constructions. Unregulated urbanization along the lake peripheries has resulted in its shrinkage to less than a square kilometer. The slums-like constructions and the waste disposal into it is the major element in the degradation of its water quality. Against the violation of state laws, a large expanse of west side of the Khushalsar along the Ali Jan Road has been extensively encroached upon with shops, automobile workshops and residential buildings coming up on fringe of the lake.
According to Dr. Majeed Kak, Research Coordinator, Islamia College of Science and Commerce, Srinagar, “Population surrounding the lake was meager, till Dr. Ali Jan Road was constructed by the State Government, obliterating Khoshalsar, erasing most of its part from Eidgah and Ali Masjid up to Bolachpore, Soura side. This was a devastating step which obliterated the overall shape and structure of the lake. The Government’s slack approach has not only encouraged encroachers but has also given birth to numerous questions regarding the protection of water bodies in the valley.
Khoshalsar despite being desiccated is still a wonderful tourist destination. Regarding the deteriorated condition of the lake it seems that government is not at all interested in the safeguarding of these precious water bodies. More than two kilometer length of the lake from Eidgah to Bolachipora has been totally grabbed. One fails to understand as to why the authorities despite being aware of everything are not reacting firmly. On the one hand , the government’s promises and claims that water bodies are to be saved at any cost while, on the other hand, encroachers with the help of corrupt bureaucrats are looting these precious water assets”.
Piles of garbage in and around the Khoshalsar and nearby Nallahs, as well as in the localities, have deteriorated the water quality, putting the health of inhabitants at risk like the enteric and skin infections. It is not only the foul smell, but the stray dogs lured by the unattended waste. Achen Syed Landfill – only site in Srinagar City spread over 600 Kanals – is located west of Khushalsar. In 2011 – 12, Srinagar city with a population of 2 million had 575 garbage collection centers before being dumped at the site. In August 2016, National Green Tribunal (NGT) flayed J&K government for throwing municipal solid waste in the vicinity of Anchar Lake. A bench headed by NGT Justice Swatanter Kumar pulled up the authorities’ concerned saying, “no steps have been taken by them in terms of the tribunal’s order”. But, one year has passed on and government is yet to set the process in motion for the disposal of garbage into the lake.
The danger of spread of diseases increases as summers approach. Garbage has accumulated in the drains with human waste, blocking them at many places. Presently, the lake has turned poisonous and residents cannot touch the water with naked hands. A major percentage among population here has developed health problems due to consumption of contaminated water of this lake. According to gastroenterologists m the risk of catching waterborne diseases as well as other diseases becomes higher in the absence of proper sanitation. Cholera and Diarrhea are the most deadly among these. As officials behave deaf and dumb to the problems the people face on the ground, for the last couple of years nobody has bothered to clean any drains that get blocked. Very few dustbins are installed in the area. Most garbage carrier dustbins are either overturned on the roadsides, the lake and Nallah are the centers of what we call ‘Seats of Dogs’.
Everyday thousands of gallons of untreated sewage is being dumped into this lake, which has turned water poisonous leading to extensive damage of natural vegetation, fish and other aquatic life besides engulfing the neighborhood with a foul stink thereby putting the inhabitants vulnerable to life threatening diseases. According to Qasim Ali Dar, a local resident of 70 years of age said, “The birds that cover long distance don’t find resting and refueling place and this is leading to their death”. Until the 1970s the Mar canal drained into the lake providing navigability up to Ganderbal via Anchar Lake. After filling up of the famous canal, Nalah Mar, the condition of the lake has deteriorated further. In addition, the proposal to relocate a Higher Educational Institution around the lake will not only destroy the local ecology but will make people directly prone to health problems by allowing the project.
In Kashmir, Zadibal Nadur has been most famous and one of the delicious vegetables. Fishing and cultivation of Nadur has been the main livelihood of the community living near the Khushalsar. Besides fish, fodder along with other lake products, have been their survival from generation to generation. There were scores of springs on the peripheries of the lake that functioned as the socio-cultural and religious sites. Functional till recent past only few are surviving now. Some have been saved and are being revived. Overall, degradation and land filling has seriously affected livelihoods of this large community. Noxious weeds Azolla and Alligator grasses are so abundantly in thick layers, suffocating and eradicating underwater life including fish. “Fish diversity and production in this lake have shown a sharp decline over the past few decades and some local fish species have even become endangered and threatened. For example, Ramagurun (Botia birdi), for instance, which was once abundant, has now disappeared as has the algaad (Schhzothorax niger),” claims a local resident, blaming encroachment, pollution and siltation is so much that today even a small ordinary boat cannot pass through it.
