Once famous for its fish, Nadru, and vegetable gardens, Anchar Lake struggles to survive encroachment, waste dump, and official neglect. Syed Asma reports
Son of a fisherman Ashraq Kundroo, 29, has lived almost his entire life surrounded by water. But water doesn’t attract him anymore. A school drop-out, Ashfaq was bought up in a locality located near the banks of once famous Anchar Lake in Srinagar.
Ashfaq, who chose a different career for himself, now spends most of his time in Goa working as a salesman. “Once in Goa I came across a group of tourists who wanted to visit Kashmir,” recalls Ashfaq.
With an intention of adding to his earnings, Ashfaq, offered the group his services as tourist guide. Once confirmed, Ashfaq started making a travel itinerary for the visitors. “I included Anchar Lake in the itinerary thinking it will help local boatmen to earn something,” says Ashfaq.
Ashfaq, says most of the tourists visit Dal Lake only. “They have no idea what Anchar is.”
Instead, Ashfaq’s plan backfired. “I took my father’s boat that day to take them out for a ride in Anchar,” recalls Ashfaq.
Within moments, one of the female tourists started complaining of itching, then the next one, and then one more. “While rowing the boat a few drops of lake water touched their skin and caused itching,” says Ashfaq.
Immediately Ashfaq rushed to a local pharmacy for help, but that did not work. “Finally we rushed back to Goa. It was polluted water of Anchar that had caused the allergy,” says Ashfaq disappointingly.
Apologetic Ashfaq offered to bear the medical expense, but tourists refused saying, ‘it is not your fault’.
Located near Soura, Srinagar, once a 19.4 sq km, pristine water lake, Anchar is now shrunken to just 6.8 sq kms of filth and garbage. “Tourists used to visit and row all the way to Anchar from Dal Lake not so long ago,” recalls Ashraf’s father Ghulam Ahmed Kundroo.
Anchar is connected with Dal Lake via Nallah Amir Khan. In case of flooding, excessive Dal water is diverted into Anchar Lake.
But the construction of Sheri-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Science (SKIMS) in 1977, near the Anchar Lake, proved catastrophic for the lake. Without any proper Sewage treatment Plant (STP), the entire waste generated from the hospital found its way into Anchar. In last few decades, the area where hospital drains its muck into Anchar Lake has turned into a marshy land. “Because of the filth this place smells like a dump yard,” says Ashfaq.
On many occasions, wall dividing hospital from the lake has collapsed because of water seepage. “It is like living in a filthy drain,” says Ashfaq, “There are dogs everywhere, roaming freely in residential areas near the lake.”
Once the condition of lake started to deteriorate, people living around it, mostly fisherman, vegetable growers etc., started to fear for their livelihood. “We are dependent on Anchar Lake for a living,” says Ashfaq’s father. “We cannot even think of migrating.”
The heat of polluted Anchar Lake is felt by the fisher community of Tipli Mohalla too. Known for producing Pharri (smoked fish) – a local delicacy exclusively found in Tipli Mohalla, its fishermen are now looking for alternatives. “The fish seems to have vanished from Anchar altogether,” says Mohammad Ramzan, an expert Pharri maker since early 90s.
With Anchar off the authorities focus, the areas surrounding it have extended their boundaries right inside the lake. “There has been massive encroachment of lake in last few decades. People first filled it with soil and then constructed houses,” says Ramzan.
But final nail in Anchar’s sad story was struck when six-foot wide pipes were laid under the new road to allow wastage from Dal Lake drain into Anchar. Within a few days, these pipes clogged due to excessive waste and debris.
Interestingly, there is no clarity or consensus among different government department regarding Anchar Lake. Both LAWDA and SMC say: this lake doesn’t fall under our jurisdiction!
“Under the National Conservation Plan (NCP), we have been given the mandate for conservation and management of Dal and Nigeen Lake. Not Anchar Lake,” says Sarmad Hafeez LAWDA’s vice-chairman.
Similarly SMC too absolves itself from any responsibility regarding upkeep and maintenance of Anchar Lake. “Although we have carried a few demolition drives in Anchar,” says an SMC officer wishing to stay anonymous.
“You can see for yourself what they (SMC) have demolished, if at all they have,” says Abdul Karim, a local fisherman, sarcastically. Karim, who is in his late eighties, is fishing in Anchar since last sixty years.
When this reporter asked him about Anchar’s present state, he insisted for a ride in his boat. With difficulty he pushes his oars though polythene bags, shoes, wrappers, animal carcases, and all sorts of waste. All the time he has his nose covered. “This smell is unbearable,” says Karim. “Just ten years back I used to drink water from this lake. Now it is nothing less than poison.”
Karim blames both government and people, who live near the lake, for its present condition. Rowing through narrow waterways clogged by residential houses, Karim looks at encroachments with a sad look on his wrinkled face. At a narrow landfill, a number of farmers are busy harvesting lotus stems, locally called Nadru. “Look at the colour of Nadru,” says Karim while pointing towards a fresh stack. “It has turned black because of pollutants in Anchar.”
A few meters away, around a hundred old men, are sitting with fishing rods in their hands. They are killing time, say Karim. “Can you guess how many fish they catch every day?”
On a lucky day, a group of twenty men manage to catch just one or two fish! “Mostly we go home empty hand,” says Karim.
Interestingly these men start their day at 9 am, and wait till evening for a catch. “They are mostly old men who fish. Youngsters don’t have such patience,” says Karim. “Besides, it pays you almost nothing. Why should next generation take it?”
Most of the youngsters who live near Anchar Lake earn their living by working as labourers in Srinagar. “When I was young, we too fished in groups. A day’s catch was around 6 fishes. All above 1 kg,” says Ali Mohammed, a local fisherman who is in his late seventies. “First we polluted the lake with whatever filth and garbage we could find, now we complain of no catch,” says Mohammad.
Karim and Mohammad, both feel that apart from pollution, local’s association with National Conference is costing Anchar Lake, the needed maintenance. “When NC is in power they take us for granted because we vote for them anyhow,” says Karim. “When they are not, the opposition punishes us for our association with NC.”
Whatever be the reason Anchar Lake is in mess, literally!