In recent years, the threat of pollution and over tourism has plagued mainstream tourist destinations around the world. Suffering under the same umbrella, Jammu and Kashmir’s Dal Lake is soon to be declared an eco-sensitive zone. For decades, tourism in Kashmir has revolved around ‘the lake of flowers’. The serene views from house boats have also been romanticised in many works of literature and art.
Now, the water body’s glory may be diminishing with its size. The government of Jammu and Kashmir has set up a panel of ten members to declare Dal Lake an eco-sensitive zone. This comes after the Dredging Corporation of India (DCI) announced that the lake has shrunk about 40%, accompanied by extreme deterioration of the water quality in 2017. The world-famous lake which once sprawled over 22 square kilometers, has now been reduced to an astonishing 10 square kilometers.
According to news reports, Additional Secretary of General Administrative Department (GAD) said "Sanction is hereby accorded to the constitution of a 10-member committee to finalise the draft of the notification for declaring Dal Lake and its surrounding areas as eco-sensitive zone."
The reason for this has been stated as encroachment upon the lake, as well as inflow of untreated sewage. DCI’s assessment of the matter revealed growth of weed water hyacinth, which is hazardous to health. The same is a result of inadequate circulation of water in the lake, owing to encroachments on the water channels, clogging and dumping of solid waste and untreated sewage. This has led to the reduction in the water levels of the lake. The pollution in the water can be attributed to the waste from the hundreds of houseboats present.
According to news reports, the panel members include the Chief Conservator of Forests, Director of the Tourism Department, Kashmir’s Regional Wildlife Warden, Vice-chairman of the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority, Regional Director of the State Pollution Control Board, Director of Industries Department, Director of the Agriculture Department, Commissioner of Srinagar Municipal Corporation, Chief Town Planner and a representative of the Law department. The draft notification will be finalised within one month, with all facilities being provided by the Housing and Urban Development Department.
This is hardly the first time a site in India has been led to the label of an eco-sensitive zone. One of the first instance of a declared Ecologically Sensitive Area is the coastal village of Murud- Janjira. In 1989, this village in Raigad district of Maharashtra was set to be the site of a ship repair industry by the state government. On demand of an NGO called the Bombay Environment Action group, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi lobbied with them to protect the area. Though it was not coined as an Ecologically Sensitive Area, industries (bar some related to tourism) were banned from establishing their presence.
A more recent example of the same is the 2008 case of Mount Abu. It was first in 1995 that Siddharth Chowdhary first filed a writ petition to declare Mount Abu a eco-fragile area. A blanket ban on constructions was ongoing when the Supreme Court asked the Mohan Ram Committee to investigate further. The committee meetings did not proceed 2004 forth. Officials of the Ministry of Environment and Forests visited the site again in 2008 and the draft was made. It banned usage of plastic bags and encouraged rainwater harvesting. Guidelines for the construction of roads were also set.
Among other ESZs or ESAs are Matheran in Maharashtra, Sultanpur in Gurugram, Aravalli in Rajasthan and Haryana and Mahabaleshwar-Panchgani. It is important to note that additionally, a 10 km radius around all protected areas, national Parks and wildlife sanctuaries are also notified to be ecologically sensitive areas.