Asia’s largest fresh water lake, Wullar, in Kashmir will be restored to its original but with a huge ecological price – sacrifice of 20 lakh willow trees that can cover half of Delhi.
The Environment ministry has approved Rs. 400 crore long term restoration project for the lake, once spread in 202 sq km and now a green patch in 74 sq kms, under the National Lake Conservation Programme. And, as per the plan 20 lakh trees will have to be cut.
Wullar will be second lake in Kashmir valley after Dal to be covered under the central government’s flagship wetland conservation programme.
The Jammu and Kashmir government had planted these trees in early 1980s in and around Wullar Lake to protect the valley from frequent flood but its impact was seen almost a decade later when the lake started shrinking due to accumulating tree fossil.
Now, the state government has approached Kashmir University’s (KU) Centre of Research and Development (CORD) to study impact of felling of these trees in and around Wullar lake.
“It’s difficult to talk about the impact without proper ground research,” said Professor Abdul Rashid Yousuf, a member of the CORD. But was quick to add that feeling of trees in and around Dal lake did not yield fruitful results. More than one lakh trees were cut in and around Dal Lake on directions of the high court.
“The (Wullar) lake has paid its price,” said Environment minister Jairam Ramesh, while recalling the state of wetlands in India. Most wetlands in India were treated as wastelands and Ramesh’s ministry had even approved projects on them. Recently, the ministry revoked environment clearance for a cement factory on a wetland in Gujarat.
“Wullar used to be the largest fresh water lake in Asia. Today it is a patch of green. You can't see any water. We only see willow trees,” the minister said. In the 1980s northern Kashmir’s Bandipore district faced several floods emanating from the lake and then the government decided to plant trees to overflow of water from the lake. The floods subsided but with it size of the lake also, formed centuries ago as a result of tectonic activity and is fed by River Jhelum.
Ramesh said restoration will take five to ten years and will be carried out under supervision of experts. Wular restoration is unprecedented as restoration of Dal Lake had resulted in chopping off of one lakh trees. The minister viewed the Wullar project as a major step for preserving very large eco systems.