September 2017 News

Dying Wular Lake Awaits Survival Certificate From Govt

3 September 2017
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
Samaan Lateef

Bandipora: Standing on a huge land mass amid willow trees, where Ghulam Mohidin Dar, 65, used to paddle his boat in his early years, exhibits the decades of neglect by successive governments towards the shrinking Wular - South Asia's largest freshwater lake. Dar, a panchayat member of Watlab village, which is located on the banks of Wular Lake in north Kashmir's Bandipora district, laments that the past governments had done nothing to stop silt accumulation in the lake. Located between Bandipora and Baramulla districts of north Kashmir, around 45 km from here, Wular Lake is known as the mother of all lakes in Kashmir due to its huge size. It is about 16-km long and 9.6-km wide with ill-defined shores. However, the area of Wular Lake, which is the only drainage for four main rivers and three main lakes of the Kashmir valley, has shrunk from 130 sq km to 24 sq km in the past few decades. Every year, thousands of tonnes of silt is deposited in the lake, which is constantly decreasing its depth and water absorbing capacity. 'One-fifth of the water holding capacity has been lost over the last three decades due to siltation from degraded catchments and wetland conversions for agriculture and willow plantations,' states a Wetland International South Asia (WISA) report on Wular. The area of Wular Lake has been reduced by 45 per cent due to the conversion of land for agriculture and housing projects, the WISA report said. What used to be the near center of the lake has turned into playfields and willow nurseries, said Dar, whose family has been in fishing business since ages. 'The dying lake has affected our livelihood. I catch hardly 2 kg of fish per day while in the past, fish catch was anything between 20 kg to 30 kg per day,' Dar added. After widespread public anger over the dying lake, the J&K Government constituted the Wular Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA) in 2011 to conserve the water body. Of the total Rs 120 crore for conservation, only Rs 60 crore was released using which the WUCMA authorities erected 1,159 geotagged boundary pillars, delineating the lake boundary from the adjoining areas. The WUCMA also planted 12 lakh trees over 1,220 hectares in the adjoining forest area of Madhumati and Erin to stop the flow of silt. The WUCMA officials said the conservation work had almost stopped after the government didn't release funds for dredging and reviving the feeder channels of the lake. As the dredging has been stalled, the WUCMA officials are waiting for the approval of a fresh project worth Rs 400 crore from the sub-committee of the group of ministers constituted on Tuesday. The project has already been tendered and won by a Kolkata-based company, Reach Dredgers, at Rs 376 crore. From the severely affected area of 27.5 sq km of the lake, nearly 5 sq km has to be dredged out in the initial phase, said WUCMA Chief Executive Director Irfan Rasool Wani. Reach Dredgers has to remove 2 crore cubic metres of silt of the total 8 crore cubic metres and cut 21 lakh willow trees in the next two years, Wani added. The company will pay Rs 200 crore for willow trees. Wani said the death of the lakes was a natural process and the government was trying to stop it. 'The survival of several million people depends on this lake,' he added. He said the revival of the lake would improve water quality and fish production and also boost the economy of the adjoining villages. Wani attributed the increasing soil level in the lake to the accumulation of silt and carriage of fertilisers by the inflow of water from its tributaries. The fertilizers change the water quality and give rise to new vegetation, which results into rising soil level, he added. Moreover, Wular is not only a cause for concern for the locals, but it has become a bone of contention between New Delhi and Islamabad. Under the 1960 Indus Water Treaty, Pakistan has exclusive right over three of the common rivers - Indus, Jhelum and Chenab - while India has exclusive right over Sutlej, Ravi and Beas. However, Islamabad feels New Delhi is violating the treaty.