The Disappearing Ponds of Kashmir
Srinagar: Thirty years ago, Avend village in the south Kashmir district of Shopian was also called 'Talaab Gaam' because of dozens of fresh water ponds surrounding it. All but one of these ponds have now disappeared because of encroachments and other constructions.
According to the residents of the village, 60 km south of Srinagar, apart from encroachments, government buildings, schools, graveyards and funeral prayer grounds now stand where the ponds once existed.
Villagers say a few influential families encroached on the ponds by dumping mud and debris of old houses to dry them out and build on them.
"It was the helplessness of the villagers before these selfish people and negligence from government side that failed to preserve these ponds," Shabir Ahmad Bhat, a villager, said.
Avend's case is symptomatic of what is happening in many other parts of the Kashmir Valley. But then, it is not that only village ponds have been affected.
"Lakes like Dal, Wular and Anchar are shrinking day by day due to encroachments, let alone the village ponds," Nadeem Parry, a geography student at Kashmir University, said.
Limited land and the drastic population growth - particularly in the last few decades - are the main reasons for drastic change in ecology of villages like Avend.
Why has the government remained silent?
"These ponds fall into the category of barren land which is reserved for rearing of livestock in the villages. Since it is a matter to do with the village, there is nothing the government can do about it," an official confessed.
However, other villagers said the government is looking on as a meek spectator and had failed to preserve these natural endowments.
The water of these ponds were used for crop cultivation in summer when there was a water shortage. The village boys would bathe in the ponds and learn swimming for hours.
During winter, when water in the pipes would freeze for weeks, people used the pond water for domestic purposes, while cattle also drank the same water.
"We had preserved these small ponds in our village to meet the demand of water in times of crisis. Alas, this is no more available to us," said Ghulam Rasool, an elderly resident of the village.
The encroachment of the ponds has also resulted in the disappearance of ducks, which were once abundant in the area.
Today, only one pond, called 'Astan Sar', remains in existence. It is considered pious because it is in close proximity to a shrine in the village.
As usual, there is a counter view to this.
"The people don't use its water as it stinks," said Hilal Ahmad, a teacher.
The villagers have preserved 'Astan Sar' like an archeological site by constructing a wall and iron mesh around it.
"This is the only surviving pond, but it will die very soon as there is no fresh water source connected to this pond. There is also no arrangement for draining out the stale water," said Abdul Gani, an employee of the Public Health Engineering Department.
"These ponds saved the villages many times in the past from drought and fires. Its waters were utilized for agriculture and domestic purposes. But alas! Our ponds became the victims of greedy people," said Abdul Hamid Mir, a businessman of the village.