By: Rafique A. Khan
LAWDA, the Lakes and Water Development Authority’s new proposals for improvements to the Dal Lake reverse a long-established LAWDA position to increase the water surface area of the lake and restore its historic ambiance as a natural water body.
Instead, now the lake water surface is to be shrunk, and built area within the lake are to be increased, to house structures that include cement pylons for extending roads into the water.
In addition, a monorail is to be built over a cement wall and a widened 26- meter wide motorway around the lake shore will create a physical and visual barrier between the lake and the land area around it. The entire lake boundary and numerous artificial newly-created built areas within the lake are to be encased with cement walls. Thus, converting the Dal lake, what is the foreground of one of the world’s wondrous natural landscape settings, into a large and ugly manmade cemented waterhole.
Here are some questions to be asked:
The Hydrodynamic modelling findings, as contained in the LAWDA study, indicate that a 2 km square and 3-meter in height land mass (island) can be created and that subsequent transformation (of the island) for tourism purposes complies well with the maintaining conducive lake hydraulic behavior. (page 384).
So, if the finding is that making an additional two kilometer square NEW LAND area within the lake and using it for human activity – tourism purposes – will not adversely affect the lake, then the question is was the removal of the original inhabitants of the lake – the Dal dwellers – masquerade?
And also, if the tourism purposes can be accommodated on an island within the lake “including dealing with sewage disposal etc – why cannot a similar arrangement be made to accommodate the original dwellers of Dal?
The proposed house boat island at Dole Demb is about 60 meters wide and about three kilometers in length. The island has one access from a road, meaning it is a dead end strip of land in the water. Access for service and emergency vehicles is not apparent. Dole Demb is a remote location, an untenable location for houseboats. (For more on this see: www.kashmirFoA.org/Relocation of houseboats: A Dull premise)
The Dole Demb is a relocation site for houseboats that at present flank the Dal Lake boulevard from Dal Gate to Gagribal. The consultant report illustrations do not address how the Dalgate to Gagribal area will be used after the houseboats are relocated. The houseboats flanking the Dal Boulevard from Dalgate to Gagribal make a unique iconic image. The Houseboat Owners Association proposed an arrangement similar to the proposed Dole Demb island for the Dalgate Gagribal area. The question is why not build the Dole Demb like improvements from Dalgate to Gagribal?
The proposed monorail around Dal lake is above ground. At Nishat Bagh the rail structure is about eight meters in height. The structure will obstruct the lake view from Nishat Bagh. In addition to the monorail, a massive new development on the water is proposed adjacent to Nishat Bagh. The proposed development of Shikara hub and pedestrian plaza in front of Nishat Bagh converts the water surface into hard surfaces and buildings. The proposed construction will dwarf and completely destroy the ambiance of the historic Nishat Bagh.
There are some parts of the proposal, like a tunnel under the Shankriycharia hill and the bicycle track around the lake, that are bizarre. The enormous cost of boring the tunnel has to be untenable. And so is the proposal for building a bicycle track around the lake given that at present no cycling is done around the lake. What justifies the cost for digging a tunnel under the hill and building a cycle track around the lake?
Traffic congestion around the lake is an issue that needs to be addressed. However, the road construction and transportation related improvements make no environmental and economic sense.
A point to note is that in Srinagar nearly EIGHTY percent of the population uses public transport. Yet the focus of traffic related projects is on widening roads, on moving of vehicles, mostly private cars.
For traffic planning the focus should shift from moving cars to moving people. This can be done by facilitating movement of people by rapid transit (buses) and controlling the movement of private vehicles during peek hour traffic.
It is ironic that a substantial water surface of Dal is cemented to create Shikara Hubs and Pedestrian Plaza, but there is no attention to provide water transport facilities on Dal. A simple solution to reduce traffic congestion around Dal would be a well run water transport system. Water transport can provide for safe and pleasant experience for daily commuters and visitors alikeÂ and add ambiance to the Lake environment.
Colorful architectural renderings can be mesmerizingly deceptive. To understand the quality of what LAWDA proposals mean, I suggest a visit to the Dal embankment at Tealbal Nalla on the lakeshore boulevard between Hazratbal and Nishat Bagh, and, then compare this with the old embankment between Nehru Park and the Palace Gate. Judge for yourself, what feels better, the orange and red tile pavement with the steel and cement fence at Tealbal or the green grass and stone pavement with the stone parapet fronting the Palace Gate.
I contend cement and steel and orange and red tiles should have no place in a place like the Dal and that everything man made here has to be subservient to the natural environment. And my submission is: please do not turn the wonderous natural setting of the Dal into a manmade cemented waterhole.
Rafique A. Khan is Los Angeles based Kashmiri-American City Planner. For comments: Rafiquekhan@me.com