Two brothers from Lal Bazar drowned at the prohibited site last week
Srinagar: With lush green mountains in its backdrop, the calm and serene water in the reservoir at Harwan, some 20 kilometre from Srinagar city centre, attracts youth from the city for a dip to beat the summer heat, despite it being a prohibited site.
According to local residents, the calm water in the reservoir has a “dark side” to it as its depth has “swallowed” almost half a dozen people, mostly young boys, in recent years. For many, the reservoir is therefore “haunted”.
Arif Ahmad, an employee with the Public Health Engineering, who usually looks at the gauge level of the canal running by the side of reservoir, is vigilant and restricts people from visiting the reservoir and cautions people against taking selfies. Although this is not his job, but Arif is still doing it, “for the safety of the people”.
The reservoir is prohibited for general public by orders of Irrigation and Flood Control department, under whose jurisdiction its falls. Two sign boards are put up in place as a warning.
The Harwan garden, on the front side of the reservoir, is looked after by the Floriculture department. It is thronged by locals and tourists alike, mostly on Sundays and holidays.
Last week, two teenage brothers, Abrar Altaf and Irtikaab Altaf, from Umar colony Lal Bazaar drowned while taking a bath in the reservoir. According to the witnesses, Irtikaab, the younger one, drowned first and in struggle to save his younger brother, Abrar drowned too.
“They had kept their scooty outside with their clothes and mobile phones in it. The two were swimming along with a dozen others when the younger one struggled to come to the surface after taking a dive,” Mir Wasim, a local youth from Shalimar said.
“After sensing something wrong, the elder brother tried to help and look for his brother who was now invisible. In this process he too went missing surprisingly. We were shocked and called for help,” he added.
The youth who were around, called for boys with good swimming skills from Harwan and adjoining localities. They started the rescue without waiting for police and after strenuous efforts found the first body. The body was of the younger brother.
Police had called the SDRF team but because of huge traffic on the busy Boulevard and around the Mughal gardens, the team never reached the place. However, locals with “directions from police” managed to fish out the second body in the evening.
After the bodies were sent for medico-legal formalities to SHMS hospital, a group of emotionally charged youth requested the local station house officer to ban swimming in the area. The incident also prompted the State Disaster Management Department to issue an advisory with regard to swimming at many places in Srinagar.
“Do we have to look for dead bodies every year? Is this the only thing left for us to do? We have lost enough of young boys, at least we could save some lives here,” the youth said.
The staff in the garden told Kashmir Reader that a PHE employee on duty at the gauge chamber had stopped boys going to the reservoir “but they had argued with him”. Later he informed police, who came and cleared the area of visitors.
“After the police left, the boys came back and started swimming again. It is during the same time that the teenage boys drowned,” a gardener in the park said.
According to the officials of PHE department, the reservoir used to be under their jurisdiction and was later handed over to Irrigation and Flood Control Department. They said that during their supervision, “no untoward incident” happened as the entry of people was strictly restricted.
The dredging work in the reservoir started by the Irrigation and Flood Control department some years back had not been completed yet. Locals say the place was more or less fenced earlier, but to make way for the dredging machinery the fence was cut from the road side, making the access easy. Ghulam Rasool Shah, Executive Engineer, Irrigation and Flood Control department, said that they were “not totally in control” of the place and the responsibility was “divided”.
“We have now got the total control by the order of Secretary, Farooq Ahmad Shah, and we will speed up the work. Then the place would be properly fenced and beautified,” Shah said.
Apart from the reservoir, a natural pool formed by a cascade of water flowing under the bridge, around 20 feet down from the main road, is also a major attraction. What makes the place “adventurous” for some and “risky” for others is the fact that young boys come running from the road and jump into the stream, through the tree branches.
According to the locals, the youth run the risk of hitting the bund, while jumping, besides injuries from rocks on the stream bed.
Boys also perform somersaults and other stunts there. Many pictures of these stunts have gone viral on the social media, attracting more boys to the site.
“It is suicidal, how is the government allowing this? They are young and do not understand the risks involved. They have to be stopped from doing this,” said Adil Ahmad, a driver at the bus stand Harwan. “Although the water is not so deep there, but a couple of years back a teenage kid died in the stream mysteriously”.