Srinagar: Thirty years of destruction unleashed by human greed and official neglect have killed many of the interconnected water bodies of Srinagar city – once referred to as ‘Venice of Orient’ – but an NGO supported by a group of volunteers and local residents have managed to restore four of these lakes.
Manzoor Ahmad Wangnoo, chairman of the Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO), says that he was shocked to see a 20-second video clip which showed Khushalsar lake almost turned into a landfill site with dogs able to walk over it.
That was around three and a half months ago. I decided to visit the place and it was in really bad shape. One could not stand the stench for more than two minutes. I spoke to some residents around the lake and sought their cooperation for restoring it, Wangnoo told a group of reporters.
The NLCO chairman said people laughed at him when he shared his thoughts with them. They were cynical because of earlier half hearted attempts. But when we began the work, the residents started to pitch in with their efforts too, he said.
The other water bodies that have been restored are Pokhribal, Gilsar and Nallah Amir Khan.
The residents say that while the top of the lakes have been restored, all these efforts will be worthwhile only if the water bodies are dredged at the bottom.
There are deposits of three decades which need to be cleared. You can gauge the enormity of the problem from the fact that we have removed nearly 1,500 truckloads of extracts from the water body. Even now six trucks are deployed to remove the filth, Abdul Rehman Dhobi, president of the Nallah Amir Khan Mohalla Committee, said.
Dhobi said some vested interests claim proprietary rights over the lake. They should realise that they had those rights for earning a livelihood through lotus plantations. Otherwise, no one has ownership rights over water resources, he added.
He appealed Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha to probe where the funds meant for cleaning the lakes have gone.
“We keep on hearing that crores of rupees have come from the Centre for cleaning the lakes. Where is it going? Khushalsar lake has been cleaned by them (NLCO), nothing has come from the government so far,” Dhobi said.
Mohammad Shafi Malik, a resident of Gillikadal, is all praises for the efforts of NLCO and its volunteers.
Stating that the condition of Khushalsar lake was very bad, he said, “One would need antibiotics if he or she came in contact with the Khushalsar water. Today it is clean.”
He said the water bodies of Srinagar were interconnected and once frequented by tourists from various parts of the country and abroad.
A tourist would come in a boat from Dal Lake via Nallah Mar to Gillisar to Khushalsar to Ancharsar and finally Manasbal. That charm ended in the past 30-32 years. These lakes had some of the best fishes including the golden fish, Malik said reminiscing over the times gone by.
Dhobi and Malik, while being thankful to NLCO and their volunteers, now want the government to also play a proactive role in saving and restoring the water bodies.
Shahnawaz Ahmad, an assistant professor in Hospitality and Tourism at Kashmir University, said these wetlands and water bodies play a crucial role in the ecosystem.
Wetlands are like kidneys of an ecosystem. Alongside water bodies, they have multiple effects on the socio economic scenario of a place. They are a key factor in tourism as well as water transport, he said.
Ahmad said Kashmir’s wetlands are famous world over due to its unique flora and fauna which are enabled by these water bodies and wetlands.
We have a variety of species of birds which travel thousands of miles to the wetlands of Kashmir as they provide ideal conditions for them to flourish, he added.
He said the restoration of these water bodies will revive some of the flora and fauna while enabling more species of birds to arrive in Kashmir. The net effect would be improvement of the environment and tourism at the same time, he added. PTI