Admin beautifies Srinagar’s Brari Nambal lagoon, overlooks its stagnancy

“I have been selling tea here for around six years now. All this time it was a sewage dump. But never has the smell been this bad [when the fountains start].”

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Seventeen fountainheads adorn the stinking remnants of the once-thriving Brari Nambal lagoon in the Baba Demb area of downtown Srinagar. Every night, the fountains come to life and are the main selling point of the “beautification” process.

Jan sells tea by the footpath of the dead lagoon. He packs his stall and makes his way home at the first hint of dusk because — as the fountains come to life — the thick stench in the air around the lagoon becomes unbearable. “It might be a beautiful sight to see,” he said, “but I sure don’t want to be anywhere near it, at least right now.”

The lagoon works as an outfall channel for the Dal Lake, flushing out excess water into the river Jhelum but pollution and encroachments have deteriorated the lagoon. “I have been selling tea here for around six years now,” said Jan. “All this time it was a sewage dump. But never has the smell been this bad [when the fountains start].”

Beautifying a sewer

The “conservation project” has been undertaken by the Jammu and Kashmir Lake Development Authority (JKLDA) under the two schemes approved by the government of India: the 8.05 lakh rupees Integrated development of Tourists Facilities at Brari Nambal lagoon under Prime Ministers Development Package (PMDP) and the 1691.18 lakh rupees Rejuvenation and Revival of Brari Nambal lagoon project under the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT).

According to JKLDA officials, preservation is being done in two phases. The first phase would concentrate on the beautification of the lagoon and its peripheral areas, while in the second phase the land of the lagoon, which is currently encroached upon by the public, will be reacquired.

Chief Executive Engineer of the JKLDA’s Lake Division 1, Feroz Mir told The Kashmir Walla that the JKLDA is “negotiating with the people [for the encroached land] but acquiring the land is a bit tricky as some are demanding huge amounts which simply cannot be afforded [by the government].”

Brari Nambal is also the site of two Sewage Treatment Plants (STP). While one is relatively new and operated by the JKLDA, the other is operated by the Urban Engineering Environmental Department (UEED). The latter being blamed for the lagoon’s pollution. According to a report published by the State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), the water post-treatment at the STP by UEED has “excess phosphate in its effluents”.

The JKLDA plant has rather better results in treating its effluents, said Mir about the efficiency of the plant operated by them. “Go to the site and take a glass of water and see how crystal clear it is,” he said.

Besides beautification, the fountains act as aerators that add oxygen to the water which helps in sustaining flora as well as fauna. Scientifically, they help to maintain and the hydrology of any water body they are installed in, and JKLDA assured that the “smell will go away eventually with time, as more cleaning is done.”

Part of a rich history

The lagoon was made as an outflow channel in the 14th century by the then ruler of Kashmir, Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin and according to folklore, the banks would house herbal and therapeutic baths.

Under the restoration project, the banks of the lagoon have been cemented and tiled, with grilled fencing, and a hundred percent of the shoreline fit with streetlights. It also has its own food court and viewpoint.

But complementing them, the adjoining areas are filled with scrap dealers, automotive repair shops, and plant nurseries (thanks to sewage dumps over the years which have now act as fertilizers), which paint a contrasting picture of the area.

The lagoon has now shrunk to an area of 0.30 sq Km and has none of its previous pristine glory. Reversing the effects of pollution and eutrophication are the main concerns of the authorities now, simultaneously, rehabilitating dwellers in and around the area and acquiring the lost lagoon land.

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