Save Dal

…....but (do we have to) kill its inhabitants

Khairunnisa Aga
Srinagar, Publish Date: Dec 11 2017 10:39PM | Updated Date: Dec 11 2017 10:39PM
Save DalFile Photo

Killing is the most familiar word in the vocabulary of Kashmir. Moreover, it is normal and has a social and political sanction plus in the case under study it also has the bureaucratic sanction. In this gloomy day-to-day discourse, on the contrary, some international conventions and national policies of the central government on the environment have gifted us the word ‘save’ in the form of ‘Save Dal’. Hence one can see hoardings of ‘Save Dal’ erected around the walls of Srinagar city. At the first look, the slogan adds little enthusiasm and optimism to life and its future sustainability. However, the people who are unaware of the life of the inhabitants of the Dal Lake will be surprised to know that save Dal has become kill its inhabitants. 

The environmental awareness at international level, mainly in the West, commenced various green campaigns and built pressure on the policy world to tailor environment regimes internationally. The Ramsar convention of 1971 initialed in Iran, for instance, laid down the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands. The Government of India (GoI) became environmentally conscious and committed to such regimes after it ratified various environmental treaties. The GoI accelerated its obligation by establishing multiple powerful bodies on the environment like National Lake Conservation plan under the administrative authority of the Ministry of Environment and Forest. 

The GoI involved its states to ensure decentralisation of the environmental regime and its efficacy at the ground level. The government of Jammu and Kashmir was also mobilized and a huge budget has been pumped in for the beautification and conservation of various sites of natural importance in the state. Though, the legality of directives regarding the environment in the state has to be verified under the light of Article 370 of the Indian constitution, which is not the subject of this article. 

Dal Lake is the symbol of the beauty of Kashmir and the lake has attracted millions of visitors and is central to the civic life, i.e., domestic or social and economic activities of the Srinagar city. It is part of the ecosystem and contributes to the biotic and abiotic growth of its surroundings. Decades have passed, the governments kept on changing and ‘Save Dal’ became a safe and fancy non-political and non-ideological issue for the mainstream political parties to grab the vote in the city. However, the non-people-centric attitude and uninformed advocacy of ‘Save Dal’ has also engulfed a gap between the civil society and the inhabitants of the lake by sending out the message that the inhabitants are the sole pollutants of the water body. 

The anecdote of the ‘Save Dal’ project is simply understood as the restriction on the encroachment and compensation and rehabilitation of the people, and the beautification and conservation of the lake. Well! The reality is quite contrary to be this idealism. Studies show that preservation of a natural entity largely depends on its ecosystem and cycle of interaction within it. The Inhabitants of the Lake are part of that ecosystem and cycle of interaction is incomplete without them. The importance of the natives also increases because their lives and expression have evolved in response to nature. Hence they have gathered much experience and wisdom of the entity that should be employed to save the water body. 

Nevertheless, the (colonial) objective style of the government notified the area several decades back, and under the sacredness of the Socio-economic Survey of 1986, the inhabitants were to be allocated land outside of the lake. The dictate has many surprises like no more than three plots were to be dispensed even if a household had more than three families, including many other faults. The Lakes and Waterways Authority Development (LAWDA) is the administrative unit of the process. 

To understand the beautification and conservation plan from LAWDA perspective, their homepage was accessed. Instead of giving detailed information, the webpage disappoints by entirely relying on the 19th-century colonial account of Walter Roper Lawrence. Lawrence for sure did not have ethnographic understanding of the area or its people. In the backdrop of colonial intentions, the author has failed to produce an organic relationship between the inhabitants and lake.  

Therefore, to grasp the reality of the plan, I firstly visited Moti Mohalla of the interior Dal, and the visit was like going two centuries back. The direct observation and interaction with the respondents say the tales of the failure of the ‘Save Dal’ program. The populace almost ghettoised and forced to live in the pathetic conditions with approximately no civic amenities over a period of several decades. The so-called rehabilitation program has left them utterly de-rehabilitated. The bureaucratisation of the plan is the first huddle in the rehabilitation and as well as the conservation of the lake. 

To go through the bureaucratic process is a depressing exercise for everyone in Kashmir. It roughly takes considerable time, righteous paperwork and chai plus sifarish along with break-bone patience, etc. Therefore the plan in its objective description, having the Western umbilical cord, dissociated with the native social realities has only marginalised a complete community of the inhabitants of and around the Dal Lake. The socioeconomic indicators of the said Muhalla substantiate the argument that the plan has commenced structural marginalisation of the inhabitants. 

Since the area is notified and no civic amenities are available, generations after generations are illiterate with the lowest income and minimal income sources. The Moti Mohallah has one newly started high school, which for decades was only till middle classes, with no infrastructure. Lack of connectivity and lower income deters children from going to the schools at long distance. Hence dropout rate tends to increase. The negligible health services again consume lives of pregnant mothers, severely ill patients, age-old and children. The respondents said that rushing to SMHS or JLNM at the eleventh hour is a challenge. 

The life in the middle of a lake on small is lands is exposed to the floods, so minor floods are routine and major floods are devastating for the populace. The houses seem weak for having faced floods so often, but the repair is illegal according to the ‘Save Dal’ plan. Therefore life is vulnerable all around the clock. On inquiring about the income, the respondents said that before the program was started, they were leading suppliers of the fresh vegetable and fishes to the Srinagar city and beyond. They used to de-weed the lake manually and used the weed as fertiliser in floating gardens, sold the surplus in the city and to villagers for domestic use and also recycled some grasses as several useable articles like mats etc. 

However the steps of the authorities like importing automated machines from the western countries for cleaning the lake turned out to be absurdity and wastage of the exchequer. According to the respondents, the de-weeding of the Dal Lake is the skill that only these people know as a result of their organic relationship with the water body. The other step of establishing the mal-functioned sewerage treatment plants (STP) is only adding to the problem by inducing pollutants into the lake water. It has affected the vegetable growing to a large extent and the wrong campaign of ‘save Dal’ sends out the wrong message and has shrunk the market for vegetable and fishes from the Dal area. Subsequently, the inhabitants are left almost jobless. 

Therefore the flawed execution clubbed with various other reasons has structured the marginality of a community that territorially has remained in the neighbourhood of the power corridors. Since the community, both the Sunnis and Shias, being unrepresented in the dominant elitist narrative, have been left to be victimised by the corrupt political system and unaccountable bureaucracy. Though many aspects related to this community are unexplored, so the research agencies too must come out of the convenient philosophical positions and built knowledge around the marginal experiences to inform the decision-making.


(Khairunnisa Aga is Research Scholar Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi)

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