Srinagar lake dying for 30 yrs restored to revive old water channel
Khushal Sar lake in Kashmir’s summer capital of Srinagar has been revived after it turned into a cesspool in the past 30 years. The transformation was made possible by a collaboration of locals, environmentalists and the government.
Situated between Hawal and Zadibal in the Old City and part of a historic water circuit of lakes in Srinagar such as Dal, Nigeen, Gilsar and Anchar, Khushal Sar lake was covered with weeds, animal waste, plastics and sewage till three months ago while many of its sides had been encroached upon.
In late February, a local environmental organisation Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO) took the initiative to clean the water body.
“I didn’t believe that we had a water body like Khushal Sar which was on the brink of its end. The lake was full of dead animals, animal skins, polythene, grass, weeds and it was encroached upon from all sides,” NLCO’s chairman Manzoor Wangnoo said. He says he was promised full support in his mission by divisional commissioner Pandurang K Pole.
“I told them that I need their support as we feared the encroachers. We brought boats, volunteers and labourers while the administration promptly provided police protection while the trucks [for carrying the waste out] came from Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC),” he said.
Within weeks, the lake started to show improvement and the locals also joined the cleaning process. “The work was huge so we also collected some money and hired machines for [some] more days,” said M Shafi Malik, president of a local Zaripora Mohalla Committee. Malik said many locals had migrated from the area due to the stench and pollution in the lake, which once held such clear water that people would drink it and bathe in it.
“Tourists and foreigners used to visit this lake in boats. From Dal Lake through Nallah Amir Khan, they would pass through Gilsar and Khushal Sar and would reach Anchar Lake and then ultimately to Manasbal Lake (in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district),” said 47-years old Malik, who is a Pasmina artist.
“I have very fond memories of this lake. It was famous for golden colored fish and lotus roots which became elusive after its state deteriorated,” he said.
The lake had become a dumping ground in the past 30 years and even local administrations didn’t care about it during the militancy years,” he said, referring to the time when terrorism was at its peak in the Union Territory.
During the restoration attempt, about 15-20 truckloads of weed, silt and waste were taken out of the lake every day for about three months.
“We were able to clear some 1000 truckloads of unwanted material and within 100 days, the lake was restored and three navigational tracks were made up-to Saidpora,” Wangnoo said.
The locals were delighted to see the lake restored and were determined not to let it get polluted again.
“People are very cautious now. They don’t litter into the lake. They understand that it is an important asset and we need to protect it,” said Abdul Rashid, a local who owns a handloom.
Following the success, the administration has started the work to revive the adjoining Gilsar Lake.
“The rejuvenation of Khushal Sar and Gilsar Lakes in Srinagar is one of the best examples of civil society and government working together to rejuvenate water bodies. The SMC has lifted around 820 trucks of muck, silt and weed from these two lakes in the past 60 days alone,” said SMC commissioner, Athar Amir Khan.
Srinagar’s district development commissioner (DDC) Mohammad Aijaz Asad said the restoration of lakes will reactivate the original water navigation circuit in Srinagar district. Asad said he has asked for surveillance and intensification of anti encroachment drives to ensure these lakes remained protected. “We will take strict action as per law against those indulging in littering and dumping of garbage into these natural resources,” he said.