Stinking vast expanse of water in a canal enveloped with obnoxious weeds and garbage! This is the remnant of once sparkling Chuntkul, the main outflow channel of Dal Lake.
Chuntkul acts as a catalyst in maintaining the water budget of Dal’s ecosystem as its surplus waters flows through it into river Jhelum through Ram Munshi Bagh and Gaw Kadal.
Flowing around a park Chinar Bagh, Chuntkul was a favourite haunt of the British till 1947. Subsequently, Chinar Bagh, comprising eight islands, became one of the major camping sites and fishing spots for tourists including foreigners.
To showcase Chuntkul’s crystal clear waters, the India Council of Cultural Relations had organised a camp for students of 25 countries in the 1960s. Owing to the natural beauty of Chuntkul and Chinar Bagh, the Government used to encourage tourism and cultural promotional activities in Chuntkul.
Ironically, the canal was neglected and gradually its condition deteriorated. Chuntkul turned into the main outflow channel of Dal lake after filling the Nallah Mar canal in the 1970s.
In absence of any regulation, Chuntkul was gradually encroached upon with construction of huts on its banks.
The High Court, monitoring restoration of Dal Lake, has taken strong note of Chuntkul’s deterioration and ordered demolition of all structures and rehabilitation of inhabitants.
Authorities undertook demolition upto SRTC Bridge, but left out hutments on the channel from Barbarshah and Gaw Kadal untouched.
Chuntkul has been devoid of sustained cleaning or dredging drives in the last several years. Back side of Chuntkul has turned marshy and emanates a pungent smell with rise in temperature. In absence of chain-link fencing or abutments, unscrupulous people throw used material and garbage on its banks near Barbarshah locality.
Its condition is worst near Gaw Kadal side with weeds overwhelming the entire water surface. It is disterning of see carcasses rotting near Barbarshah bridge. Locals say the water at the spot used to be so clean that they used to use it for drinking.
Ironically, drains of MA Road and Barbarshah localities are emptied into Chuntkul by two dewatering stations severely affecting its flora and fauna. Instead of taking measures to restore the glory of Chuntkul, it is being polluted. From the source of fresh water, Chuntkul has become a source of pollution for locals.
No measure has been taken to prevent dumping of garbage into the channel. There is no justification to let this water body suffer the fate of Brari Nambal which is another outlet of Dal Lake. We have seen how official apathy and public greed vandalised Brari Nambal.
Though the Government had in 2015 termed conservation of Brari Nambal as a litmus test, despite the passing of eight years, no effort has been made to improve its water quality. Likewise other water bodies including Aanchar, Gilsar and Khushalsar have been neglected.
Public support is a must in the restoration of water bodies. We have seen how a voluntary environmental group Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO) has been making efforts to save Gilsar and Khushalsar lakes. But it is a herculean task and needs support from the Government and importantly the people.
There is a need to rope in people from different walks of life in cleaning and protection of water bodies in Srinagar. This will imbibe a sense of belonging towards nature.
Everyone has to contribute their bit to save water bodies.
Authorities have been beautifying every street and corner in Srinagar.
Likewise, the entire stretch of Chuntkul from Ram Munshi Bagh regulatory gate to Gaw Kadal can be beautified and used for recreation and shikara rides—on the pattern of Jhelum Riverfront.
We need to understand that conservation of Chuntkul is as important as of Dal Lake. If Chuntkul loses its carrying capacity, it will be detrimental for Dal Lake’s eco-system. Dal needs constant circulation of its waters and Chuntkul plays an important part in it.
But more than superficial cleaning drives, there is a need to take scientific measures for restoring the glory of Chuntkul. Funding shouldn’t be any problem as in most of the conservation projects. Let people make restoration of Chuntkul a public conservation project and set an example of being responsible citizens.
Isn’t it time to give something back to nature? We are losing water bodies with the passing of every second. Loss to the environment cannot be compensated as it is irreparable, but we can prevent further deterioration. We have a responsibility to pass on our natural assets to the younger generation. This is our responsibility as humans.
Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir