Once known for crystal clear waters, Anchar lake in Srinagar is on the verge of extinction. The lake has been a victim of decades of official apathy and greed of unscrupulous people.
Anchar lake receives major lease of its waters from Dal lake through Nallah Amir Khan via Gilsar and Khushalsar lakes. A network of channels from the cold water nallah Sindh enters the lake on its western shore forming a delta. The lake is also fed by springs within the basin and along the periphery. It finally merges with Jhelum at Sangam.
The catchment area of Anchar is approximately 66 sq.km comprising long stretches of elevated land on the northwest, which is used for raising different types of vegetation including agricultural fields.
However, unabated pollution, siltation coupled with extensive encroachments, has severely affected its flora and fauna. From 19.54 sq.km a century ago, the lake has been reduced to 6 sq.km, out of which 3.6 sq.km is marsh.
Anchar is also a semi-urban wetland that forms part of habitat for native and migratory birds. Large chunks of peripheral areas, especially on its eastern banks have been encroached upon by land mafia by filling it and conversion into agricultural fields.
Hundreds of constructions have come up on this stretch in absence of regulation by authorities.
Due to improper drainage systems, sewage from catchments and settlements within the lake directly flow into it resulting in irreversible ecological changes. Population of aquatic birds, both residents and migratory birds have also been affected and subsequently their food supplies are reduced considerably.
Extensive cultivation of Salix (willow) in the lake for fabrication of wooden baskets, has led to reduction of open water surface at an alarming rate. Production of Nadru (Lotus stem) for which Anchar was known, has drastically reduced. Due to high pollution load, farmers in Anchar have developed health complications including skin diseases.
One of the major problems confronting Anchar is siltation. It is fed with a network of channels originating from River Sind in Ganderbal towards its western shore.
These channels carry tons of silt-laden waters which settle in the lake. Subsequently, a large chunk of the lake has turned into land mass which is being used for paddy cultivation.
Many springs feeding fresh water to the lake have been buried under concrete constructions.
As per a study ‘Landscape Transformations, Morphometry, and Trophic Status of Anchar Wetland in Kashmir Himalaya,’ by Kashmir University, Anchar has lost an area of ~93 ha from 1980, the natural area of the wetland was lost significantly because of land conversion practices largely related to encroachments, settlements, and unplanned developmental activities.
The land cover changes assessed in the immediate vicinity of wetland indicated an increase in the built-up (223%) and roads (95%). Morphometric analysis revealed that the maximum length of the lake decreased by 775 m, while width showed an insignificant decrease.
The bathymetric analysis revealed that the depth of the wetland varied from 25 to 246 cm, with a mean depth of 101.6 cm. Carlson's trophic state index (TSI) ranged between 71 and 80.4, indicating the hyper-eutrophic nature of the wetland. Comparison of water quality data of a wetland with the previous studies indicated a decrease of 29 cm in the maximum depth.
Based on the data analysis, the study recommends immediate policy interventions to safeguard, and reclaim this culturally and ecologically significant lake cum wetland.
Environmentalists have been voicing their concern over the deteriorating condition of Anchar. “The lake is under tremendous anthropogenic pressures which have resulted in deterioration of its water quality. The entire liquid and solid wastes generated on the peripheral areas situated at higher contours where people live find its way into the lake. Even the agricultural waste of the above area is disposed of in it,” says Ajaz Rasool, a noted environmentalist and hydraulic engineer.
The water has degraded to an extent that wading through it has become a health hazard and biotic life is posed under threat.
“Anchar Lake till date has ironically been experiencing complete neglect and apathy at the hands of the Government. We do not have an approved Conservation and Management Action Plan for the lake and consequently no funding from the Authorities for its upkeep.
It is thus imperative that the Government takes action to formulate a comprehensive holistic Conservation and management Action Plan for remediation of the ills affecting its aquatic ecology.”
“The earlier such plan is formulated and implemented on ground, the only way one can hope for Anchar to survive and be revived. The newly created J&K Wetland Authority has an important role to ensure this objective,” he says.
Such was the grandeur of Anchar lake that authorities had several decades ago decided to start medical tourism in houseboats behind SKIMS. The plan envisioned to place houseboats in Anchar lake behind SKIMS and convert these into floating wards for foreigners. But the plan was later shelved. Now the vast expanse of water has been converted into agricultural fields.
We have to understand that Anchar is not a cesspool but an important part of Kashmir’s eco-system. It is part of the inter-connective hydrological system of water bodies in Srinagar. Its survival is imperative for Dal Lake and Sindh.
There is a need to put conservation of Anchar under the newly created Lake Conservation and Management Authority (LCMA) formerly known as Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) which possesses expertise and machinery to start its restoration.
There is a need to demarcate and undertake fencing of Anchar to prevent further encroachments. Drains pouring into the lake must be immediately plugged. New Sewage Treatment Plants must be constructed around Anchar. Sediment settling basins are a must to prevent influx of silt from Sindh into the lake.
It is the responsibility of the Government and people to join hands to restore the glory of Anchar as both are responsible for its deterioration. Damage done to the environment is irreparable and cannot be compensated in any form.
We can only take measures to prevent further damage and salvage whatever is left. It is high time that we own nature as our existence and survival depends on it.
Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir