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Wular: Asia’s largest freshwater lake fights for existence

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Asia's largest freshwater lake

Malik Nisar

Once known as Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Wular has shrunk almost 50% of its original area over the last few decades due to administrative negligence, encroachment, siltation and contamination.

Situated in northern Kashmir’s Bandipora and Baramulla districts, Wular Lake is struggling to survive as it battles the discharge of sewage and trash from the nearby towns, particularly from Bandipora and  Sopore towns.

Wular Lake, notified as a Ramsar Wetland in 1990, might have been a fantastic tourist destination that everyone was anticipating if not for the nearby municipalities directly disposing of solid garbage into the water body on the daily basis.

For many families in Bandipora and Sopore, Wular used to be their main supply of fresh water and a means of subsistence. Additionally, it was famed for producing great fish and water chestnuts, but that is not currently apparent.

Asia's largest freshwater lakeAccording to Imtiyaz Ahmad, a local fisherman from ZeeAlwan village, which is situated on the shores of the lake, the area has been completely transformed into a junkyard as the sanitation staff working with the nearby municipalities dump all the trash collected in the towns in it during the night or early in the morning. “The local government district hospital’s biomedical waste is also dumped here,” he claimed.

“The water in the lake was crystal pure a few years ago, but it is now extremely contaminated and unfit even for washing clothes and feeding animals,” he continued.

Ishfaq Ahmad, a resident from Sopore, told this reporter that migratory birds that frequently used to visit the lake in the past had not been seen in the last couple of years, possibly as a result of the lake’s increasing pollution.

Wular Lake’s chestnuts trade

Boatmen living on the banks and peripheries of the Wular Lake used to go out in the early morning hours, row their boats into the lake, and come back in the evening with boats full of chestnuts. About 90% of the population, according to the locals, was dependent on harvesting chestnuts from Wular for their livelihood. The local merchants that rely on Wular claim that over the past five years, problems have arisen due to an increase in pollution that has led to the extinction of numerous aquatic species. “Fishes are in an endangered zone in Wular, and it is difficult to detect the water bodies in the lake due to a lack of signage,” a Sopore resident Abdul Rashid Dar said.

Wular Lake’s dredging operation by WCMA

The lake spans over 24 kilometres in length and 10 km in breadth, encompassing an area of 200 square km in total. However, since 1911, the area of the surface and the marshlands around it have decreased, falling from 216 square kilometres (83 square miles) to 104 square kilometres (40 square miles).

The Wular Conservation and Management Authority (WCMA), which was established for the lake’s conservation, is now performing dredging operations in the Wular for its restoration, with work ongoing on 1.50 sq km of the lake.

Rs 200-crore Wular Action Plan for the conservation and management of Wular Lake, according to WCMA officials, has allowed for the large-scale dredging of Wular Lake.

Around 10 Kanal of land encroachment on the Wular Lake area have been cleared by the authorities. According to an official of the concerned department, there were about 90 kanal of land that was being encroached upon near Wular Lake, 10 Kanal of which have been cleared.

Asia's largest freshwater lakeAccording to environmentalist Shakir Ahmad, the existence of Wular is extremely important for the country in general and Kashmir in particular because it is the world’s first freshwater lake and the people who live along its banks completely depend on it.

“Wular has occupied an enormous area, and when the valley experienced floods in 2014, the water that entered the city of Srinagar from the River Jehlum was then transferred to Wular and thus spared the Srinagar city from a fiasco,” he said.

A Public Interest Litigation

As part of a Public Interest Litigation, the Jammu and Kashmir High Court sent notices to the Government of India and J&K administration last year, requesting their assistance in clearing the trash that had been dumped along the northern Kashmiri shores of Wular Lake, the largest freshwater lake in Asia.

The court had passed the directions after hearing Advocate Shafqat Nazir for the petitioners, who sought a slew of measures from the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change and the J&K Government.

The petitioners also demanded that the Municipal Council of Sopore be ordered to stop disposing of municipal solid waste on the Ramsar wetland site at Dharnambal-Ningli Tarzoo in Sopore, which is located within the boundaries of the Hygam-Ningli-Tarzoo Tourism Development Authority and the Wular Conservation and Management Authority.

