Once known for crystal clear waters, Khushalsar and Gilsar lakes in Srinagar are on the verge of extinction. Stinking water, weeds and garbage dumps are remnants of these twin lakes.
Till a few decades ago, Khushalsar and Gilsar, which are interconnected water bodies, were favourite haunts of visitors and nature lovers. These water bodies carry outflow waters of Dal lake through the Nallah Amir Khan and are important to maintain its hydrology.
These lakes used to support many species of fish and provided safe haven to migratory birds in its large strands of reeds and aquatic weeds. It boasted high yield of fish and Nadru plantations, which provided livelihood to fishermen and local inhabitants for commercial purposes.
Gradually, in absence of conservation measures, the condition of these water bodies started to deteriorate, especially in the last over three decades. The twin lakes have been extensively filled and encroached upon. Unabated flow of sewage from adjoining habitations and constructions severely affected its flora and fauna.
Official apathy and greed of unscrupulous elements turned Khushalsar and Gilsar into cesspools and garbage dumping yards.
Water of these lakes was so clear that it possessed healing properties. Now the pungent smell emanating from these water bodies is a constant reminder to people how they vandalised these natural assets.
Studies have shown that chemical parameters of these lakes have worsened alarmingly beyond permissible levels. The twin lakes are passing through Eutrophication. We are losing the twin lakes with every passing second.
Most of the areas in these lakes have become dumping sites of all allochanthus and non- allochanthus materials which have resulted in choking of these water bodies hampering water flow. Spring feeding these lakes too have been choked.
Ajaz Rasool, a noted environmentalist and hydraulic engineer minces no words to blame authorities for deterioration of these water bodies.
Khushalsar and Gilsar are twin satellite lakes which on Revenue records form part of Dal and Nageen Lake ``Sewage and solid waste generated by shoreline population deteriorated water quality.
“There were no care takers for the lakes as these were outside the scope of conservation project for Dal and Nageen Lake. In fact it was not clear which Department of the Government has to manage and conserve these twin lakes. Not only that, the siltation of shore areas resulted in avenues of encroachment and residential colonies came up in its silted areas. The lakes suffered reduction of its area and volume. Wherever there was an outcry for conserving and properly managing them, various departments would not own them and kept shifting responsibility on others,” he said.
In the mid sixties, the Housing and Urban Department started a peripheral sewerage scheme with STP to arrest the sewage ingress and treat it. “But soon afterwards this project was left partially executed and served no purpose. Off late a few months back this work was again resumed by laying drainage pipes.
However, its completion and commissioning will take a long time and the lakes will continue to be polluted. There is an urgent need for LCMA to take over the lakes for their futuristic management and conservation as also UEED to expedite the work of peripheral sewerage and sewage treatment for early commissioning.,” he said.
In 2002, the government had formulated a comprehensive plan of Rs.61 crores for preservation of Khushalsar. The plan had been approved by the Central Government. The plan envisaged to protect and develop the lake by removal of encroachment by way of earth filling, illegal plantations and constructions. Besides their demarcation and fencing, it was decided to deploy Forest Protection Force personnel to keep strict vigil in Khushalsar to stop further encroachment. But the plan never saw the light of the day.
The then Minister of Forests had stated that the deterioration of the Gilsar and Khushalsar took decades and it will take us at least a few years for their restoration. However despite the passing of over two decades no headway has been made. It is ironic that despite being important lakes, the Government is yet to entrust conservation of these water bodies to the Lake Conservation and Management Authority (LCMA). LCMA, which is undertaking Dal conservation, possesses expertise in conservation of water bodies.
Though the Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO) , an environmental group from the last few years, has been conducting cleaning and deweeding of Khushalsar and Gilsar. But it has not been a smooth ride for NLCO as it has been facing resistance from some dwellers during its cleaning drives.
“Despite challenges, we are carrying on with cleaning drives in Khushalsar and Gilsar under our Mission Ehsaas. We are doing our bit to restore these water bodies as a social and religious obligation. I am grateful to the divisional administration for supporting our cause but I want to maintain that people's participation is a must for conserving our natural assets," said NLCO president Manzoor Wangnoo.
NLCO has set an example and shown a sense of responsibility towards environmental protection. Like NLCO, people from different walks of life must extend support to the cause of restoring these water bodies. We have to understand that it is not an overnight job but will take years and sustained conservation efforts to save our water bodies and prevent further damage.
Environmentalists have recommended stopping the influx of sewage by plugging all drains and diverting these to Sewage Treatment Plants. It is high time for demarcation and fencing of these water bodies to prevent further encroachments. Government must realise that irreparable damage has been done to these twin lakes so far. Ultimately, the Government has to play its role in long term conservation of these water bodies. People can undertake cleaning drives but it is the Government which has to construct STPs or remove encroachments. It needs collaborative efforts of Government and stakeholders including environmentalists and researchers to save these water bodies.
Khushalsar and Gilsar are outflow channels of Dal Lake and part of the traditional navigation route of Srinagar. It is high time to save these water bodies. Otherwise the day is not far away when these lakes will become extinct and future generations will blame us.
The author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir