Bimal Kumar Pande
Nainital: Scholars claim that Nainital was mentioned in the Puranas as one of the holy lakes where a dip in the lake would cleanse all men of their past sins. If you took a dip in this very same lake today all you would get is a skin rash or some other such water borne disease. There are legendary stories about locals who refused to let the British know about the existence of the Nainital Lake, as it was a pilgrimage centre and the locals wanted to preserve its sanctity.
There was a time when people felt that they were responsible for the duties assigned to them and worked honestly and earnestly. This was visible in Nainital till the mid seventies when the town was at its beautiful best. A clean lake, clean hillsides, clean drains, lush forests , beautiful parks, clean and well looked after public amenities, quality tourism and concerned citizens - what more could one ask for? The Municipal and the District Authorities then worked diligently and in tandem to keep the town healthy and clean. Enter 2014 and things are completely different as the rat race has taken over. Money is the main concern and driving force for those with vested interests and everyone is out to destroy this beautiful hill station. Corruption is rampant and illegal construction carries on unabated with complete disregard for rules, authority and the environment. An ex senior officer had courage to accept existence of as many as 2500 illegal constructions in this small town . People unhesitatingly use the roads, hillsides and drains as garbage dumps. At many places the sewers flow into the lake. People, including some eminent and prominent personalities, have built houses on the Sukhatal catchment area on and near the lake bed. The Sukhatal Lake is an important and vital catchment area responsible for feeding the springs of the Nainital Lake. Now all the water in this lake is pumped out as soon as it starts filling during monsoon thereby sounding the death knell for the existence of the Nainital Lake itself and a contributory factor to the drying up of many springs which feed Nainital Lake. As a result, the lake is drying. Huge deltas have been formed on its banks. The water level has gone several feets down. However, some improvement has been recorded when Uttarakhand High Court intervened after hearing a PIL.
To save Nainital from landslides, the British created a drainage system on the hillsides around the town, which in effect can be called the lifeline of the town. The pressure of population and tourism in Nainital over the years encouraged residents and outsiders to build more houses and hotels. The greed to achieve more property led to ignoring construction bye-laws as well as ignoring the norms of hillside safety, thus encouraging corruption. The debris produced during construction has to be properly disposed off, but no one bothers about it. Most of the debris flows into the lake during the monsoons, thus reducing lake depth and forming deltas. Due to the lack of interest by the Municipal and District Authorities in strict implementation of laws, the drains are being used by the local people as garbage dumps. All this garbage too flows into the lake. Although, the situation is better and yet again the credit goes to the High Court. There are over four thousand stray dogs in the town. All the owners allow their pet dogs to defecate on the main roads. About a thousand beggars and migratory labourers defecate openly in drains and hillsides. An estimated fifteen thousand quintals of soil generated by this activity over the year is littered all over the town. How much of this eventually flows into the lake is anyone's guess. The Municipal Authorities and the District Administration need to wake up and deal with these problems with an iron hand but unless political leadership comes forward, little can be done. Firm and severe steps should be taken to put an end to all the malpractices undertaken by the local populace and heavy fines be imposed to put an end to all this. Mere appeals by the Administration and Municipal Authorities in keeping the town and the lake clean will not work with people who are insensitive towards such important issues and more keen in filling up their coffers. One-day and one week programmes to 'Save the Nainital Lake' organized by so-called concerned people from time to time, who are more eager to highlight their own names in the media, will lead nowhere.
The locals must also learn that greed does not pay in the long run. All those officers who have served their tenure in the past, present or future as well as the local inhabitants will be morally responsible if this beautiful town succumbs to the problems mentioned above. Death of the Nainital Lake will result in the death of many business ventures both big and small as well as of the real estate prices which presently are the only concern of the people living in this town. So far, only the aeration programme carried out by the District Administration has been a saving grace in giving life to the Nainital lake. Had the Uttarakhand high court not intervened and imposed a blanket ban on any construction within a radius of 2 km from major lakes in Nainital, the situation would have gone out of control. No fresh or further construction shall be carried out within a radius of 2km around Bhimtal, Nainital, Khurpatal, Sattal and Naukuchiyatal lakes, laid down the HC. Several illegal constructions were also demolished by Court orders in 2015-16. The damage is done but a lot more could be saved, if political leadership also takes initiative and prepares a long term plan to improve overall health of the town and adjoining area. Remember, the existence of Nainital town solely depends on the good health of Nainital lake so local residents will also have to be more proactive to save this beautiful and blessed place.