Aamir Altaf & Nisar Wani
Lal Koul is a canal that flows from Bumhama through Drugmulla, Shalpora, Keegam and many other villages. Once this canal was an important source of irrigation for thousands of kanlas of paddy fields. The canal also lent a picturesque view to the landscape. In summer the children took bath in it and housewives and girls would come to wash dishes and clothes. Or they would simply sit on the serene embankment and do some work.
When we were children the Lal Koul was in full spate, quite vast and its water crystal clear. The water was so pure it was used for drinking purpose and other domestic work by the whole population living along it.
In the past years the Lal Koul has undergone tremendous change and we are witnessing the pollution of its water and the obstruction of its flow due to human interference. Change in climatic conditions, with increasingly high temperatures in the valley, has also resulted in quick evaporation of the water. It has reduced the water level and caused the formation of marshy margins and settling down of countless floating algae and other grasses. The latest visible construction along the bank, for purposes of widening the road along it, has made its condition worse.
The human settlements on the periphery of Lal Koul are the major contributing factors for its deteriorating condition. Household sewage is discharged into the canal directly. Solid waste such as vegetable scraps, polythene bags, papers, etc, are dumped into the Lal Koul. A number of latrines used by local residents have also been constructed on the banks of the canal. The water that was once pure is now poisonous due to the dumping of garbage and plastic and sewage. A foul odour emanates from the canal and disturbs passers-by and inhabitants alike.
The piled garbage along the banks attracts stray dogs. Due to the scarcity of water, farmers are not able to irrigate their paddy fields and this has hampered growth of crops in the area. Due to the increasing pollution in Lal Koul, many water-borne diseases are affecting the locals.
Lal Koul is in a pathetic condition and the irrigation department and the civic administration need to find solutions to keep the canal clean. The canal is the responsibility of the irrigation department but it is sad that the department is not initiating any steps for its maintenance. It is learnt that the irrigation department wants the civic administration to maintain the canal.
People who throw garbage and release sewage into the Lal Koul are guilty as well. But it is primarily the government’s responsibility to improve the situation as the locals have no other option to dispose of their garbage. There are no garbage bins provided by the civic administration. The local government should designate some spots for disposal of waste materials.
People should also take collective steps to clean the Lal Koul and not dump garbage in it. Every individual should help in minimising the water pollution. Maybe the past glory of the canal can never be restored but some restoration can be done, perhaps by giving the work to an expert agency that has experience in canal restoration. They must be allowed to work without any political interference. A simple change in attitude on the part of people will go a long way in saving this precious heritage of Kashmir.
The writers are students of Aligarh Muslim University and natives of Drugmulla, district Kupwara.