The world famous Dal Lake in Srinagar has always been a major attraction for anyone visiting Kashmir. But increasing pollution is fast reducing its original beauty.
The State authorities have been aware of the problems and plans have been made to clean the lake, but ecologists feel that there is need to sensitize local people.
Raw sewage and land encroachment are some of the major factors causing the problem.
The well-known ecologist A. R. Yusaf says that deforestation in the catchments areas, degradation of the forests and soil-erosion have resulted in heavy silt flowing into the lake. People living around the lake allow large sewage to pollute the lake.
"Encroachment along the banks of the lake and in shallow waters adds to the problem", adds Yusaf.
Thousands of tonnes of sewage spew into the lake, feeding weeds and affecting the lake and its aquatic life. The lake's size has nearly halved during the last few decades, due to farming land encroachment.
A study this year by the State's Comptroller and Auditor General reported that the lake has excessively-high levels of toxic metals due to sewage. It has affected the fish consumed by humans.
Many feel that local officials are nonchalant "My father tells me that once he used to drink from the Dal Lake . Today, we think twice before dipping our hand into the lake, fearing infection. The tourists who stay in house boats on the lake, dump all sewage into its waters," said Rehman Moti, a Dal Lake resident.
Tests of water samples of the Lake recently showed that arsenic levels were almost 1,000 times above permissible levels.
Sunit Mittal, who has been a regular tourist, thinks that not many steps are being taken by the Government to stop pollution. He says: "This is a beautiful place but it is becoming from bad to worse."
Authorities claim that there are plans for a multi-million dollar cleanup drive. But that requires mass shifting of some 60,000 people.
The Dal Lake authority claims it has plans to spend around 74 million dollars to clean up the drain clearage system and install a sewage cleaning plant. There are plans to relocate 58 settlements around the lake to a 1,000 acre site. The first 300 families are likely to be rehabilitated by the end of the year.
Dal Lake is connected to a number of other lakes of the Kashmir valley. It is well-known for its Shikaras or, house boats.
Spread over 18 square kilometers, the lake is divided by causeways into four basins, called Gagribal, Lokut Dal, Bod Dal and Nagin. Lokut-dal and Bod-dal have an island each in the centre, known as Rup Lank (or Char Chinari) and Sona Lank respectively.