Srinagar's Dal lake may be the first place that comes to the mind of anyone who wishes to visit Kashmir. On World Environment Day, the scenic lake has turned into a centre stage of protests and public anger.
On Tuesday, a Srinagar based non-governmental organization along with the students from local schools organised an event called 'Plastic Fishing' at Dal. Their effort to rid the lake of solid waste coincides with the global theme of plastic pollution, one of the main concerns highlighted on World Environment Day.
Decades of apathy from the officials coupled with the non-utilisation of funds from the Centre and state government has forced many, including school children to come out and take a pledge to save Dal lake.
Students staged awareness walks along the banks of Dal lake, highlighting the need for immediate conservation of what is the lifeline of Srinagar.
A whopping Rs 300 crore is believed to have been sanctioned by the central government under National Lake Conservation Programme (NLCP) in 2005 for cleaning the Dal lake as well as rehabilitation of the Dal residents.
However, the targets have been unmet and over 30,000 people who were shifted from the Dal to nearby wetland are a disappointed lot.
Nadeem Qadri, an activist and a lawyer who is spearheading Save the Dal campaign told the International Business Times, India that more than 1500 illegal constructions have been raised in the vicinity of Dal.
What is more worrisome is that these Dal dwellers have been shifted to an ecologically sensitive area, which has been further polluted. In response to a Public Interest Litigation filed, the Honourable High Court has recently lashed out at the executing agency, Lakes and Waterways Division for failing to implement a coherent strategy to conserve the lake over a period of 16 years.
He added that the claims of the state agencies of de-weeding the lake also fall flat particularly when those selected areas of lake fall in the vicinity of VIP residences.
According to Nadeem, the rehabilitation of Dal dwellers remains a flawed process, especially since the newly built houses for the people are prone to damage. Moreover, there are no basic civic amenities in those areas.
The state government, according to various legal and environmental activists has been sitting over a proposed legislation to conserve the water body.
The J&K High Court recently pulled up the state authorities to take effective measures for Dal conservation, giving them a four-week time frame and sought reports regarding implementation of various court directives since 2002.
The High Court also expressed its dismay at little to no progress over various processes such as replacing the faulty Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), dredging, removal of solid wastes as well as removal of encroachments around the lake.
The outrage is especially significant since the lake has been a pertinent source of economic and residential amenities for the residents of Srinagar. The rapid growth of infrastructure and an increase in human population in and around the lake has gradually led to massive pollution of the water and shrunk its area.
The lake also happens to be one of the most popular locations of tourism in North India.
Environmentalists have also raised concern over increasing levels of toxins such as nitrates in the lake which is eating up the aquatic vegetation and reducing its surface area.
"As Srinagar residents, we cannot remain blind to what is happening to Dal. This is the face of our city. Unfortunately, so far we have remained dependant on government, which has not delivered. The common people have to take onus to save Dal or our future generations won't be able to even see it," Anzar Ahmad, a student at Kashmir University said.