A Tribune Investigation
Sanjeev Singh Bariana
Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, June 5
To get to the root of the problem, the focus has to be upstream, not just the lake. Greening the total catchment area of 10,292 acres, including 7,184 acres in Chandigarh and 583 acres in Punjab, is as important as the cleaning up of the silt in the Sukhna Lake. As for Haryana, much needs to be done, lack of funds notwithstanding.
The maximum siltation took place during the first 15 years, (1958-1973) when no silt retention dam was constructed. Therefore, there is need to build more such dams, and to clean those that have already been built. If you are cleaning 10 dams a year, as is being done now, it will take at least 19 years to tackle the 190-odd dams. It only takes two to three years for a dam to get silted up.
More dams are needed to store water up-river and prevent silt from flowing down. To help stop soil erosion, mere planting of trees will not do, as Chandigarh has discovered. Grass cover is needed to help bind the soil and protect it from denudation.
As for the weeds, help should be sought from various experts, national and international. Physically de-weeding the area has seldom proved effective because the weeds grow right back. Besides the two native weeds, another has just been identified as the Curly Leaf Pond Weed (Pontamogeton Crispus). While the Grass Carp fish has been introduced in the lake to counter it, it does not have a high success rate and thus the administration will have to look for an alternative.
Despite engaging massive manpower and machinery on a war footing to avert a visible disaster in the Sukhna Lake, the efforts of the UT Administration are not expected to yield much results even in the current decade. And it might be too late by then.
The UT efforts at plantation in the catchment areas of Nepli, Kansal, Nathewala and Ghareri will mean little unless a matching green cover is ensured on the ground. Only vegetation that suited the soil should be sown. According to officials, 16.56 lakh saplings were planted in the UT catchment area between 1989 and 2000. Grassing has, however, been ignored.
The Centre must release funds necessary to undertake this measure. It should also coordinate the efforts between various governments to ensure a unified command and structure for saving the Sukhna Lake. Chandigarh needs Sukhna, and Sukhna needs help.