Green activists cry out as neglect, illegal structures take toll on Nainital Lake
The lake has been the lifeline of the town since 1841, but people visiting it are now assaulted by the sight of garbage floating on the surface and the unholy stink of rotting fish.Updated: May 19, 2017 18:35 IST
Savitri Bisht, a 76-year-old retired teacher, claims to have never seen Nainital Lake in an avatar this heartbreaking.
The water body has been the lifeline of the town since 1841, but people visiting it are now assaulted by the sight of garbage floating on the surface and the unholy stink of rotting fish. Experts cite a number of reasons for this, including the change in rain patterns, unregulated construction and encroachment of the lake’s catchment areas.
While it is nothing new to see deltas emerging in the lake whenever the water level falls, they have now become a regular feature of the summers. The water has touched an abysmal level of 14 feet below normal this season, a clear indication of impending ecological disaster.
The lake was as deep as 27 metres in 2000.
“I have never seen earthmovers and dogs this active in the deltas before. The condition of the lake and this town makes me cry,” says Savitri. It is a sentiment shared by many.
The summer is when local businessmen – such as hotel owners and boat operators – see a lot of business coming in. Tourists just can’t have enough of touring the expanse of the lake in colourful boats, says Jagdish, a boatman for 22 years.
The situation is changing now. “I find myself at a loss for words when tourists ask why the lake is shrinking,” says Jagdish. He is among the 150-odd people whose livelihood depends on the lake, the circumference of which was last recorded at 4.7 square kilometres.
Environmentalist Ajay Rawat believes restoring the lake to its original form will take years. He had filed two litigations – one in the Supreme Court in 1993 and another in the high court in 2015 – seeking measures to preserve the lake’s catchment areas as well as a ban on construction of structures along its side.
“At present, the lake provides around 1.5 crore litres of water needed by the town every day.
Sukhatal Lake, one of the biggest catchment areas for the lake, has been encroached upon. Construction activities around the lake have further hindered the flow of water into it,” says Rawat.
According to the environmentalist, changes in rain patterns and the drying up of almost half the 60 natural water springs feeding the lake have also contributed to the problem. Illegal felling of trees in the area – particularly water-conserving oaks – has not helped either.
Government agencies are equally to blame for the lake’s dismal condition. The National Green Tribunal had recently shot a notice to the forest department for felling over 200 oak trees at the town’s high-altitude zoo.
A number of environment-conscious people have formed a group called ‘Citizens of Nainital’ to redeem the situation. Its members actively urge netizens to sign online petitions and provide suggestions on ways to preserve the lake. “We aim to enlist the maximum number of people in our cause and brainstorm ways to save the lake. We are taking up a barefoot walk in Nainital on June 3 to highlight the issue,” Vikram Arya, founder of the group, told HT.
Shirish Kumar, secretary of the Nainital Lake Development Authority, said they are doing all they can for the water body despite a severe shortage of staff. The body is currently moving people from the green zone in accordance with the high court orders delivered on Rawat’s petition, he added.
Governor KK Paul expressed concern over the condition of the lake on Saturday, and asked officials to take the help of a renowned hydrological institute to conduct a study.