The Committee of Experts (COE) appointed by the Jammu and Kashmir High Court has sounded an alarm that the Dal Lake may not survive beyond 30 years if the polluting activities in and around it continue as usual.
Taking the report of the COE on record, the high court bench of Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice Sanjeev Kumar passed a string of interim directions, including gradual elimination of floating gardens, a strict check on activities of houseboats and demarcation and protection of the boundaries of the Dal Lake.
The COE headed by E Sreedharan, former chief of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, sounded an alarm over the presence of water weeds such as Azolla, Solvinia and the green algae patches which, it said, was indicative of excessive nutrients, temperature, sunlight and eco-system disturbance, all of which showed the poor health of the lake.
It also said that about 50% of the population of Srinagar survives on economic activities that involve the lake and for about 30% more, the lake provides a subsidiary source of gainful employment.
As noted by the high court, the committee observed that it was convinced that “if situation continued with business as usual, the lake will not survive beyond 30 years maximum”.
“This is corroborated in the Vision Document as well and is also the opinion of majority of experts. The continued existence of the Dal Lake is imperative for climatological, geological, ecological, economic and socio-cultural reasons. The Dal is the epicenter of Kashmir,” said the court.
The committee pointed out the main pollutants of the lake as Dal dwellers, houseboats, 911 in number, which exist in absence of any policy to ascertain the carrying capacity of the lake for the houseboats or their management, Dunga boats (where the staff of houseboats live and cook), floating gardens, sewage treatment plants, lack of public toilets or waste bins, extensively cultivated catchment area, waste generated by de-weeding process.
The COE pointed out successful cleaning of lakes with right technology by Switzerland, Finland, Singapore and Thailand.
After considering the report of the COE, the bench passed a series of directions for implementation, including empowering LAWDA (Lakes and Waterways Development Authority) and making it efficient and accountable, taking steps towards gradual elimination of floating gardens, including demarcation of their existing boundaries to check their further expansion.
The court ordered that LAWDA shall immediately ascertain the details of families exclusively dependent on vegetable cultivation within the Lake within a period of one week and draw out and implement the plan to rehabilitate such families providing them avenues for gainful employment, including agriculture, as there will result an unmet demand within the city for the vegetables itself, upon dismantling of these gardens.
“LAWDA shall undertake effective steps for simultaneous cessation of all vegetable cultivation and rehabilitation of the growers over the next three months,” it directed.
LAWDA has also been asked to forthwith issue notices to all the commercial establishment to install technically suitable and environmental friendly arrangements within three months for treatment of sewage and sullage (grey water) within their premises itself without releasing any sewage or sullage into the Dal or into any nallah that flows into the Dal or any other lake.
“In case of failure to comply with the directions, ‘the polluter pays’ principle would apply. The polluting unit shall have to shut down its operations and deposit a penalty of a minimum of Rs.50,000 with LAWDA, subject to enhancement by this Court upon consideration of the nature and magnitude of the violations.
On stopping pollution from houseboats, the bench gave the following instructions:
(i) In order to tackle the night soil from the Houseboats, the State Government and LAWDA must immediately assess and evaluate the optimum number of houseboats which could be permitted to be anchored in the Dal Lake and submit a report to the COE and us before the next date.
(ii) In case the existing number of houseboats is beyond the ideal number, registrations/ licences of houseboats which lapse should not be renewed and steps should be taken to bring the maximum number to the ideal number of houseboats.
(iii) LAWDA must identify houseboats which are anchored illegally in the Dal Lake and forthwith stop their operation and remove them from the lake.
(iv) In order to tackle night soil from the houseboats, each houseboat needs to be fitted with bio-digesters. The steps in this regard have been initiated by the state government. The most suited model which is efficient, cost effective and easy to be maintained should be procured on due diligence at the earliest.
(v) As proposed by the state government (and recommended by the COE), while the fitment of the bio-digesters should be undertaken at government’s cost, but its further maintenance and management should be at the cost of the houseboat owners. The state government shall forthwith notify all houseboat owners of the above.
(vi) The effluents from the bio-digesters should be further treated to fully comply with the State Environmental norms.
(vii) Every effort should be made to ensure bio-digesters are fitted in all houseboats before winter is over.
Besides this, the court has passed directions for efficient waste management around the lake de-weeding of the lake, protecting the existing boundaries of the lake, stopping pollution of lakes from catchment areas and upstream and enable farmers to shift to organic farming and prohibiting the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the catchment area.