(The land which was once the legendry Satisar may soon turn into a desert if we do not reclaim and protect our water bodies!)
Last year in these columns the tragic state of our water bodies was described in detail with the hope that some concrete action would be initiated to save these. Unfortunately, nothing substantial has been achieved. Only tons upon tons of weed are being taken out. No strong and positive action is being taken to address the basic causes of pollution and encroachment of these water bodies. We have physically eaten away these and in many cases polluted these beyond redemption.
As the legend describes it, Kashmir Valley was a huge lake. Kalhana, the author of the earliest recoded history of Kashmir, Rajtarangni, states that the valley of Kashmir was a huge lake called Satisar. The Lake was drained through the Varmul gorge by Kashyap Reshi after killing the demon Jalodbhava guarding the outlet. The draining of the Lake reclaimed the present valley of Kashmir. The geological findings especially the presence of Karewas (geological formations of sedimentary clay) throughout the valley confirm this mythological belief. For thousands of years Kashmiris had the privilege of having the last remnants of Satisar as Wular, Manasbal, Dal, and Nageen. These water bodies were our living heritage from the times immemorial. In fact, as per the findings at Burzhom and many other similar places, the human civilisation in Kashmir started on the banks of these water bodies right from the Neolithic age.
For centuries these water bodies survived and were the pride of Kashmir. Till the middle of the last century that is during the reign of the erstwhile Maharaja Hari Singh, most of the Lakes including the smaller water bodies and even the canals of Srinagar survived and continued to exist. However, with the freedom of the sub-continent and ushering in of the popular peoples’ governments, these water bodies started slowly shrinking and even disappearing. During the autocratic rule people respected the law and there was no escape for violators in any field. Even most of our lush green forests also continued their existence during Maharaja’s reign.
It is just in last 3 to 4 decades that we, the present inhabitants of the so called “Paradise on Earth”, have (due to our insatiable material greed) brought these to total ruination. Three fourths of blame for ruining these water bodies can be squarely placed on the local people. This is especially true of the Dal Lake. It is immaterial as to who has done how much damage, whether these are house boat owners, hoteliers, vegetable growers, residents inside or on the banks of the lake. Damage beyond redemption has not only been done but is continuing on a daily basis.
As regards the role of the people entrusted with the restoration of the Lake, there can be no better judgement than that given by the former Chief Minister Azad who publicly admitted that the Lake has become a “Money Minting Machine” for the politicians! He said so in spite of the fact that the political set up he was blaming was headed by him. The most unfortunate part of the tragedy is that the government had woken up towards the necessity of restoring and conserving the Lake in mid-seventies itself. The best ever report for the restoration and conservation of Dal Lake was prepared in 1977 by a team of New Zealand consultants (Enex Consortium). The consultants had made some very practical recommendations for initiating measures to arrest the further deterioration in the condition of the Lake as also to restore it to its previous glory. These measures would have stopped accumulation of nutrients in the lake and over a period of time this would result in a net loss of nutrients that would in turn curb weed growth and thus improve the water quality. The Enex report provided cost estimates and based on analysis deemed the proposed improvements economically feasible. In fact, at that time the Overseas Development Agency of U.K. and the World Bank had offered to fund the restoration of the Lake through some international agency.
The only remedy is a peoples’ movement to save our heritage and the water of life. Without water there is no life. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his “Man ki Baat” address stressed the necessity of conserving water. According to him in ancient India it was said that if iron is touched by “Paras” it turns into gold! But now present “Paras” is water. The water is God’s blessing. He has directed all concerned to ensure conservation of water. He has also appealed to people to make every effort to conserve every drop of water. It is a very good initiative. Let us hope his directions percolate down to his administration in the State and practical steps are taken not only to conserve still existing water bodies but the ones which have disappeared or at present are being choked are redeemed and reclaimed. It is also incumbent on the local leadership to start a mass movement both for conservation of water bodies and reclamation of the dying and the already dead water bodies! In the alternative, due to the global climate change the Paradise on Earth may turn into a desert like the Sahara desert!
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired) (Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir)