By: Sameer Lone
Srinagar: Once a tourist attraction and known for its crystal clear waters Khushhal Sar next to historic Aali Masjid in Eidgah is now a wasteland. The water body has been left to struggle for its existence due to which it has become an “existential threat” for the people living in its vicinity.
While most of the wetland has been encroached upon with concrete houses and residential colonies have come up on it in the last three decades, the rest of the water body is polluted by human excreta, polythene, used syringes and discarded plastic bottles.
The water body, once famous for its gushing waters, fishing and growing traditional Kashmiri delicacy lotus stem (nadru), has now been reduced to a small patch of “a body without water”.
Locals blame the successive governments for failing to draft a conservation program for the Khushhal Sur.
“There was no conservation program for the water body as of now,” said a former bureaucrat who served as Vice Chairman of Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA).
“I remember the good old days when I used to come here for fishing. The water body used to grow nadru. It was our main economic survival. Now its situation is before us…its deterioration started post 1990s,” said Haji Abdul Aziz, who has been rearing his cattle on one side of the wet land for years now.
Aziz recalled the days when this Khushhal Sur was a deep water body with six to seven feet water level.
The vote-bank-politics was responsible for allowing people to encroach “our Khushhal Sur”, said another old-aged man.
“On Zadibal side…the wetland has been reduced to a mere patch of land. You can see it from here how the constructions are/were allowed… even municipality is allowing it on dictations of higher ups,” he said.
According to official figures the maximum length of the wetland was 1.6 km and its width was 0.6 km.
“From an original area of some 1800 kanals, the lake has lost around 1000 kanals to encroachments and earth fillings since the 1990s,” said Ali Mohammad Dar, en elderly local.
“We have been disturbing nature…it will have consequences in the long run. It came once in the form of 2014 floods,” said a youngster, Irshad Ayoub, a class 12th student.
The youngsters said the authorities should preserve the rest of the land. “It should be cleaned and restored…so that it will look like a water body…may be someday tourists will again come here,” they said.
According to other locals whose families have subsisted on the lake for generations, the (lotus stem (Nadru) used to be cultivated over an area of about eleven hundred kanals. The cultivation of nadru was their traditional economic mainstay.
Now that is nowhere, they said.
Apart from encroachments, the large drains from heavily populated areas empty directly into the wetland that has rendered it toxic. The pollution level and foul smell emanating can cause illnesses ranging from diarrhea to hepatitis, fear the locals.