When Manzoor Ahmad Wangnoo, a noted Kashmiri businessman, and Chairman of Nigeen Lake Conservation Organization (NLCO) was asked during a TV show few months back to give his concluding remarks within 20 seconds on how to conserve Kashmir's water-bodies especially lakes, he uttered a word "Ehsaas" . In his concluding remarks Manzoor Wangnoo said unless people don't have concern and sensibility towards protection and conservation of Kashmir's water- bodies, they can't at all be restored ? The very next day Mr Wangnoo visited Gilsar in Nowshera area of Srinagar's old city. He was infuriated and even devitalized to see the condition of the water-body as it has been totally choked now with trash, silt and other kinds of solid and liquid waste.
"I felt depressed to see the condition of this lake after visiting the site. I could only see trash, plastic waste and filth everywhere. Immediately I went to meet Divisional Commissioner Kashmir to seek his cooperation so that I would initiate Gilsar clean up drive under Mission Ehsaas. Divisional Commissioner gave me his full support and came personally to the site along with other officers. " said Manzoor Wangnoo
Whose baby is Gilsar ?
Gilsar has now turned into a cesspit. Calling it a sar is an insult to the name – lake or sar. Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LWDA) which is responsible to look after lakes and waterways of Srinagar has abandoned Gilsar. Similarly Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and Urban Environmental Engineering Department (UEED) too have not taken steps to restore Gilsar. In the recent past some work was done in 2013 but the muck and trash excavated was dumped on its eastern shore which should have been taken out. Locals told me that whenever anybody around the Gilsar tries to undertake any sort of construction, the officials of LAWDA are the first to come to the spot. The intention of the officials is not to stop the illegal construction or ensuring protection of Gilsar or Khushal Sar but to extort money from the persons undertaking construction of shops , houses etc.
"The officials of LWDA come and issue notices when people start illegal construction. In many cases they demand bribes. People who have encroached the Gilsar have bribed LAWDA , SMC and Revenue department officials during last 30 years or more. There are encroachments happening just behind Zadibal Police station, but who cares? Had the illegal constructions not taken place Gilsar would not have been in such a pathetic condition" Nazir Ahmad a local resident told me during my recent visit to the area.
When people went to Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) in the past in connection with cleaning up of Gilsar, the officers avoided them by saying that the area does not come under their jurisdiction. If the area is not under the jurisdiction of LAWDA then why do they intervene when illegal constructions come up in the area? Had LAWDA , Revenue Department or even SMC been proactive in stopping these illegal constructions, it would have been appreciated but this hasn't happened at all. Gilsar has been choked from its eastern and western shores and above all the trash, solid and liquid waste has destroyed it completely. Let the Government make it public that which public authority is responsible for upkeep of Gilsar and other water bodies like Khushaal Sar, Anchar Aar?
Large area of Gilsar has been filled with muck, silt and plastic trash. There is a land mafia working in the area in league with Government officials. They need to be taken to task. Several drains from adjoining areas empty into Gilsar. This liquid waste with lot of silt and filth is also destroying the water-body. Until the mid-1990's Gilsar was in better shape but it became a victim of corruption and human greed. Not only solid or liquid waste can be seen in Gilsar in abundance ,but even the animal carcasses are seen floating here. The water of this lake is not only unfit for human consumption but even this cannot be used for animals now. The chemical parameters of Gilsar had far exceeded the permissible levels more than a decade back. This has snatched the livelihood of local fishermen as well as the population of fish has almost perished in the area.
"Many have suffered from several ailments like Pyrexia, Ascariasis, liver and lung ailments plus other gastro-intestinal diseases in the past. This even continues now. The pungent smell emitting from the lake is increasing day by day due to increased methane concentration. The pollution load as a result of flushing of Dal Lake into Gilsar via Nallah Amir Khan has not only deteriorated the water quality of all the lake but has posed a serious threat to the people dependent on their waters" said Dr M R D Kudangar a noted Limnologist of Kashmir. Most of the trash goes into Gilsar via Amir Khan nallah. The residents of Nallabal and Batakhpora also dump trash in the nallah. SMC needs to provide them facility of door to door collection of household waste.
Making Mission Ehsaas sustainable
Being a welfare state it is the responsibility of the Government to clean up Gilsar. We must appreciate good Samaritans like Manzoor sahib and his team having volunteered to clean Gilsar. I am hopeful that Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC), under the leadership of a young and energetic Commissioner will devise a mechanism to retrieve and rescue Gilsar. A dedicated dredger should be put into place that will clean the lake on a weekly basis.
More than two weeks have passed, a lot of solid waste has been dredged out from Gilsar. The dredging machine has been hired by Mr Wangnoo. The machine easily dredged muck and plastic waste near the lake banks, but the real challenge is to excavate waste from the middle of the lake. The Mission Ehsaas team brought a Pontoon ( steel platform like boat) towards the site with great difficulty. This will help to transport waste from middle of the lake to the banks. Even the boats couldn't move in Gisar until recently, but now water is flowing smoothly.
I was informed by the senior citizens of the area that a chain of fresh water springs existed in the area around Gilsar until a few years back which unfortunately have been filled up. These springs should be retrieved immediately and geo-tagged and further developed into heritage sites.
Mission Ehsaas is not a permanent solution. This is just a kick start of a public campaign. It will continue for another month but after that who will ensure Gilsar's upkeep? I was overwhelmed to notice that people living around the Gilsar are fully involved in this campaign by providing all moral support and encouragement to the Mission Ehsaas team. Let Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) encash this public sentiment and make the work sustainable by undertaking door to door collection of waste in a segregated manner from Zadibal to Nowshera, plus areas located on western shore of Gilsar like Zoonimar, Tengpora, Kokerbagh etc. SMC has started source segregation of waste some days back in four wards of the city like Karan Nagar, Shalimar, Soura and Humhama. Let few more areas around Gilsar be included. Source segregation of waste is in fact needed in these areas. I appeal the Commissioner SMC to involve local youth of the area along with Mohalla Committees who can ensure segregation and collection of the municipal solid waste at household level. Monthly meetings should be held in the area to get public feedback. Masjid Imams, community leaders should be involved in the campaign. Lastly Gilsar needs to be demarcated. Illegal encroachments should be removed forthwith and land -mafia taken to task.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder and Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. He is Anant Fellow for Climate Action & Acumen India Fellow.