This refers to the news story (GK 3rd August) on beautifying Srinagar. It is correctly said that the lagoon has now turned into a cesspool because of its poor conservation for which the State Government is largely responsible.
It is reported that the J&K Bank, at the request of SMC, had decided to develop the lagoon with add-ons like public parks, jogging tracks, rose garden, play-area for children, fountains, boating and adventure zone courts etc for which the cost was estimated around Rs 20-25 crore to be entirely met by the J&K Bank under its Social Responsibility clause. The SMC was to formulate a detailed project report (DPR) which it allegedly failed to do. This is despite the initiative having come from the former Commissioner, SMC, Dr. G.N. Qasba who had roped in the J&K Bank to implement the project.
The present Commissioner, SMC, Tufail Mattoo, is said to have taken a view that unless LAWDA acquires proprietary land in Brari Nambal, J&K Bank's DPR can not be proceeded with. Since the issue has become very ticklish, it is important that no lopsided view of the matter is taken and no one is unnecessarily accused of sabotaging the plans.
It is indeed an irony that when the Dal Development Project was formulated and approved by the Government of India at a cost of over Rs 398 crore, the conservation of Brari Nambal lagoon was, for intriguing reasons, left out. No one estimated the essence of this lagoon alongside the conservation of the lake of which it was an integral part. With the result it remained unattended. Now it is a cesspool causing huge environment problems around the area to the detriment of health of people living there.
There are some definite hiccups that the lagoon is facing which need to be attended to in the first instance before providing add-on facilities of the kind being conceived. These can be briefly summed up as under:
1. Acquisition of Proprietary Areas: the Government/LAWDA must formulate proposals to acquire the private watery areas within the Lagoon. This accounts for over 650 kanal out of a total 1100 kanal of the lagoon area. The acquisition should be on compulsory basis for conservation of the Lagoon. Private individuals, who claim proprietary rights since generations and seem to be having valid revenue documents, need to paid a reasonable sum as compensation. It would be advisable to keep the Hon'ble High Court, hearing the PIL on Dal Conservation, informed about the important step in order to arrest the possibility of private parties blocking the move. [I am thus in complete agreement with Tufail that unless the proprietary areas within the lagoon are acquired, no DPR of the kind conceived by the J&K Bank can be proceeded with. ]
2. Lagoon to have more outflow channels: The Govt./LAWDA needs to seek technical consultancy to provide at least two outflow channels to the Lagoon to maintain a balanced inflow-outflow of water. The problem of stillness of water on North-eastern and the western sides of the Lagoon are quite pronounced. The existing cut and cover conduit provided as an alternate to the natural course serves but a limited purpose. The lagoon bed is basically inclined in north-easterly direction and the water would flow out in a natural course through a channel which the government of the time has blocked and filled up to provide for the circular road. (A historical blunder!)
Another outflow channel needs to be provided on the western side to improve circulation of water in the lagoon. Unless this is done, no conservation measures will succeed.
3. Dredging of Lagoon: Massive dredging needs to be undertaken on regular basis to remove the mammoth growth of unwanted weeds and plants which fuel the lake with excessive nutrients affecting adversely the lake ecology. This obviously should be an integral part of the conservation plan for which funds too may have to be had from GoI.
The above three proposals need to be part of an integrated conservation program to be prepared by the LAWDA for which State Government may have to approach the Government of India for funding as Part-II of Lake Conservation Program. All add-ons can then work purposefully.
As Special Secretary in the Housing and Urban Development Department in 2006-08, I remained associated with the Dal Development Project. LAWDA had then made impressive progress in restoring Nowpora Rainawari and other channels carrying water from Dal to the Lagoon. People living around the area were taken on board and were upbeat about the prospects of "doongas" making a journey from the lagoon to Hazratbal via Dal, albeit on experimental basis. We were very close to achieving that mission when the bad law and order situation struck the valley, undoing the plans.
There are major bottlenecks involved that need to be tackled first. Let not the Government or the J&K Bank rush with investments that ultimately proves unproductive.
(The author is a former Special Secretary in Housing & Urban Development Department.)