Where lies the Responsibility?
In general, State Departments responsible for waste water management have largely bred ineffective and inefficient in their management. Ironically, no one owns the Khoshalsar water body. Authorities are shifting the blame from one department to another. According to reports, Srinagar Development Authority (SDA), Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and Lakes and Water Ways Development Authority (LAWDA) – formed to look after water bodies – claim that the lake does not come under their domain. In 2016 LAWDA has revealed in a compliance report filed before High Court that a pre-feasibility report was submitted to Government of India for conservation of Anchar, Khushalsar and Gilsar but it was refused with observation that such projects can be considered only after sewage of the area was taken care of. As a result, not only is there ‘unhealthy overuse of water’ but polluting the system is a big challenge and we , as citizens of the state , are able to violate standards and regulations as easy as possible. Locals residing around the lake, allege that there is a deep nexus between some SMC officials and the land grabbers, saying that in the broad day light people fill the lake and are fearlessly constructing houses on both sides of the lake. No restriction or any action has been initiated against them. The government, which seems in deep slumber, should initiate high level enquiry on the number of constructions that have come up around this lake illegally. Normally it is not possible for anyone to undertake construction without getting building permission from the SMC. According to local activists a nexus of some influential politicians with the land mafia is in the brazen violation of state norms.
Dr A. Majeed Kak adds, “Khoshalsar is a neglected lake without any supervision by the government. Neither there is any authority that owns it. It is under the supervision of SMC along with Anchar Lake and Gilsar Lake. They are totally ignorant about the methods of conservation and maintenance of these water bodies. It is a burden on their shoulders and they are unable to take care of it, with the result influential and wealthy locals are busy in grabbing the water by filling it for the construction of factories, other establishments and also for construction of residential houses resulting in the shrinkage and extinction of this once glorious water body. Nallah Aamir Khan has also been squeezed from both sides and is reduced to a narrow passage completely chocked with thick layers of noxious weeds that hinder the free movement of water in these interconnected lakes”.
Before all is lost in Kashmir valley, we need the assessment for the state of the “Health of our Environment”. As the people in Kashmir are very less aware about the information on the subject, they need to be educated with thrust on the awareness about how the changes in environment are affecting everyday life, from our ecology to the human health. Every aspect of living is associated with the changing of the surroundings. For past few years we are concerned by the environmental effects as well and Khushalsar has added to the list of environmental issues we are experiencing now. There is need of comprehensive research and analysis by academia in the University and the health expects in the Medical Schools in Kashmir to focus on the impacts of the environmental degradation in Khushalsar.
As a concluding concern, based on the findings of the studies on the rapidly increasing deterioration of Khushalsar, water can be met neither in quantity nor in quality unless a radical departure is made to the existing policies and practices established in this manner. There is an urgent need for adapting measures to minimize impacts of slow death of our water sources as they could adversely affect the availability of future water resources, particularly as they relate to the water regime in our state. Water for all would remain ‘unfulfilled dream’ unless we all with the government institutions, the media, the business empires and the civil society work in partnership to bring about a ‘Revolution in Revival of our Water Systems’ in our thinking about this vital resource and its essentiality. If there is a sector where public – private partnership needs to be put on test, it has to be our ‘water systems’. Or else, we cannot rule out “Water Related Deaths” in the next few decades as is happening in the world’s poorest regions of Asia and Africa. At last we foresee our “Khushalsar – Lake of Happiness” turned into what could be locally termed as “Badhalsar – Lake of Grief”.
Iliyas Rizvi is a Researcher, a Traveller and an Oral Historian, while Masrat Jan is studying post graduation in Convergent Journalism, Central University of Kashmir, Srinagar. (The Academic Research version of the work was presented by Rizvi in the National Seminar on Himalayan Biodiversity, Kashmir University in September, 2017)
—The author can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org