Authorities launch massive drive to conserve Dal Lake

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Srinagar, Feb 26 (ANI): Lakes and Waterways Development officials have initiated a massive drive against the houseboat owners and hoteliers around Dal Lake, who are allegedly polluting the lake by discharge of liquid and human waste.

Acting on the directives of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court, the authorities have directed to stop the operations of hotels, houseboats and commercial units as mentioned in the state pollution board's report filed on January 31.

"We have been given orders to stop commercial activities on the houseboats as they are polluting the Dal Lake. At present we have been asked to stop all the activities and tourists coming here as well, till some arrangements are made," said Shafat Qadeemi, executive engineer.

The Court has also ordered to demolish the illegal construction near the Dal Lake.

Houseboat owners and affected people protested against the closure of their businesses, raised slogans and tried to disrupt traffic.

"As per court orders they are seizing the houseboats and hotels. They claimed that we are polluting the lake. We are not saying that we are not, but the fact is that our contribution is only three percent. The rest 97 percent is due to other things. The first priority should be to make entire drainage system, not in any particular area but in entire Srinagar. Once they would control the Srinagar drainage system, they should come and talk to us. We will ourselves take initiative to stop pollution," said Tariq Ahmed, general secretary, houseboats owners association.

Tourism experts said that the move would affect the flow of visitors in the valley.

"I was talking with some travel agents and some houseboat owners and other agencies here. They have taken advance from tourists, which are expecting to come. If they will the see the boats are seized and they can't stay in, they will not only ask their money back but also for the compensation. Then who is going to give them the money? It would not only draw back tourism in Kashmir but will also give a bad name," said Habib, one of the tourism expert.

Environmentalists said thousands of tonnes of sewage spew into the lake, feeding weeds and choking the lake and its aquatic life of oxygen.

The lake's size has been halved in a few decades, to some 13 square kilometres, due to farming land encroachment.

A study in 2007 by the state's Comptroller and Auditor General reported that the lake has excessively high levels of toxic metals due to sewage.

Tests of water samples showed arsenic levels were almost 1,000 times above permissible levels.

Environmentalists and officials are pressing the hundreds of houseboats on the lake to stop dumping waste into the lake.

Many houseboat owners, desperate for tourists, say they are willing to stop but need the infrastructure to do it.

The scenic Dal lake in the heart of Srinagar is surrounded by snow-capped mountains and is home to 2,000 ornately-carved pinewood houseboats, whose owners are still dependent on tourism.

Last year, nearly 5,00,000 visitors travelled to the Kashmir Valley to see its beautiful landscapes. (ANI)

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