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. Kashmir lake tourist jewel has become 'cesspool': report

by Staff Writers
Srinagar, India (AFP) Dec 20, 2007
Dal Lake, Indian Kashmir's top tourist attraction, has become a "cesspool" and huge efforts are needed to save it, a court-appointed committee said, according to a report on Thursday.

The lake, ringed by mountains and celebrated by admirers as Kashmir's shimmering centrepiece, is being flooded by raw sewage and silt, said the committee, formed by the state's high court in 2002 to oversee clean-up of the water body.

"The authorities have miserably failed to stop the inflow of sewage and garbage" into the lake, said the committee in a report, according to the Greater Kashmir newspaper.

"Due to the laxity of the authorities, Dal has become a cesspool."

The lake -- famed for its brightly coloured, ornately carved tourist houseboats -- has already shrunk by more than half to 11 square kilometres (4.2 square miles) in the past 20 years and is becoming choked by weeds.

Dal Lake is the chief tourist attraction of Indian Kashmir. But tourism has suffered badly since Muslim rebels launched a deadly separatist insurgency in 1989 that has claimed more than 42,000 lives.

"The lake is beset with manifold problems and gigantic efforts are required to save the lake. The work for restoration and conservation of lake has to be accelerated on all fronts," the committee said.

The committee said "all the drains and sewers" and "all kinds of refuse effluent and human excreta" pour into the lake.

Hundreds of tourist houseboats have no waste disposal systems and empty raw sewage into the lake.

Sewage also pours in from Srinagar, the main city of Indian Kashmir with a population of about one million, choking it with weeds and raising the risks of waterborne diseases.

Water for cooking, washing and drinking is drawn from the lake in which huge underwater tracts of weed that thrive on sewage have grown, choking out other plant species.

Environmentalist have been sounding the alarm for years over the possible "death of Dal Lake" around which Moghul emperors in the past created sprawling gardens on surrounding slopes.

But lately appeals for action have become more urgent.

In March 2006, the court asked Kashmir's development authority to demolish hotels, houses and restaurants around the lake that discharge waste into the water, but no action has been taken.

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