Chuntkul, the major outflow channel of Dal Lake is fast turning into a swamp as authorities have failed to take measures for its conservation.
Experts said conservation of Chuntkul is vital as it helps to maintain water budget of Dal Lake. Waters of Dal flows through the channel into river Jhelum via Ram Munshi Bagh and Gaw Kadal outlets. However, in absence of conservation measures in past several years, the channel has been engulfed by weeds.
A large expanse of Chuntkul from rear side of Kashmir Golf Course has turned into swamp. In absence of cleaning, tons of garbage has accumulated in the channel near Barbarshah bridge and Gaw Kadal. Some people have encroached upon major portion of the channel at Gaw Kadal by dumping debris and other waste.
"Due to official apathy, Chuntkul has turned into a dumping yard. I wonder why authorities are sitting on conservation of this important water channel," rued Ghulam Ahmad, a local at Gaw Kadal, pointing towards heaps of garbage and debris.
The channel has been engulfed with weeds and Azolla from Dalgate bridge to Ram Munshi Bagh water regulatory gate. "I vividly remember how till few decades ago Chuntkul possessed clear waters and we used to drink it. Now, its waters emanate pungent smell due to pollution and stagnation," said Mehraj-ud-Din, a resident of Dalgate.
Instead of taking conservation measures, authorities have constructed several dewatering pumps on Chuntkul banks to pump drain water of civil line areas into it. Ironically, despite passing of nearly seven years since the viaduct was constructed over a portion of Chuntkul, leftover construction material is yet to be removed from its beneath.
After sustained campaign by Greater Kashmir, authorities in 2008 had removed the hutments on Chuntkul banks from Dalgate to Fakr-e-Kashmir bridge. However, despite passing over a decade the structures, including hutments from the bridge to Gaw Kadal are yet to be removed.
"We rehabilitated 57 downtrodden dwellers of Chuntkul at Rakh-e-Arth by constructing houses for them. However, their hutments are still intact in Chuntkul. We have been urging the authorities to remove these hutments before they are reoccupied, but no action has been taken so far," said Manzoor Ahmad Wangnoo, chairman Kashmir Welfare Trust, a voluntary organization.
Officials said several departments have been entrusted with Chuntkul's conservation. While the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) looks after the waterway, the Irrigation and Flood Control maintains its embankments. Besides the Tourism department looks after children and public parks constructed on islands in the channel and Srinagar Municipal Corporation undertakes sanitation.
"All these departments have failed to do their bit to conserve Chuntkul. Officers at helm of these departments pass buck on each other on maintenance of Chuntkul," said an official.
Executive engineer LAWDA, Raman Uppal, said tenders for cleaning of Chuntkul have been finalised. "We will start conservation works in Chuntkul within a week," he said.
Chief engineer IFC MM Shahnawaz said Chuntkul falls in LAWDA jurisdiction. "It is LAWDA's duty to conserve the channel," he said.
Environmentalists maintain that restoration of Chuntkul is imperative for conservation of Dal Lake. "Deteriorating condition will be detrimental for Dal lake," they said.
"Chuntkul like other naturals canals in Srinagar is facing government and public apathy. Its main functionality of regulating the Dal waters has significantly reduced due to siltation and encroachment over the last few decades," Prof Shakil Romsu, head Department of Earth Sciences, University of Kashmir told Greater Kashmir.
"The government should seriously think and plan restoring all the natural canals in the city including Chuntkul to improve circulation and flushing of Dal waters. The restoration of this natural canal system in the city shall also largely improve the worsening drainage problem in the summer capital," Romsu added.