Srinagar : The Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry Wednesday held an interaction with different stakeholders for the preservation of the Dal Lake.
The interaction, which was presided over by Tufail Mattoo, Vice Chairman LAWDA and Zaffar A Shah, Senior Lawyer and Amicus Curie and was also attended by experts including Prof Shakil A Romshoo, Dean Research Kashmir University, Saleem Beig, Environmentalist and former DG Tourism, Irfan Yasin and former VC LAWDA, Yasin Tuman, Ghulam Rasool Akhoon representing the Dal Dwellers, Wahid Malik President Kashmir Hotels and Restaurants Association (KHAROF), Abdul Rashid Kolu, General Secretary Houseboat Association, Ghulam Rasool Siah Former President Houseboat Association, Shamim Shah Tourism Trade and others, a statement said.
The Kashmir Chamber was represented by Nasir Hamid Khan, Senior Vice President, Dr. A M Mir Junior Vice President and Manzoor Pakhtoon, Treasurer.
Khan while welcoming the members stated that the KCC&I, as part of its policy of social and environmental responsibility, was keen to support the efforts for preservation of the Dal Lake and redressal of problems of people associated with it.
Advocate Shah apprised the participants about the preservation of Dal Lake being a multidimensional issue comprising of environmental, scientific, humanitarian, economic and legal issues which required a cooperative effort from all stakeholders.
Shah said that regulation of the existing commercial establishments including hotels, houseboats and residential areas needed to be seen in light of their functional needs as well as the conservation of the lake. He said that the government departments including LAWDA lacked the infrastructure required to properly maintain the lake.
AS per Shah, a legislation was proposed which included major improvements including creation of Scientific Divisions, Drainage Divisions and other suggestions for not only the Dal Lake but which would have benefited other integrated water bodies as well.
However the proposal had been delayed for one reason or the other, Shah said while stating that the most critical role in preservation of the lake was of the administration and the scientists.
He said that above all the legal and technical requirements what the Lake needed was “spirited zeal from the stakeholders”.
Shah also stated that the “involvement of multiple departments also created complications and interminable delays in execution of urgent decisions which many times defeated the original intent”.
He said that the society needed to take a comprehensive view for preservation of all water bodies like Dal, Nageen, Khusalsar, Wular, Jhelum and other springs and streams adding the primary responsibility lied with the government and its departments including LAWDA which also possessed the required resources.
Speaking on the occasion, Dean Research KU, Prof Shakil A Romshoo stated that the although the 25 sq km area of the lake had “remained constant since decades, there has been rapid reduction in the water surface due to increasing area under land mass, habitation and vegetation”.
Prof Romshoo stressed on the need for having a clear vision regarding how the lake needed to be after 20 years from now and then strategise towards achieving that vision. He gave examples of water bodies and lakes in much worse condition being restored to pristine conditions through financial and technological interventions.
The top researcher said that DPRs had been based on the scientific data prepared decades ago and there was a need to constantly update the data and accordingly the response.
Prof Romshoo appreciated the role of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry for initiating discussions which he said would be critically important for development of a vision and formulation of strategy, which the Government could later decide as to which would be the best strategy.
Tuman and Rasool Akhoon speaking on behalf of the Dal Dwellers, said that the dwellers were “targets of negative portrayal by the newspapers and social media”.
The duo stated that they were victims of non-compliance of court directions, involvement of multiple agencies, funding issues and governmental delays in policy implementation which had caused “severe disruptions in their lives including depriving their children of proper education”. They said that the plans to rehabilitate them remained on papers for decades together for one impediment or the other”.
They further alleged that the Dal dwellers were being dumped to far off settlement areas without providing basic infrastructural facilities.
The consequent suffering had resulted in a gross trust deficit of trust, Tuman and Akhoon said adding that “very few re-settlements had been successful like the Fishermans Colony rehabilitation Project”.
They said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the dwellers had proved to be a major support to the community by ensuring a substantial supply of fresh vegetables to the City.
