Illegal Constructions Carry On Unabated In Green Belt Around Dal Lake

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The State Should Take Concrete Steps Against Those Who Are Abusing Its Natural Beauty &Those Who Are Allowing This To Happen

Politics in Kashmir is “as filthy as Dal lake”, US ambassador to India David Mulford famously said in 2006. Fifteen years later, the condition of the Dal – the pride of Srinagar – has become far worse. Research by the University of Kashmir in 2016 found that only 20 percent of the lake’s water was relatively clean while 32 percent was severely degraded. The socio-economic survey conducted by Urban Engineering Environment Division (UEED) in 1986 and a detailed project report submitted by NIT Roorkee in 2000 revealed that the houseboats produce 0.8 million liters of sewage per day. The local population of Dal Lake generates 5 million liters of sewage daily, and the peripheral areas make up 44.2 million liters of sewage daily. To save the Dal Lake, the “Save Dal Lake” project was introduced in 1997. The project comprises two components: Conservation of Dal Lake and rehabilitation of Dal dwellers to some other place. In order to implement this, the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) in 2007 announced a plan to prepare housing plots for Dal dwellers at the Rakh-E-Arth Resettlement Colony in Bemina, on the outskirts of Srinagar. The eviction drive began in 2011. To curb illegal encroachment, the government approved a Master plan in 2019. Green belts were marked in the vicinity of Dal Gate, to be maintained as No Construction zones. The government demarcated other strategic areas in Srinagar including Nigeen lake, Shalimar garden, and Nishat gardens. Construction continues on the sly by greasing the palms of the officials concerned.

Demolition of Unauthorized Structures – An Eyewash 

Sources say that the rich are freely constructing or renovating their houses within the green belt. Some token action is taken against the poor as a show of authority. Sources reveal that LAWDA officers grant permission for illegal structures for financial favours. Fake FIRs are registered against owners. LAWDA officials demolish a bit of construction as eyewash. Thereafter, house owners are allowed to carry on with construction as they please. No illegal structure has been demolished fully to date or stopped from completion. When KZINE met the residents of the green belt adjoining Dal Lake, they accepted that they are carrying out illegal constructions. They added that they shall continue to do so, taking the plea that they have no option. When questioned by KZINE, Vice Chairman LAWDA Dr Bashir Ahmad Bhat did not agree with the correspondent that LAWDA and the Enforcement Department is involved in allowing illegal constructions. He said that these are all just allegations.

Why don’t people want to relocate?

Diverse reasons are offered for not shifting to Rakh-E-Arth Resettlement Colony.

1.       People say they are not getting the true monetary value of their land

2.       They are getting less land as compared to what they have adjoining Dal and around.

3.       People are not happy with the Bemina location.

4.       Shikara walas fear that if they shift to a new location it will affect their business. For instance, if any customer comes in the late hours, they won’t be able to attend to him.

Deputy SP Enforcement LAWDA Abdul Aziz Qadri

LAWDA has 4 branches. I joined the Enforcement Department in April. From that time, we have demolished 294 structures, 156 FIRs have been registered against the violators. Five trucks and 3 structures have been seized. We can demolish only those structures for which owners have not taken permission from LAWDA. If the owners have permission, the structures cannot be destroyed.

LAWDA Vice-chairman Dr.Bashir Ahmad Bhat In Conversation With KZINE 

“There is no illegal construction in and around the Dal Lake”

LAWDA Vice-chairman Dr. Bashir Ahmad Bhat says there is no illegal construction in and around Dal Lake. According to Bhat, LAWDA demolished more than 200 illegal structures this year around the Dal Lake in the green belt area, and FIRs were registered against defaulters.

How many families have been relocated according to the Rehabilitation plan?

Till now 3260 families have been rehabilitated through this scheme, and 5700 families are yet to be shifted from Dal Lake.

Why haven’t all of them shifted?

Because of certain issues, they have not been shifted yet. One of them is the 2014 flood. The rehabilitation program was a project under the Prime Minister’s Rehabilitation Program (PMRP).  This was a Rs 356 crore project which started in 2012. It is voluntary in nature. There cannot be any forcible eviction. This is done through the high level committee (HLC) headed by the Divisional Commissioner. Before the flood, the program scheduled to be implemented cluster wise, where we rehabilitate the cluster of families and dredge out that area. Because of the flood, the structures were damaged. There are state government and high court’s moratorium for reconstructing the structures. Then they did around 470 flood reservations. Four to five HLCs discussed the matter. For the last two to three years, a committee of experts suggested that rehabilitation should be kept on hold because 3-4 HLC s are being investigated by the Anti Corruption Bureau. Now we have recently done  HLC and are starting the program again.

How are the residents of the area responding to this initiative?

This is a voluntary exercise. We cannot force anybody. There are some hurdles in the resettlement process at Rakh-E-Arth Colony. Some are saying that that land is of less value.  In 1986, a socio-economic survey was done on Dal Lake by UEED (Urban Engineering Environment Division), which used to monitor Dal Lake at that time. Numbers were allotted to structures depending on the number of family members and this still continues. The PMRC survey was done separately. One family gets one plot of 7 marlas. Structure compensation is given according to Roads &Building schedule, and Rs 3.6 lakh is given for 1.5 kanal.

If the scheme doesn’t fit all stakeholders and isn’t feasible for them, why hasn’t the policy been reviewed till now?

We are taking up the applications of those who come to us for rehabilitation. There are some demands and also limits. We will see what can be done.

Sir, who gives permission for construction in green belt areas?

No construction can be done in green belt areas. The construction done in these areas is illegal and we demolish those structures regularly. Sir, when we went to the site, we found many illegal structures constructed recently and completed. The local residents also accept that they are doing constructions and will continue to do so until some concrete steps are taken by the government regarding their demands. In the last two years, 715 structures were demolished.

What needs to be done?

In its 13th edition published on September 11, KZINE had highlighted the poor condition of Dal Lake at various points. On September 29, the High Court directed LAWDA to proceed ahead on the lines of the scheme and concentrate on de-weeding, dredging, and stopping the flow of all drains and waste into the Dal. The High Court urged LAWDA to ensure that there is no encroachment in and around Dal Lake. On October 2, Jammu and Kashmir’s Lieutenant Governor Shri Manoj Sinha said that there was “no denying the fact that the famous Dal lake wasn’t cleaned up to the level it was supposed to, but UT administration will hire more machines to ensure proper cleaning of the lake in the weeks ahead”.

The LAWDA authorities were aware of the dirt and weeds accumulating in the lake, and the waste and sewage dumped into it. They are also aware of the hurdles being faced in the rehabilitation scheme. Have these issues been given the attention they deserve, considering the hundreds of crores pumped in for the cleanliness and upkeep of Dal Lake? The menace of illegal construction in and around Dal Lake needs to end. Accountability must be fixed with officers who did not discharge their duties properly, causing the current deterioration of Dal Lake. The salary, increments, and promotions of the LAWDA staff should be subject to the improvement of Dal Lake. There should be hard-hitting rules for those who undertake illegal constructions. Dal Lake is Srinagar’s pride. The government should take concrete steps against those who are abusing its natural beauty and those who are allowing this to happen.

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