Given Wular Lake’s huge tourism potential and concern for environmental sensitivity, the petition had called for its planned development. It further requests that a location be designated and thereafter built in accordance with Solid Waste Management Rules for the disposal of municipal waste far from residential areas and environmentally sensitive areas.

The petitioners had alleged that the Municipal Council Sopore since March last year has started dumping solid waste on the boundary of the Wular Lake against the Solid Waste Management Rules.

Since the land in question belongs to the Forest Department and comes under the immediate control and management of WCMA and HNTDA, therefore it was obligatory for the respondent Municipal Council to take prior permission from the said authorities before dumping the municipal waste on the banks of Wular Lake.

The Ramsar notified site and potential tourist destination, Wular Lake has regrettably been turned into an open garbage dumping site even though the district administration had previously identified and designated about 50 kanal of land in estate Adipora for the dumping of garbage, as is made evident by the communication from the deputy commissioner in Baramulla to the Director of the Urban Local Bodies in Kashmir on July 30, 2019.

NGT seeks report on Wular Lake

In response to allegations that solid municipal trash was dumped in Wular Lake, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) ordered the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to submit an action taken report.

The NGT had instructed the Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Board and the collector of the Baramulla district to write a factual report after hearing a plea that was submitted by RTI activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat.

Asia's largest freshwater lake

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) had also directed the authorities in Jammu and Kashmir to file an action taken report on the alleged dumping of solid municipal waste in Wular Lake.

PCB’s Rs 64 lakh fine

Municipal Council Badipora was fined Rs 64 lakh by the J&K Pollution Control Board (PCB) in April for breaking the solid waste management rules. As part of an environmental compensation action, the fine has been levied.

The PCB previously notified MC Bandipora that it had received photographic evidence of “illegal and illogical” solid waste dumping and disposal by the municipal council in Bandipora. As a result, the matter was brought up with the concerned deputy commissioner, director of the urban local body, and executive officer of MC Bandipora through a series of communications, but nothing substantive changed on the ground.

It had expressed that because of persistent disappointment of the Executive Officer MC Bandipora to discard solid waste in a scientific way, a show-cause notice for imposing ecological pay considering the directions of the National Green Tribunal was served upon the Executive Officer Municipal Council Bandipora calling upon him to show reasons in 15 days concerning why the environmental compensation be not levied upon him for these explicit infringements of Environmental Laws.

“Regional Director PCB has also received photographic evidence indicating that no improvement on the ground was brought about by the concerned municipal body and the solid waste is continuously dumped at Zalwan Nassu site near the district headquarter Bandipora and on the catchment of Wular Lake near Zalwan Nallah in a haphazard and unscientific manner,” it reads.

It had said that the Executive Officer Municipal Committee, Bandipora is directed to deposit a sum of Rs 64.21 lakh, as environmental compensation in the Environmental Compensation Fund within 45 days and on the lapse of this period interest at the rate of 12% on the compensation amount shall be at the risk and responsibility of the Executive Officer.

Introducing Shikaras in Wular

Introducing shikara (wooden boats) rides to boost tourism in the Wular Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia. The lake is located in the northern sections of Kashmir and spans a total area of 130 square kilometres. It is situated at the foothills of Harmukh Mountain.

Asia's largest freshwater lakeThe ‘shikara’ a popular tourist attraction on Srinagar’s Dal Lake and other water bodies may soon be introduced at the Wular Lake, according to a top official with the Wular Conservation & Management Authority (WCMA).

“We will start it on a trial basis,” he said, adding that the main aim is to attract more tourists to the lake, which will help the local people to earn a living from it.

The WCMA has also made a proposal for a walkway which will be about 3.20 km around the lake area which has been restored and work on it will start soon, he said, adding that the cost of the project is Rs 90 crore.

According to the WCMA official, only locals will be considered for these Wular initiatives that would improve their standard of living. “I am confident that the Lake will undergo significant development and grow into a popular tourist destination over the course of the next six months,” said the official.

  • Asia's largest freshwater lake

    Wular Lake the largest freshwater lake in the world has reduced to half of its original size in last few decades.

  • Asia's largest freshwater lake

  • Asia's largest freshwater lake

  • Asia's largest freshwater lake

  • Asia's largest freshwater lake
  • Asia's largest freshwater lake
  • Asia's largest freshwater lake
  • Asia's largest freshwater lake
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