Once famous for its fish, Nadru, and vegetable gardens, Anchar Lake, located in the Soura area of Central Kashmir's Srinagar city, is now struggling to survive. It is being choked by continuous dumping of sewage, garbage, siltation and encroachment. It has shrunk to nearly half its original area in the last few decades. Many also blame administrative apathy, and extensive pollution in the area.

Once this place was a popular tourist destination as tourists on shikaras and houseboats came here from Dal Lake. Now this lake is losing its glory as the people residing around the lake are directly dumping solid waste from their homes into the water body on a daily basis.

Located in the Soura area in Srinagar city, the lake is connected to the Dal Lake via a water channel named Nallah Amir Khan. It passes through Gilsar and Khushal Sar Lakes was famous for producing high-quality fish, lotus stem or nadru, vegetable gardens and water chestnuts. However, all that is a thing of the past.

The lake’s current degraded state has had an impact on aquatic life as well. The region’s 93,000 residents still depend on fishing as one of their sources of income. But it’s difficult to predict how long they will be able to survive.

People who live close to the lake, primarily fishermen and farmers, are worried about the future of their livelihoods as the Anchar Lake deteriorates. The lake’s size has reportedly decreased to only 6.8 sq. km, from 19.4 sq. km.

Fareeda Begum (52) lives on the shores of the Lake and says that the area has been turned into a dumping site. She alleged that the local residents dump all garbage from their homes and dump it near her house at night or early morning. “It is not only my locality which is being used as a garbage dumping site but other low lying areas along the lake are also being used to dump domestic and commercial waste,” she said.

“Few years ago water in the lake was crystal clear and was used for drinking purposes. However, today it is highly contaminated and not suitable even for washing clothes and feeding animals. The children stopped playing in the water long ago too,” she added.

“Migratory birds which frequented the lake earlier have not been spotted in the past couple of years, perhaps due to growing pollution in it,” added her daughter Shafeeqa.

Mohammad Ashraf a local fisherman said that people even dump animal carcasses on the banks of the lake, and during the summer when the water level increases these too get washed into the freshwater. “As compared to the past, nadru harvest in the lake has gone down considerably. A few years ago, I used to take out about 100 kg of nadru from the lake every day but nothing like that is happening now,” Abdul Ahad, who has been involved in nadru extraction for the past 50 years, said, adding that a 20 kg haul was the maximum a person can get now. He said, “we don't have fresh water available because it is all polluted. A lot of diseases are also affecting our children."

According to the locals, “rampant encroachments along the banks of the lake have also led to the decline of Nadru production. These have gone unchecked, and the administration has failed to take any action against the violators,” the locals said. Nearly 95 percent of them are involved in harvesting nadru from this lake to make a living. They say the increase in pollution resulted in the death of a lot of aquatic species.

Meanwhile, Mohsin Mujtaba an environmentalist said that the lake has a lot of importance for Kashmir, “there may be grave consequences in the future if we don't consider the pollution of the Lake as the biggest threat. Dumping waste on its banks must be stopped.”

A few years ago, the High Court had noted that Anchar and Gilsar Lake had turned into a marsh. In 2016, National Green Tribunal had prohibited the Jammu and Kashmir governments and the Srinagar Municipal Corporation from throwing solid waste near the Anchar Lake.

According to an official the Government of Jammu & Kashmir has recently formed a Wetland Development Authority aimed to protect and look after the water bodies and save them from getting encroached. “The administration had received reports of encroachments in Anchar. We instantly swung into action and a team under the directions of Assistant Commissioner Revenue (ACR) Srinagar, demolished the illegal structures there,” he said

He added the water body lies between two districts Srinagar and Ganderbal. “Earlier there was no specific body to look after the status and functioning of water bodies of the Valley. After the formation of WDA, no water body would be left unattended,” he said