A losing battle

A film explores the truth behind the shrinking Dal and ways to reverse the situation.
Abdul Rashid receives the nomination certificate during WIFF 2016. Abdul Rashid receives the nomination certificate during WIFF 2016.

At the recently concluded Woodpecker International Film Festival held at Sirifort Auditorium, New Delhi, Abdul Rashid, who works for Educational Multimedia Research Centre (EMMRC) in the University of Kashmir, was awarded Young Green Filmmaker 2016. Woodpecker International Film Festival (WIFF) is India's premier competitive film festival that focuses on issue-based cinema. 

His documentary film,The Bitter Truth-Dal losing the battle between the locals and the authorities, was nominated by WIFF under the environment category along with eight other documentary films and was screened during the film festival. 

The Bitter Truth is a film that looks at the plight of the Dal lake through a different angle, looking at the faulty policies and the ongoing battle between the people who depend on the Dal for sustenance and the authorities.

He shared his experiences with India Water Portal.

Tell us about your film?

The documentary, The Bitter Truth-Dal losing battle between locals and the authorities, focuses on the deteriorating condition of the once beautiful Dal lake in the heart of Kashmir valley and its impact on the lives of people living around the lake.

The film has tried to raise the issues concerning Dal lake such as pollution, sewage, encroachment, human interference and negligence on the part of the government agencies. The government authorities find the people around the lake responsible for the current state of the lake whereas the inhabitants put all the blame on the officials. The film also shows some effort of conservation of the Dal lake by the authorities, but the efforts are not enough to solve the problems.

Why did you make this film?

Dal is dying slowly. The lake is affected by cultural eutrophication or water pollution from excessive fertilisers and sewage running into lakes and rivers which deplete the oxygen levels. It receives a lot of untreated sewage from houseboats, residential and commercial areas in its vicinity. Runoffs from floating gardens as well as from catchment areas are also equally responsible for the pollution. 

The increasing human activities in the four basins of the lake is primarily responsible for the deterioration of the sediment, water quality and the decline in the benthic fauna (organisms that are found on the bed of the lake). Various ecological disturbances are continuously taking place at different levels in the lake’s ecosystem. The film brings to light various flaws in the policies of lake conservation and aims at providing new ideas and insights to revive the lake.

What has changed around the Dal lake in the last 50 years and why?

There have been drastic changes in the urban lakes of Kashmir including the Dal lake. Due to the eutrophication in the Dal lake, the siltation has increased and as a consequence, the lake has shrunk in size. It has been suggested by many ecologists to clean up the excessive macrophytic growth (aquatic weed growth) which has engulfed most parts of the lake. 

Since the 1990s, mechanical deweeding process was initiated by the government to conserve the lake. This mechanical deweeding and excavation operations have disturbed the benthic habitats at various stations in the different basins of the Dal lake. As a result of it, the decline in many species of fauna in different locations of Dal lake was observed.

Do you see any improvement in the lives of people around the lake?

The lake is providing shelter to about 2532 houses in 58 separate hamlets. Around 70,000 people live in the inner areas of the lake. The Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) has been trying to shift these families since the rehabilitation plan was set into action. But as of now, LAWDA has failed to rehabilitate the people properly. Caught between the LAWDA and the community, it is the Dal that is suffering.

The lake is the primary source of livelihood for thousands of people. The government is forcing people to shift to far away rehabilitation sites. But, the problem is, due to lack of livelihood opportunities at the rehabilitation sites, people do not want to shift there. The government needs to come up with an alternative. 

What is the status of the rehabilitation and compensation of the people affected by the lake?

Since the launch of the rehabilitation policy in 1987, only 980 families have been shifted; more than 9000 families are yet to be rehabilitated. But due to less availability of livelihood options at the rehabilitation site, most of the people are coming back to the lake.

The government has adopted zero tolerance policy towards the Dal dwellers, and according to them, the human settlement in the heart of the lake is delaying the recovery of this water body. 

For the purpose of management and conservation of the lake, a lake conservation plan was developed in the 1980s. As per the plan, dredging of the peripheral areas of the Hazratbal, Nishat and Gagribal basins was initiated in the 1990s to improve the aesthetic value of the inshore area. Dredging is an excavation activity usually carried out underwater, in shallow seas or freshwater areas with the purpose of gathering up bottom sediments and disposing them off at a different location. This technique is often used to keep the waterways navigable. But, this continuous dredging for several years has affected the lake’s ecosystem to such an extent that in some areas, due to sedimented sand and mud, the boat navigation got affected.

Under the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP), Rs 298 crore has been sanctioned by the government of India for the construction of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs). According to the government reports, Rs 258 crore has been released till date.The state high court expressed displeasure over the functioning of the lakes and waterways development authority and instructed them to upgrade existing STPs for better results. The botanical study, financed jointly by the University Grants Commission and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research says that if the present state of affairs continues, “the lake will be lost within the next 80 years and what remains will be a small spring in the lake surrounded by vegetable farms and swamps."

What are your recommendations to improve the situation?

  • Continuous monitoring of the Dal lake needs to be carried out to come up with suitable and necessary conservation measures. 
  • The government can make a road around the lake--to stop encroachment of the lake and to attract tourists--which can connect the foreshore road at Habak and the boulevard at the Dal gate.
  • Dredging activity in the lake should be carried out but keeping the environment on mind. 
  • Both dredging and deweeding operations should be conducted, but scientifically. 
  • Houseboats are an important part of Dal but there is an urgent need to stop effluents rich in phosphorus and nitrogen from entering the lake and for that, efficient sewage treatment plants need to be installed.
  • There is a need to understand the needs of the Dal dwellers while restoring the lake. 
  • There is also a need to restructure our policy frameworks.

 

 

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