Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Slow Death

Saleem is unable to recommend strong medicine to save the Dal Lake given its near-term benefits to tourism. Is it the case of killing the hen that lays golden eggs?

(Mr. Mohammad Saleem, 62, is a retired senior engineer is the J&K civil service.)

Who Will save Dal?

Dal Lake, the second largest in the state, is integral to tourism and recreation in Kashmir and is known as the "Jewel in the crown of Kashmir" or "Srinagar's Jewel". The lake is also an important source for commercial operations in fishing and water plant harvesting.

During the Mughal period, the Mughal rulers of India designated Kashmir, Srinagar in particular, as their summer resort. They developed the precincts of the Dal lake in Srinagar with sprawling Mughal-type gardens and pavilions as pleasure resorts to enjoy the salubrious greenery and the serene waters of the lake.

During the British Raj, the British also made Srinagar their capital during the summer months, attracted by the cool climate of the Kashmir valley, amidst the back drop of the majestic snow covered Zabarwan ranges. The British circumvented the rule of Maharaja of Kashmir by commissioning lavish houseboats to be built on the Dal Lake. The houseboats have been referred to as, "each one a little piece of England afloat on Dal Lake”. The houseboats, closely associated with Dal Lake also provide accommodation in Srinagar. Following the Mughal and British rule, the place has become a haven for tourists and earned the epithet, "Jewel in the tourist crown”.
The water quality has, however, deteriorated due to intense pollution caused by the untreated sewage and solid waste that is fed into the lake over the years directly from the peripheral areas and from the settlements inside the lake and houseboats. Encroachments of water channels and consequent clogging have diminished the circulation and inflows into the lake with the result there has been immense increase in the growth of unwanted vegetation like weeds, green algae, floating ferns etc.

Although the Government had placed a blanket ban on construction of houses inside the lake in 1986 and it was proposed to shift the entire population from the lake and rehabilitate them outside in order save it from encroachment and shrinkage. The population at that point of time was 40000 reportedly residing in around 6000 houses both pacca as well as shacks. After about 25 years, the Government has, however, succeeded in shifting only a few of them and rest continues to reside in the lake and the population therein has increased manifold.

A Master Plan of Srinagar City 1971-91 was also prepared and most of the peripheral areas of the lake were earmarked as “Green”, “Agricultural land”, “Open Space” or “recreational places”. But due to the turmoil in the valley and the human greed, the Master Plan was ripped off. These places have now turned into posh colonies where a common person cannot afford to buy even a marla of land.

Even though the Authority, LWDA, at the helm of affairs for Conservation of Dal Lake, has been leaving no stone unturned in the accomplishment of its task, it has failed miserably in brining down the illegal constructions that are coming up both inside the lake as well as in its periphery. The High Court of J&K in a Public Interest Litigation has imposed a restriction on construction of structures/renovation and repairs of existing structures that fall within 200 meters from the lake body but the Authority seems to put a deaf ear on such orders. One of the directions of the High Court was to restrict movement of construction material inside the lake as well as in its periphery and the Police Department and LAWDA was directed to comply with these directions. However, it can be seen in the evening, the uncounted tippers carrying construction material move without any hesitation in these areas. Nobody from any of these Departments dares to stop them, may be because, the construction material is being carried in these areas in connivance with the officials of these departments. Usually the complaints are dealt like the balls of the tennis court which are thrown every now and then, to each other in defense. The main areas coming under the movement of these vehicles are foreshore road (Mamta Hotel side), Rainawari Chowk including Zinda Shah Masjid Crossing, Miskeen Bagh link road, Saida Kadal, Foreshore Road (Habak-Nishat road).

Another activity where the LAWDA is actively involved is the de-weeding of the lake. It has been a massive activity this year and one can see heaps of extracted weeds on the footpath of Boulevard lying there for days together. Not only on the road side but the machines involved in de-weeding of the lake, are dumping the material inside the lake body on the available Dembs. Scientifically, this practice should be stopped immediately. The extracted weeds contain high nutrients which, if not removed immediately from the lake body, can lead to massive infestation of vegetation in the coming time.

The LAWDA has also allowed a water skiing sport near Cheshmashahi. It is good to see tourists as well as locals enjoying the ski boat ride. But the place where this activity has been allowed is not proper as it frequently leads to traffic mess particularly on holidays when there is a huge rush of people in the area and there is every apprehension of some accident. To add to the problem, the traffic department has allowed a parking in the area which has led to environmental degradation. It would be proper for the authorities to shift the activity to some other place where parking would be available.

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