The habitat, they said, provided habitat and livelihood to thousands of families of the dwellers and urged for their genuine concerns being addressed. They appreciated the role of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry for highlighting their issues earlier also.
Wahid Malik, President, Kashmir Hotel and Restaurants Association (KHARA) on the occasion highlighted the functional difficulties being faced by the hoteliers in and around the Dal Lake. Malik supported the view taken by the dwellers regarding wrongful maligning of the stakeholders. He stated that the lack of proper drainage/sewerage systems in Srinagar City had resulted in the contamination of the Dal Lake.
While stating that the Hotel owners had duly complied with the various directions passed by the High Court, Malik suggested that the existing structures were quite old and needed the necessary freedom to carry out routine repairs, maintenance and up-gradations.
Abdul Rashid Kolu, General Secretary of the Kashmir Houseboat Owners Association said that the licenses of the registered houseboats in Dal Lake, Nageen Lake, Chinar Bagh and Jhelum were not being renewed by the Tourism Department.
Kolu alleged that that the Government had announced the New Houseboat Policy in April “without any consultations with the stakeholders, which he said had created “serious impediments for this fragile sector”.
He said that the Policy had banned construction of new houseboats and had also laid down stringent conditions for renewal of the licenses of the existing houseboats. He said that the houseboats were being made to make structural changes on the pattern of boats of Kerala. He gave several examples regarding frequent changes undertaken by them. He appreciated the role of VC LAWDA personally visiting spot for redressing their grievances.
Kolu said the houseboat owners had always cooperated with the policy makers and the decisions taken by them but the frequent chop and change was creating disruptions in earning of their livelihood. He thanked the KCC&I for inviting them and giving them an opportunity to voice their concerns.
Meanwhile, VC LAWDA, Tufail Mattoo thanked the KCC&I for providing a platform to all stakeholders for voicing their genuine concerns.
Matoo said that the preservation of the Dal Lake was not only the responsibility of the Honble High Court or the Government but was equally to be shared by all the stakeholders.
He stated that the tendering processes need to be made less time consuming and more result oriented. He apprised the participants about the status of various projects. He said that they were examining the viability of getting world renowned fresh water conservation experts involved in the process. He agreed that fresh scientific studies were required to be carried out to ascertain the current status of the Dal Lake and prepare a response accordingly.
As per the VC LAWDA, functional and cost-effective common sewage treatment systems needed to be put in place with the capacities to cater to the huge volume of sewage Srinagar produced on a daily basis.
While the prevailing pandemic had halted developmental works, Matoo said that with improvement in the situation, the dredging operations at Brari Numbal were being resumed. He said that regular interactions with the people on ground provided critical understanding of their problems to the Government and appreciated the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry for providing such a platform to interact.
Senior Vice President of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Nasir Hamid Khan thanked all the participants for their valuable inputs and said that such interactions would regularly be facilitated by the chamber as part of their social and environment responsibility.
Khan said that the discussions had helped in identifying issues like pollution by disposal of major drains which emptied tonnes of phosphorous and inorganic nitrogen, millions of litres of sewage being flushed into water bodies like Dal and Jhelum due to incapacity of the STPs to treat them.
He also said that there was a need for mapping of encroachments, maintaining of desirable water levels and regular flushing, delays in execution of projects, strengthening of enforcement unit, choking of streams and canals, deweeding and dredging operations, plantation drives to prevent soil erosion, suitable rehabilitation of the dwellers, facilities for smooth operation of business establishments including hotels and houseboats, beautification and creation of public facilities which would now be prioritized and followed-up one by one.
Khan assured the stakeholders that the Kashmir Chamber would also represent their concerns before the High Court to take care of their day to day issues as well as long term requirements. He said that the KCC&I was deeply concerned about the rapid environmental degradation taking place in Kashmir especially the unbridled plunder of the forests and the ruination of our water bodies were taking meaningful counter action for protection of these essential assets of the public.