By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh–Large patches of dry bed, more than 50 per cent of the water body showing its dirty and smelly underbelly of weeds, boating limited to a small area and marine and bird-life affected — Chandigarh’s landmark Sukhna Lake is no more the picturesque water body that used to attract thousands of people every day.
In just under six decades, the area under water of the scenic lake, which has the Kasauli Hills and lower Himalayas in the backdrop, has shrunk by nearly 57 per cent.
While going dry is not entirely a new phenomenon for the rivulet and rain-fed Sukhna Lake, this year is particularly bad as the lake started drying up quite early in the summer.
With monsoon rains over the region not likely to arrive for the next 45-50 days, Sukhna Lake could be headed for one of its worst dry periods.
With an average depth of eight feet and a maximum of 16 feet, Sukhna Lake is barely managing to stay afloat in some parts. The water depth in some areas, where boating is still being allowed in a restricted area, is just about 2-3 feet.
Built in 1958, the Sukhna Lake was spread over an area of three square km. In 2016, the area of the lake under water was reduced to a mere 1.3 square km.
With rainfall over the region not being as high in recent years as earlier, the seasonal rivulets have not been able to maintain the supply of water to the lake. The construction of over 200 check dams in the Sukhna choe (rivulet) and other rivulets, which feed the lake from the catchment areas of neighbouring Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, in the past over four decades, has also meant that the lake gets lesser water from upstream.
“The check dams were constructed to stop silt from coming to the lake. But it stopped the water flow too,” Yogesh Kumar, a retired engineer, who has been coming to the lake since the 1970s, told IANS.
The lake complex, which attracts hundreds of visitors, tourists, regular morning and evening walkers, fitness freaks and even lovelorn couples, presents a picture of neglect as far as the water body is concerned.
“We had heard a lot about Chandigarh’s Sukhna Lake. But we are disappointed after coming here. The lake has very little water and looks ugly in some parts,” Suresh Das, a tourist from Kolkata, who stopped with his family while en route to Shimla, told IANS.
Last year, the water level of the lake was not even close to its maximum water storage capacity of 1,167 feet. Even at the end of the monsoon season, the water level stood at only 1,154 feet. It is down to about 1,151 feet now.
Such is the state of affairs that the Punjab and Haryana High Court had to intervene last year and direct the Chandigarh Administration to list immediate steps to save the lake.
Despite the administration, on the directions of the high court, spending up to Rs 15 lakh ($23,000) to pump water into the lake from five tubewells, the effort hardly helped in saving the lake from going dry.
The high court even appointed an amicus curiae to invite suggestions from experts, environmentalists and concerned citizens to save the lake.
Sukhna, the most popular tourist spot in the city along with the Rock Garden, was built in 1958 by making a three-kilometre-long dam on the Sukhna Choe. It was conceived as a place of relaxation, seclusion and sport by the city’s founder-architect, Le Corbusier.
The lake is situated in an upscale and VIP area of Chandigarh, with the governors of Haryana and Punjab, senior officers of the administration and some affluent people residing in its immediate vicinity.
The lake, which is a national wetland, has lost its water body area to silt and forest cover that has grown on this area.
The man-made lake has a capacity of only around 500 hectare metres against the original capacity of over 1,074 hectare metres in the late 1950s when it was built.
In the late 1980s, comedian Jaspal Bhatti and members of his “Nonsense Club” had played cricket on the dry bed of the lake to highlight the plight of the water body. They were chased away by the police.
Boating activity at the lake is very popular with over 100 paddle and rowing boats and some Shikaras’ (traditional boats like those in Srinagar’s famous Dal Lake) being booked by people daily for boating.