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9th December '2007
Politicisation of Dal
 

As if the factors already responsible for bringing the Dal Lake to the point of virtual extinction were not enough, a new trend is taking the toll of what is left of the water body. It is the gross politicisation of the entire conservation effort because of the impending elections scheduled for next year. One had thought that the re-activation of the judicial process would give a fillip to conservation measures but if some of our politicians have the final say, then the Lake is doomed. Political interference has always been there in almost all developmental or other projects in the state. One would have appreciated if a project like the restoration and conservation of the Lake had been kept above all politics. It is the very heart of Kashmir and if it stops beating not only will Srinagar disappear but the “Paradise on Earth” will also lose its very meaning for the rest of the world. Dal faces two major problems. First is the shrinkage of the water body due to encroachments and the other is the deterioration of quality of water because of silting and flow of raw untreated sewage into the Lake. The problem of the quality of water can be managed by involving internationally renowned agencies with appropriate technical expertise and sufficient resources by way of equipment and machinery. It needs political will at the highest level to go in for a turnkey job to be assigned to a resourceful agency to undertake the project on a time bound basis. The technology and expertise is available and needs only to be harnessed by brushing aside all political or other considerations. For the first time all the top brass in the administrative department as well as in the field is fully prepared and eager to go for this alternative and have even mooted requisite proposals in this behalf. However, all this needs a decision at the highest political level both at the central and state level. The million dollar question is will someone take such a momentous decision? On that depends the fate of the Lake, which is not only a national heritage but a world heritage! But the more important and decisive factor for restoration of the Lake to its ancient glory is the removal of encroachments. The water body has been reduced from more than 32 square miles to less than 11 square miles during last couple of decades or so. This is because of the land reclamation in the form of islands in the very heart of the Lake on which full fledged localities have come up. There are about 60,000 people living inside the Lake on islands. The major problem from the very start has been the removal and rehabilitation of these people. There have been two issues involved in this exercise. One is about the availability of suitably developed land for housing these people away from the Lake and the second is the funds for undertaking this exercise of rehabilitation. Even though the state has been getting funds for taking conservation measures like setting up of sewage treatment plants, off shore drains, and some machinery for deweeding, yet no funds had been forthcoming for shifting of the population. No one was prepared to take this aspect as part of overall conservation measures. Fortunately, the present officers in the concerned departments due to their persistent efforts have succeeded in convincing their counter parts in Government of India for including this aspect as part of the conservation effort. It is reported that the central government has agreed in principle to provide sufficient funds for rehabilitation of the displaced population from the Lake. This is expected to give a fillip to these efforts. However, the entire project has got mired once again in election politics because the people to be displaced belong to a particular community and constitute a political constituency. This problem had cropped up earlier also when the community itself was represented in the state cabinet. At that time this problem could have been easily sorted out because the concerned person was not only the minister in charge of the entire project but was also the religious head of the community. Unfortunately the excellent opportunity was wasted and nothing happened due to the reasons best known to the concerned person. He alone can throw some light on the whole episode if he wishes to do so? In the meantime, there is again an opportunity to tackle this major problem concerning the conservation of the Lake. Now that there is possibility of getting requisite funds from the central government, one needs to earmark land for rehabilitating the persons to be moved out of the Lake. It has been reported that the highest political authority of the state is all for redeeming the Lake by moving out the population from its centre. He is reported to have remarked in a high level meeting that his party can afford to lose these two seats in the forthcoming elections if that helps in saving the Dal Lake. With that attitude and the political will it should not be difficult for the field officers to implement the scheme for redeeming the encroached portion of the Lake. One would expect all other political stalwarts from different streams to go along with this positive attitude. In fact, there is an excellent possibility of making the “Environment” as a future election plank. After human rights, the most important facet of Kashmir which needs protection is its environment. Over last few years there has been wanton destruction of environment in all its aspects. The water bodies, the rivers, the forests, the agricultural land, and even the air we breathe are threatened. Some people who care for Kashmir’s environment have to come forward and fight elections not on political issues but on environmental considerations. They should make the preservation of Kashmir’s environment as their main plank outlining a detailed practical plan for the restoration and conservation of water bodies, protection of depleting forests, and taking up all other environmental issues needing urgent attention. Even those fighting for “Azadi” need to remember that the “Azadi” becomes meaningless if the indiscriminate destruction of environment renders Kashmir an unliveable place. In fact, all of us need to raise ourselves above all political and other considerations to unite in our endeavour to preserve Kashmir’s environment. This is the only burning issue which is going to affect us all without any consideration of caste, creed, colour, or religion. Nature does not discriminate anyone on this basis. Again we cannot succeed in our efforts unless we motivate the common people to go along with conservation of nature. Peoples’ voluntary participation is a must for success of this programme. Demolitions and all other penal action may be right in certain context and may temporarily help but there can be no lasting solution unless we change the basic mindset of the common people. Dal needs politicisation but of a different kind. All politicians of all hues and shades need to unite in conserving this water body and in fact for protecting all other threatened aspects of our environment. Global warming is the most talked about issue throughout the world at the moment. There is a universal trend to unite all sections of the society in taking practical measures for arresting this climate change. It is succeeding to a great extent. In case of Kashmir, a similar effort is required. Given the will, it should not be difficult to bring every one on a common platform irrespective of one’s ideology to restore and conserve Dal Lake and all other water bodies. Politicisation of Dal is urgently needed. Not for stalling conservation but for accelerating it. All political streams need to converge for saving this living heritage. Will someone take the initiative please!

 
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