GK INVESTIGATION | As famed Dal Lake faces existential threat, illegal construction galore in water body’s interiors

Questions rise if LCMA is turning a blind eye to illegal constructions? If palms have been greased?
The current situation revealed that the government has failed to stop these illegal constructions.
The current situation revealed that the government has failed to stop these illegal constructions.Aman Farooq/ GK

Srinagar: Despite a ban on the construction in the interiors of the Dal Lake and its adjoining vicinities, illegal constructions in these areas are galore.

The lake is facing an existential crisis and witnessing illegal construction in broad daylight, an exclusive investigation by Greater Kashmir found out.

Over the past few years, many surveys and reports have pointed out that the famous water body is continuously shrinking due to these illegal activities.

The current situation revealed that the government has failed to stop these illegal constructions.

Although the government has been saying that there is no encroachment in the water body, the situation on the ground is entirely different.

A covert visit by the Greater Kashmir team in the inner areas of the Dal Lake found that construction was going on in broad daylight and many fresh structures had come up in the interior of the lake.

Aman Farooq for Greater Kashmir

The visit by the Greater Kashmir team to areas like Kand Mohalla A, Kand Mohalla B, Tinda Mohalla, Sofi Mohalla, and other multiple areas of Dal Lake interiors found that despite a ban on construction, people were sneaking in construction materials that too without road connectivity while new houses and other structures were being constructed.

During the visit, the construction at some places was going on while at other places people had constructed plinths for new houses and completed the majority of work on other structures.

“Our families are growing and we need a place to live. For how many years can we survive in one room? The government should devise some rehabilitation plan so that we can also live in proper houses. We don’t have road connection and we are fighting to get road connectivity as well,” said a local from the interiors of the Dal Lake when asked about the freshly-constructed plinth.

Last year, a meeting about the effective implementation of the directions of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) chaired by Divisional Commissioner Kashmir said that of the 10 water bodies in Kashmir, there had been “no encroachment” on four water bodies.

Aman Farooq for Greater Kashmir

The four water bodies that were given a clean chit in encroachment include Dal Lake, Hokersar, Meergund, and Shalabugh.

The review meeting was held in the wake of a petition submitted by environment and social activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat before the NGT on pollution and encroachment in water bodies in Kashmir.

Talking to Greater Kashmir, Bhat said that not enough had been done to tackle the issue of encroachment, landfilling, and garbage dumping.

“NGT had sought various reports on the petition I filed. It triggered a national response and the Union Ministry issued various directions in this regard,” he said.

Experts and environmentalists also have been warning about the deteriorating situation of Dal Lake.

Many reports have revealed that the Dal Lake has shrunk in size due to continuous encroachments.

Assistant Professor at the Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Kashmir (KU) Samiullah Bhat said that multiple factors including encroachments had been affecting the ecology and led to the shrinking of Dal Lake over the years.

Aman Farooq for Greater Kashmir

“More constructions mean more population and more bio-waste into Dal Lake. When untreated waste goes into the Dal Lake from new dwellings, it adds to the problem like more weeds in Dal waters. Most of the waste is not treated and goes into the Dal Lake like it is. It has increased organic pollution in Dal Lake. There are enough laws to tackle the issue but there is a need to implement them seriously,” Bhat said.

According to an assessment of the Dredging Corporation of India (DCI) in 2017, pollution and encroachment have resulted in the Dal Lake shrinking from its original area of 22 sq km to about 10 sq km.

The DCI also found that intense pollution by untreated sewage and solid wastes that flow into the lake, encroachments on water channels, and clogging have diminished circulation and inflows into the lake.

A senior official from LCMA said that they had recently carried out dredging around Dal Lake to open the water channels.

Last year, the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh asked LCMA to take effective steps to ensure that there was no encroachment in and around the Dal Lake and that all unauthorised constructions were duly dealt with under the law and removed as soon as possible.

Aman Farooq for Greater Kashmir

An official from the J&K Lake Conservation and Management Authority (LCMA) said that despite a dearth of staff, LCMA is trying its best to keep the illegal construction in check.

He said that the lack of manpower in the wing that oversees illegal constructions has affected the working.

“We have to go on demolition drives with a handful of staff. Although all the departments are trying to help, unless we have enough staff and Police protection, things will get difficult,” an official said.

Vice Chairman LCMA, Bashir Ahmad Bhat said that they were continuously carrying out anti-encroachment drives around Dal Lake, and during these drives scores of illegal structures have been demolished.

“We will again look into the mentioned areas so that no illegal activity is allowed. We are continuously carrying out anti-encroachment drives. We have carried out 60 drives and demolished over 300 illegal structures this year so far. We are planning to increase our staff strength in every section of our department. We are also planning to increase camera surveillance around Dal Lake and the plan for it has also been formulated,” Bhat said.

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