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20th July '2008
“Money-Minting Machine”
(Mere admission of failure does not help restoration of the Dal Lake)
 

On the World Environment Day, the former Chief Minister made a public admission of the failure of his Government to save the Dal Lake. He declared that the project to save the Lake had become a “Money-Minting Machine for the Politicians”. He failed to state that the “Machine” was a part of the set up of which he had been the Chief Executive. One cannot escape responsibility for any failure by simply admitting it. Morality demands that either the Chief Executive should summon the political will to immediately disband the corrupt “Machine” and handover the project of saving the Lake to some resourceful international agency on a turnkey basis or have the courage to resign from the post of the Chief Executive for his failure to save this living heritage of Kashmir!

He did neither but ultimately had to go for some other reasons which among other things also included a major environmental disaster in the mountains! The declaration made by him on the World Environment Day appeared to be more emotional than rational. He could be held responsible only for last three years of inactivity in regard to the restoration of the Lake. The former Chief Minister could be faulted for having been paralysed by political pulls and pushes preventing him from taking a decisive step at the highest level in handing over the Lake restoration to a resourceful international Consortium on a turnkey basis. Under the State Constitution he had all the residuary powers and could have taken a momentous decision if he had the will to do so!

It must be emphasised that he did have a will to do things if he wanted. For his pet project of “Tulip Garden”, he paid almost 140 visits to the area. He was totally involved in setting up the Asia’s largest Tulip Garden and he made it a point to do so. He can take credit for having created an important tourist attraction for Srinagar. But what about Dal Lake? Why did not he have the same drive and enthusiasm for saving the Lake? Political compulsions or too many hassles! In any case, the Lake has been under restoration for more than 30 years and the failures too are that much old. The first failure occurred in 1977 itself. The best ever report for the restoration and conservation of Dal Lake was prepared in 1977 by a team of New Zealand consultants (Enex Consortium).

The consultants had made some very practical recommendations for initiating measure to arrest the further deterioration in the condition of the Lake as also to restore it to previous glory. In a recent article, Mr.Rafique Khan from USA has detailed these recommendations. These measures would have stopped accumulation of nutrients in the lake and over a period of time this would result in a net loss of nutrients that would in turn curb weed growth and thus improve the water quality. The Enex report provided cost estimates and based on analysis deemed the proposed improvements economically feasible. Unfortunately for some unknown reasons the Government of the time handed over the Enex Report to an “Expert Committee” which not only messed it up but totally retarded its implementation.

It is said that the people not interested in taking responsibility and practical decisions always constitute committees. A committee is said to be a group of people who are incapable of taking individual decisions and reluctant to take collective responsibility! The greatest tragedy of Dal is the number of committees, expert groups, and consultants engaged for confirming a stark fact obtrusively visible to a common man that it is dying. Had the Enex report been implemented in true spirit by some resourceful agency, the Lake would have been fully restored by now. For some extraneous reasons another study was got conducted by Roorkee University.

Then Austrians offered to take up the restoration with substantial assistance but their offer was spurned for some “understandable” reasons. Earlier the Overseas Development Agency of U.K. had also offered assistance but again it is reported to have been spurned. At one time the World Bank was also said to have agreed to provide Rs 250 crores for restoring the Lake but the fate of this offer is also not known. Recently, the University of Kashmir has offered to get actively involved in saving the Lake. However, once again it is going to be a survey and preparation of reports. Dal does not need studies or reports. A simple drive along the Boulevard from SKICC to Nishat amply demonstrates that the Lake has already turned into a marsh! It needs action and that too drastic action and fast. For that we neither have the expertise nor the machinery and resources. LAWDA has been moving like a tortoise.

To make it run like a hare it has to be overhauled and empowered. It is not functioning like a Statutory Authority, which normally it should have been, but as a normal Government Department under the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development. They are unable to take any independent action. The creation of a Statutory Authority is again a lengthy procedure. The Government needs to take direct action at the highest level. The ideal situation would be identification and constitution of a consortium (group) of multi-national companies having specialised expertise in all matters. These matters would include setting up of genuinely functioning STPs, drainage, sewerage, delisting, de-weeding, and also establishment of self-contained housing colonies on identified land for people to be taken out of the Lake.

These companies would be able to work in unison on an accelerated pace within a given timeframe on a turnkey basis to implement the total project for the restoration of the Lake. The consortium should also have the responsibility of overseeing the Lake for at least ten years even after the completion of their initial turnkey project. There is no dearth of such companies in Europe, America or even in South East Asia such as South Korea and Japan. In fact all the non-resident Kashmiris who are very much concerned about the fate of the Lake can do the initial work of identifying the specialised agencies or companies that can undertake the project on a turnkey basis. They can even identify international investments for this globally important environmental project. The ultimate thing is the will of the highest political authority.

Fortunately for us, at present all our politicians are on a forced holiday. There is only one single authority that has undoubtedly the will to do things, even the most difficult and impossible ones! Jagmohan is recalled for some bad patches in Kashmir’s history but he is also remembered for his fantastic town planning approach. The two roads which he tar macadamised during his first tenure namely Maulana Azad Road and the Boulevard Road have withstood travails of time for more than 20 years! Kashmiris in spite of his bad patch nostalgically recall his town planning acumen and vision. The present Governor does not have any bad patches. However, he has a very short time as an independent decision making authority. Historical decisions do not need lots of time. These occur sometimes in a fraction of a second. If only he could engage himself in sorting out this most threatening environmental disaster facing Kashmir in consort with the highest authorities in the country, he will have his name carved in Golden letters in the history of Kashmir.

 
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