Wular lake, the country's largest freshwater lake and among the largest in Asia, has shrunk to nearly half its original area in the last century.
Massive slitting, rampant willow plantation, unabated encroachment, untreated sewerage and solid waste dumping have adversely affected the lake's ecosystem. Coupled with man's greed, the lake in north Kashmir's Bandipora district is dying a silent death.
Situated in north Kashmir's Bandipora district, Wular covered an area of 217.58 sqkm, including 58.37 sqkm of associated marshes in 1911. But as per the state's 2013 revenue records, the lake's area, excluding the associated marshes, has shrunk to 130sqkm.
"The lake is a composite ecosystem. It is a very important flood basin, and plays a role in the state's hydrographical system," said Rashid Naqash, coordinator, Wullar Conservation and Management Authority (WCMA) — the state government agency responsible for restoring the lake to its original glory.
Given the huge biodiversity values, the lake was declared a Ramsar site i.e. a wetland of importance, in 1990. But the conservation process started only in 2011 when the Centre agreed to release Rs 120 crore in four installments for keeping the lake from becoming extinct.
Willow plantation has been the biggest reason for the shrinking of the water body. The government had allowed the willow plantation inside the marshy areas in 1950. This has led to permanent land conversion. Official figures reveal that 27sqkm of the lake area is now under willow plantation.
"So many areas under willow plantation have converted into land mass. This has decreased its water holding capacity. We have to clear the willow plantation and grub out the stumps gradually," said Naqash.