The Story of Hope

The Story of Hope

Can we reinstate other valley lakes like Nilnag Lake

The only alpine lake in the lap of Pir Panjal, Nil Nag Lake is situated at an altitude of 2180 m, in district Budgam. Lone approachable way to this scenic natural lake was through Yusmarg, one of the famous tourist places, and no private light or heavy vehicle used to ply on this route to Yusmarg three decades before, except a few SRTC tourist buses leaving early in the morning from Tourist Reception Centre, and the same returning late in the evening.

Recently a number of tracks have come up, due to population explosion that compelled local villagers to spread out throughout the surrounding areas and to communicate with each other. Coming up of new villages and increase in population obligated concerned politicians and other bureaucrats to construct new pathways and other metaled roads for their vote bank and as such it became trouble free for locals and others to visit the Nilnag Lake. Presently the easiest motorable, but zigzag, up and down road, is from Baadipora, Chadoora.

The lake was visited quite a number of times two to three decades ago to study its morphometry and to explore aquatic weeds. There was no proper check from government authorities and other officials to restrict locals for grabbing its margin. Its peripheries were converted into paddy fields, with thick covers of fire wood trees like poplars and willows. It was squeezed all around by the locals and its overall condition was distressing. Its large tract was turned into a permanent land and most of its portion into a thick marshy area, supported by marshy species. Being hemmed in by the surrounding mountains with thick forest cover, it was not easily manageable to the concerned authorities and thus remained unnoticed; besides remaining frozen three to four months due to sub zero temperatures and no care was taken of it. 

In June, 2005 the lake was visited again a number of times for further exploration and to cultivate seeds and the saplings (3-leaf stage, cultivated in laboratory under controlled conditions) of one of the critically endangered Kashmiri Himalayan waterweed, Euryale ferox (a highly nutritional and medicinal aquatic plant) that was at the verge of its extinction in other various Kashmir Himalayan lakes. Unfortunately none of the seeds/saplings germinated because of low temperature and high turbidity. The macrophytic population recorded at that time indicated that maximum waterweeds were flourishing in this lake and there was lot of eutrophication and the overall lake condition was miserable.

Some researchers and environmentalists who visited the lake in the year 2007 were dismayed to see that the lake was deeply dredged; they apprehended that probably lake is turned into a concrete tank simply to attract foreigners and other tourists. Nothing was disclosed about the approval of Rs.7 crore for conservation and beautification of Nilnag Lake, under the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) that was launched in 2005 throughout the country by the Central Government. This whole planning was deliberately concealed to the general public and other environmentalists that made them disappointed to see this picturesque lake getting converted into an artificial tank wherein the water was drained out completely. No water was retained in the lake and bulldozers were seen plying in the lake. Flora and fauna recorded earlier were no more. All the feeding channels were either plugged or diverted. Large scale dredging was carried out in the lake. Many apprehensions arose amongst scientists, environmentalists and other NGO social workers. It was thought that the whole thing was done to convert this natural lake into a concrete artificial bathing tank in order to attract tourists to this place. Not even a single aquatic or marshy plant was reported in the Lake. Morphometry of the lake was completely changed. Sediment profile and water chemistry also altered drastically. Earlier studies recorded a number of wild species of flora and fauna, which now had completely vanished. Numerous springs oozing out, were no more visible and were totally plugged. Nilnag lake served as a precious ecological resource and home for a variety of wild flora and fauna is now no more. The habitat destruction and destruction of its ecology was surely shockable because of deep dredging.  It was assumed that ecologically the lake is now no more a lake. This illusion remained for more than five years when ultimately recent visits in 2014 proved it all false, dream has come true it was seen that the lake has personified, drugging was done properly up to 30 ft in major portion   of the lake and up to  10 ft  near the entrance of the Soipather  kul, peripheries grabbed for cultivation of paddy is snatched, dredged out  and included in the lake area, pathway is constructed all around the lake to demarcate its boundary and to visit the lake comfortably. Lake has come in its original shape much better than before. Flora and fauna has revived. More than 24 aquatic species are recorded; water is green with least pollution with high transparency. Its outskirts are fenced and separated from the forest areas. Inlet and out let are made concrete, guarded by wire doors to control inflow and outlet. Aquatic weeds essential for Lake Ecosystem has automatically sprouted from seeds that remained dormant for some years. No seeds or saplings were manually sowed after dredging, said by M. Akram Rana, aged 72, father of a Sarpanch, village Buzgoo.

Neel locally means blue and Nag means lake/spring has gradually corrupted to Nil nag, is a fresh water high altitudinal Kashmir Himalayan lake believed to have formed as a result of tectonic movements.  Its exact age is not known. The lake is elliptically long, mesotrophic, open, dimictic, present in the lower fringes of the Pir Panjal range. It is fed by one permanent stream, Soipather Kul from south western end that contributes maximum water in the lake, besides its own springs. There are two other ephemeral inlets from its southern side which remain totally dry during summers. A small outlet regulated by wire doors that controls the water flow moving to water reservoir for supplying of portable water under the charge of PHE to certain nearby villages.  This mountainous lake remains covered with snow for more than three months. The snow melting water at higher elevations also enters along with the runoff from the surrounding areas. M. Akram Rana, an elderly local, mentioned that after drugging lot many springs from the bottom of the lake started oozing out and the whole lake got filled up within a short period of time.

Nilnag is the only lake in Kashmir Himalayas, where the noxious weeds like Azolla and Alternanthera species are not recorded. These noxious weeds have enormously infested in all valley lakes and proved nuisance, almost suffocating the underwater life by the formation of thick layers on the surfaces.

Present survey recorded the occurrence of 24 aquatic species, comprising of 13 emergents, 7 floating and 4 submerged respectively. Besides many lower plants that are essential for sustenance of the lake ecosystem. 

My view with regard to the dredging of this lake is satisfactory and we appreciate the results of the renovation as the lake has regained and exists better than the former position. The question arises can we apply the same methods to other various valley lakes that are dying ruthlessly without the care of the supervising authorities. The state government should take drastic and immediate steps to follow the same steps in other lakes by stepwise as many valley lakes are much larger than Nil nag lake. Important suggestion to the state government after exploring more than 15 Himalayan lakes is that there should be only single authority for all the state lakes and not different authorities as is in different lakes that have made a mess and chaos and irresponsibility to look after them. Let there be one authority like Lakes and Water ways Authority (LAWDA) not only for Dal lake (that consumed limitless amount and is still ailing in worst condition) but for all valley lakes that can control all the high and low altitudinal lakes of the state and let there be proportionately the distribution of the funds so that equal care will be taken for other neglected lakes that are suffocating and are at the verge of extinction.