History of Srinagar has started with the history of Dal. Dal Lake is the mother of all the water bodies in Srinagar and 2nd largest lake in Kashmir next to Asia’s largest fresh water lake Wular.
The Dal, a unique gift of Almighty, is the known water body of Srinagar where life originated and flourished only because of its environment which provides necessary conditions for its sustenance.
It is the warm monomictic Dal which gives Kashmir its identity in general and to Srinagar in particular. Dal has been our identity right from ancient times till date and we were also known as the citizens of the lake city or Dal city or city of Dal lake.
Dal lake is spread over more than eighteen square kilometers of water area from the Sulaiman hills to Zaberwan to Dachigam hills to Tailbal area to Hazratbal to Kralyar in old city. There was hardly any area or place in whole of Srinagar and its country sides which was not connected to this magnificent water body by water channels either natural or man-made.
Jewel in the crown of Kashmir, besides our identity, is our heritage too. History of Srinagar has started with the history of Dal. It is not only the source of potable water supply to more than half of the population of Srinagar but contributes to our economy too.
The prominent factor of our economy is tourism, which is not only associated with this water body but mostly dependent on its health alone. If we look little back to 1846, the total economy of then government of Maharajas of Kashmir was mostly dependent on water bodies of Kashmir and this lake constitutes more than fifty per cent share of it.
All major economic activities of the then government of Kashmir started around water bodies of Kashmir where the Dal was the main contributor. NAWAI KISHTEE (Tax on boats) MAHAL SINGHARA (Tax on chest nuts) MIR BAHRI (Tax on vegetables and Dal produce like fish and birds) clearly indicate the importance and richness of this water body and its contribution towards economic development of the state of Kashmir.
Kashmir being the most beautiful Himalayan valley has natural magnificent lakes, rivers, wetlands, canals, streams, nallas and kols and city of Srinagar was more famous for its water bodies, their produce and water transport. Economic activities saw a big shift from just taxing to tourism. Srinagar became the center of attraction for locals, domestic, national and international visitors mainly because of this fabulous water body which is mostly protected by hills and mountains. Dal is a fresh water lake fed by hundreds of natural springs within its own body as well as from its catchment areas and water streams from Dachigam via tailbalnalla. It is the center of all economical activities in Srinagar mostly in the areas of Tourism, Travel, Art, Handicrafts, Cottage industries, Hotel and Gust house business, luxury transport, Adventure activities, Agriculture expansion, floriculture bloom and sports which even today form major part of our economy.
The tour travel, transport, art, craft industries and hotel industry are directly dependent on tourism and this tourism itself is totally dependent on the health of this water body.
Besides the economic aspect, more important aspect of Dal is our environment. Our existence depends on our environment and our environment depends on the Dal lake and other water bodies of this city of Srinagar. Dal, the main factor of our ecology, is in trouble due to greed of the inhabitants, caretakers and policy makers besides law enforcement.
Our flood woes which is heavily on our head now is because of our disrespect to these water bodies including Dal and its out flow channels. Closure of nalla mar which was the main outlet of Dal and major component of flood protection system of Srinagar city given by our great king Budshah, choking of Brarinumbal at Babadem has renderdNowpora canal useless, hence giving rise to environmental fallout. Polluting various channels of Dal and reducing the capacity of our reservoirs has exposed our city’s habitable areas to floods.
Dal, which was the main component of our protection during excess water flow in Jhelum due to undue precipitations etc, has been rendered useless by encroachment of the water body and polluting its streams and canals. Now the only link available from Dal to River Jhelum isChontiKol which too is in bad shape besides other circulation links like KuteKol and SunerKol, which were put in use for transportation and water supply during normal times as well as during floods. These water transport canals, once the main tourist attractions, are in unhealthy state of affairs so much so that just few hours of perspiration forces us to vacate our households to higher altitudes to escape the impending floods.
Dal is virtually near the point of extinction or point of no return. Today Dal Lake is like a huge septic tank where inflow of raw sewage (night soil) and untreated sewerage, waste water from over one lakh fifty thousand households, hotels, houseboats and surface drainage water is the order of the day, and we one and all are mute spectators to this disaster.
We cannot live this way of life in this modern time of science and technology. We have to ponder immensely for our existence and for that we need to put all heads together sincerely, honestly and dedicatedly to achieve better environmental conditions and sound ecosystem for maintaining our identity; for existence in a healthy manner. Srinagar’s sustainable development depends on its water bodies especially the DAL, ANCHAR, KHUSHAL SAR, BARINUMBAL AND GILL SAR besides river Jhelum, river Doodh Ganga and its links.
Achievement of smart city status will be a distant dream until we achieve better management of our water bodies in a healthy environment.
Ten Steps to think about:
All the organizations, both public and private, need to join hands under one umbrella for better conservation of Dal lake.
Human resource matters most if put to proper use at proper place and at proper time.
Proper anti encroachment drives are needed with proper participation of local youth and veterans.
Environmental and sanitation workshop programs are the need of the hour where one and all are required to be educated in proper utilization of waste in scientific and traditional methods of disposal.
All the schools in and around the Dal Lake need to be given the duty of being the watch dogs and caretakers of Dal and the authority required for it. One of the daily school periods should be designated to work on the conservation of the Dal and this can be given the merit at par with social service in their annual report cards. Schools from around the district should also take a part in this. Lake Authority must sponsor one school on daily basis to visit, understand, clean, and do recreation in and around the Dal.
Role of public participation in conservation of Dal is so far lacking and the public needs to be involved. Participation of general public is a must.
Methods of scientific disposal of Dal waste such as different weeds and aquatic waste need to be incorporated in conservation of lake.
Total ban on polythene and plastic in and around the lake can save Dal lake by 30 per cent.
Utilization of Dal weeds for agricultural use needs to be given a serious thought and universities can play a positive role in this field.
University of Kashmir and SKUAST need to open a cell in their respective universities where they will guide the departments responsible for conservation of the Dal. Veterans can also join there in for their valuable knowhow and past experience which can be discussed, analyzed and put to proper use.
This is not the time to excavate and explore as to where did all the money go so far and who was responsible but BETTER LATE THAN NEVER can be one formula to start afresh with honesty, dedication and hard work to take care of this socio-economical environmental identity existence issue in hand for better tomorrow and maintaining the composite culture in our society.
(Author is a town planner and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)