M A I N   N E W S

Catchment neglect
Sanjeev Singh Bariana & Smriti Sharma Vasudeva
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 2
Sukhna, the landmark waterbody of the City Beautiful, is dying. The water level of the lake has receded from 18 feet in 1958 to approximately four-and-a-half feet today.

There are many to blame for the sorry state of affairs. Blame the babus. Over the years, the Chandigarh Administration has been remarkably ineffective and feeble in dealing with the threat to its sole aquatic landmark. Blame Haryana, because it singularly failed to plant trees in the catchment area, as a result of which siltation continues to bedevil the lake.

Blame a peculiar weed that has invaded the lake and now sucks up a good part of the lake’s water. Blame climate change — an uneven rainfall pattern over the past few years has not helped the lake.

Sukhna Lake owes its survival to four seasonal choes — Ghareri, Nepli, Nathewala and Kansal — that flow from the lower Shivaliks that surround part of it. Of the total catchment area of 36 sq km, 26 falls in Chandigarh while the remaining area in Haryana.

The higher grounds in Haryana, a major source of water for Sukhna, are presently a ghastly sight with rough and rugged brown and dry mountains. The deep gullies in the hills show no signs of special plantation or effort towards retaining or creating a fresh green cover.

Standing atop Hawa Mahal, the post on the boundaries of the Union Territory and Haryana, one cannot ignore the marked difference in the colour of the landscape, in the respective dominion. The denuded hills, minus any significant green cover, in Haryana, are in striking comparison with the lush green cover on this side of the border.

The UT administration has made noticeable efforts at reviving the green cover. There are patches of thick eucalyptus plantations but even there efforts seem to have fallen short. Between the hills and the lake, there is undulating land that is now highly degraded. The Administration should have covered it with grass to prevent further desilting.

The real problem of the lack of afforestation and grass cover is that the lake and the 120 check dams built in the 90s are rapidly silting up. Officials claim that the silt inflow, into the lake, has reduced from 140 tonnes per hectare per year, about a decade back, to 5 tonnes per hectare per year, currently. But that is only half the story.

To understand the magnitude of the problem, The Tribune team visited the trail along the 120-odd silt-retention and water check dams and were presented with a sorry sight. These dams were built in the early 90s to act as both for silt retention and also storage for water during the rainy season. Out of the 30 seen by The Tribune team, half of them were filled with silt. Most of them had very little water left in them. The water level, there too, is receding at a pace of an average of 1 -1.5 feet per month due to evaporation and seepage loss. Only around 10 of them are being desilted every year which is highly inadequate.

Conceding a lackadaisical approach, a senior forest officer, requesting anonymity, said, “The Sukhna catchment is nowhere on the priority list of the Haryana Government. The share of our forest, out of the state budget allocation for forests, is a pittance. Instead of each state taking up the project independently, the Sukhna catchment area needed a central command. No elaborate exercise for water retention structures has been carried out from the past 8-10 years and several earlier structures have collapsed.”

Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Haryana, Dr Parvez Ahmed, says, “The effort towards clearing the silt from the catchment area in our area definitely needs improvement. Sukhna is as much a priority for us as it is for Chandigarh. We will chalk out a fresh plan if need be and I will personally go and see the work being done there. We have taken the necessary steps for revival of the forest area in our domain.” On the ground though the story is vastly different. Very little work has really begun.

Adding to the woes, there is change in the rainfall pattern. Statistics of the meteorological department indicate lesser than average rainfall during the past decade, except good downpours in 2004 and 2008. There appear no modification plan by the UT administration for handling the changed weather pattern and lesser water availability for the care of the plant and the animal population.

Tomorrow: The fatal delay in desilting Sukhna





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