Kashmir valley is laden with bewitching and unprecedented natural beauty and resources which give it prominence on the global tourism map. It has been one of the cherished tourist destinations for millions of people across the globe. Besides pleasant weather, lofty mountains, velvety meadows, lush green forests; the valley is studded with crystal clear water resources which add immensely to its natural beauty and fascinating sights. Water is indeed a bounty from Allah SWT which is one of the basic prerequisites of life. And we are fortunate enough to have abundant and hefty resources of water here in our valley. Our rivers, lakes, brooks, waterfalls and springs are the major resources of Adam’s ale. And the world famous Wullar Lake tops the list for the saccharine water resources of Kashmir valley.
But, the health of this exhilarating, majestic and beautiful lake of Asia is not well. Encroachers have drastically reduced it to a shabby and scruffy looking pond. According to some statistics, the area of the lake was 157sq kms in the year 1957, which has shrunk to mere 86sq kms in the year 2007. The last one and a half decade has not been any encouraging for the lake. Encroachers are on prowl. The lake has shrunk further in the last one decade.
People continue to grab its land for different purposes, and ironically, the lakes and water ways development authority is not sounding a fie to them. Even the district and divisional administration is also silent. The lake has lost almost 45% of its surface area to encroachments, consisting of houses, willow forests, agricultural lands etc… Once the exalted and the crystine fresh water lake of Asia, Wullar Lake is now a mere marshy land. It is narrating its ordeal of human callousness and apathy. The desolation and the devastation of the lake is vividly evident from the shores of the lake. It needs no rocket science to understand the plight of the lake. Anyone who looks into its surface will feel the decades old ruthless human attitude which has taken the lake on the verge of destruction. Neither commoners nor the successive political regimes, including the incumbent UT administration, have paid any serious heed to pains and miseries, though promises were made but everything proved hoax and jape.
Very recently, I and my friend were on way back to our home from our district headquarters, and we decided to stop at the famed Wullar vintage tourist resort for some moments. Besides enjoying some cherished moments there, I had a thorough look at the lake from the high altitude park. I felt the lake was crying and weeping bitterly with its arms spreading widely across its shores, as if someone had stabbed it in its bosom. The sighs and the cries of the lake knocked at my heart. No one can believe that it is the same fresh water lake of Asia which had hosted Zainul Aabideen Budshah for his royal voyages. According to some reliable sources, people residing around its shores would use its water for different purposes i.e drinking, washing etc… Now, we hardly dare to look at it.
Government can’t leave it to a few machines and a handful of men to restore and rejuvenate the glory of the lake. Unless and until, its restoration is handedover to some Europe based agencies, the dream is difficult to come true. Three to four dredging machines can’t produce the required magic to bring back the lake to desired levels. Government of India must approach world bank for the restoration of this precious water body. If the work at snail’s pace will continue on the lake, I bet our future generations will find the lake in their books, maps and Google videos only. Let someone tell kashap Reshi that his Sati Sar is now bereft of water.
The eutrophication and the growth of other obnoxious weeds has converted it into a wetland. People living in and around it, have planted willow forests in the bosom of the lake. Many have erected dwellings, ranging from concrete to raw houses. I wonder if lakes and water ways development authority can demolish illegal structures in the vicinity of Dal, what stops them to initiate the same campaign here ? If the concerned authorities will take serious note of the encroachments, Wullar will have atleast its quantitative legacy back. But, alas ! none is serious. People just want paper horses to gallop which is simply impossible.
People residing around the lake have converted it into a dumping site. From home sewage to plastic wastes, these people throw everything into the belly of the lake. The story has other dimensions as well. River Jehlum drains off all the polythene bags, plastic bottles, garbage, domestic and industrial sewage, animal and human excreta of some conscienceless people from south Kashmir to Banyari Hajin where it meets the lake, and carry it straight away to the already bloated bosom of the ailing lake. It has deteriorated the lake qualitatively and quantitatively. The lake is cursing its custodians for their insensitivity towards it.
The production of fish, water chestnut and Nadru has drastically reduced to excessive and obnoxious human intervention in the lake. Toxins released by polythene products, fertilizers and other chemicals have been detrimental for the growth of fish, Nadru and water chestnuts. It is not only the matter of reduction in these legacies and natural endowments, but it is associated with the livelihood of thousands of people who would make both ends to meet from the lake. And it is our heritage . According to some aged and experienced fishermen, the lake would produce almost ten thousand metric ton of fish annually which was sold in the local markets and exported to other states of the country. But, now, the state government of Jammu and Kashmir imports five thousand ton fish annually to meet the local demands. The deterioration of the lake has been detrimental in our economic miseries.
The lake has extremely high tourism potential to provide job opportunities to lakhs of people. Had it been in any European or other developed country, its fate could have been altogether different. Thousands of houseboats and shikaras can be accommodated here in the lake. Even it can boost water sports to greater dimensions. But, people at the helm are either inefficient or callous. I request the incumbent LG administration of Jammu and Kashmir to persuade union government to pay special attention towards this grave issue, and take concrete steps to make the lake a centre of attraction for the world.
Kashmiri people are known to world as peace-loving and gentle. We are considered as the ambassadors of basic human values. Let’s now prove ourselves sensitive towards our environment in general and our water bodies in particular. People living near the embankments of river Jehlum and other water bodies particularly Wullar lake, should at once demolish their open latrines constructed on the shores and banks of the water bodies, should stop throwing garbage and other things into the water bodies. Let’s take pledge to keep our water bodies free from pollution and other hazardous materials. Our collective intellect is blotted badly when we throw wrappers into our water bodies, instead of throwing them into dustbins. We need to elevate our ranks as a nation by taking all necessary measures and steps to preserve our water bodies. Civilized societies and nations have eco-friendly etiquettes and manners. Our ancestors had been the ambassador and torch bearers for the whole world in environmental issues.
Common masses can’t do it alone. Government agencies have a vital role to play in the restoration and rejuvenation of the lake. Adequate men and machinery must be set on the task. If authorities will not get up from the deep slumber, then, we may end up only with the reminiscences and memories of Wullar lake. The project needs huge amounts. If the incumbent LG administration and the union government of India are not in a position to bear all these expenses, then they should not hesitate to approach the international agencies for economic assistance and technical support. Hope that the lake is saved and preserved for our future generations.