The mesmerising Dal, one of the world’s largest natural lakes, is dying. The lake today carries the sewage burden of 100 hamlets, floating gardens and several hotels and lodges. As a result, the quality of the lake’s water has deteriorated and its vast reserves of aquatic life are rapidly shrinking. Locals, who have observed the ecological damage over the years, warn that in another 50 years the Dal will be reduced to a dirty pond. A State Government report of 1970 warned that human settlements, water pollution, construction within and on the periphery of the lake, and continued agricultural activity (like the floating gardens), would lead to steady degradation of the lake. But the report was not taken seriously. Today 300,000 people live in the catchment area and over 30,000 live on the lake itself, tending to their floating gardens. The floating gardens, which provide almost 50 per cent of the vegetables to the entire Kashmir Valley, are now threatening the very existence of the lake. Plant debris from the floating fields has made the lake shallow (from 17 feet a decade ago, it is now only 9 feet deep).
In Kashmir, people have proprietary rights over water bodies granted to them by the rulers of the area almost 100 years ago. Taking advantage, some residents have filled in large parts of the lake and constructed hotels. Insurgency for years have taken a toll as neither studies can be conducted, nor policies can be put in place. Although the Central Pollution Control Board, New Delhi, claims that recently a sewage treatment plant has been commissioned in the Lake’s vicinity, it draws a blank on all other questions on the health of the Lake.