Of shikaras and slums

The colony that has mushroomed upon the Dal Lake is the only slum on water in Srinagar. A byproduct of the proxy war between India and Pakistan, it threatens to kill the lake

Last Updated: Saturday 04 July 2015

The people of Kashmir have only the Dal to offer to tourists. Brochures are full of life on the Dal lake. Pictures of houseboats used to attract hordes of tourists to the Dal year after year. The Dal was virtually the economic lifeline of Kashmir. One of the large lakes of India, today it supports 50,000-odd people whose lives are inextricably linked with the lake. If the lake lives, so do they. If the lake dies, which it will in 20 to 30 years, so will they. Unfortunately, they are killing the lake. It is being choked by weeds, floating farms and bled dry to feed a hungry populace.

The lake colony is the only slum on water in Srinagar. Unlike other cities in India, there are no slums on land. Also, unlike other cities, where people encroach on land, here they encroach on water. The dwellings on the lake and on the periphery are labelled "encroachments". But this does not deter the government from giving the people phones, electricity and water connections. Even government schools and security forces bunkers are seen on the lake.

Ten years ago, the Dal lake was caught in the crossfire of the proxy war Pakistan is waging against India by aiding and abetting terrorism in Kashmir. Militancy has kept the tourists away and has brought in its wake a host of accompanying problems. As a result the lake is shrinking. According to ancient manuscripts, the lake area was 75 square kilometres in 1200 AD. This had been reduced to 10.56 sq km in 1983. The National Lake Conservation Plan, drawn up by the ministry of environment and forests, includes 21 lake systems all over India. It was during Saifuddin Soz's tenure as environment minister that the plan was drawn up. There were allegations that most of the money were pumped into the Dal lake. But it has made no visible impact.

There are several reasons for this. The people living on the Dal were dependent on tourism for their livelihood till 1989. When the problem of militancy began in the Valley, incomes from tourism declined drastically and people were forced to look for other avenues of employment. Many houseboat owners -- considered to be the more affluent among residents of the lake -- were forced to put up shutters and migrate to places like Delhi and Calcutta in search of other jobs. Or they took to selling Kashmiri handicrafts in these places. Those who were left behind were mostly from the poorer sub-strata of society. With little to sustain them, they turned to agriculture with a vengeance. In the absence of land, they encroached upon the lake. This they turned into floating islands and started cultivating vegetables.

Nazir Hussain is one such person who lives in Moti Mohalla on the lake. According to him, 40 hectares of land was created on the lake. In his village alone, 4.5 hectares of land has been created. This, among other things, is responsible for the shrinking of the lake. Today, however, most of residents deny the fact that they have encroached upon the lake.

But it would be wrong to blame the unemployed of this city for the lake's distress. Untreated sewage and the nutrient run off from the vegetable gardens provide natural fertilisers to the aquatic weeds that are threatening to choke the lake. Today, the lake is a riot of weeds. Though the Jammu and Kashmir Lake Water Development Authority has acquired weed harvesters, they are used only twice a year. The people now see an analogy between the menace of the weeds in the lake and the problem of insurgency in the state. As pointed out by a local resident, political will to get rid of both is lacking.

The people in the Valley had felt that 1999 would be a good year for tourism. The economy in Kashmir was showing signs of recovering, the problem of militancy was on the wane, but it was just a lull before the storm. They had prepared themselves for an invasion by tourists. But Kargil dashed all their hopes. The tourists stayed away. Only, the yatris on their way to Amarnath provided some relief.

It seems the people of the Dal only want peace. Only peace, they feel, will bring an end to the environmental cost of militancy in Kashmir. Only with the revival of tourism and industry will the people of the town stop poaching upon the resources of the lake. Only then will the slow murder of the Dal Lake end.

To study the bee's effects on the gilia, they first studied the method by which the bees steal nectar from the plant's blossoms. A bee uses its spiky, toothed mouth to chew a hole through the side of the corolla, the petals that surround the inner parts of the flower. It then sucks the nectar out of this hole through a long, snout-like proboscis. While this method provides sufficient nectar for the bee, there is none left for other winged creatures, such as the hummingbirds, which migrate through the region.

This larceny also fails to pollinate the plant, a process that is likely to occur after a visit from a hummingbird. Pollination in the gilia occurs only through interplant pollen transfer. For a plant to be successfully pollinated, the pollen of one plant must be transferred to the stigma of another, where it can fertilise the ovule and form seeds. Robbing nectar has the potential to damage the plant's reproductive success. As individual gilia plants bloom only once, estimates of lifetime reproductive success can be measured in a single season.

The researchers measured the rate of pollen transfer between the scarlet gilia plants by placing dye particles on flowers to imitate pollen. The number of dye particles deposited on flowers were compared in plants with low and high rates of thievery. This was associated with the amount of pollen transferred by pollinators. The researchers found that highly-robbed flowers donated and received fewer dye particles. This meant that less pollen transfer was occurring among those plants that were frequented by the bumblebees.

"The most probable explanation for the reduced fitness of nectar-robbed scarlet gilia is that these plants attract less pollinators," says Irwin. "Hummingbirds tend to avoid plants which are highly robbed, and visit less flowers on those plants. Our study shows that nectar-robbing does decrease reproductive success in the scarlet gilia. Further research will elucidate the effect of floral larceny on the evolution of floral traits."

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