Choked to Death

  • Aamir Ali Bhat
  • Publish Date: Mar 26 2018 2:21AM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Mar 26 2018 2:21AM
Choked to Death

The once sparkling springs of Anantnag are dying out and few seem bothered, least of all the government

 

In Anchidora in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district, Guffar Nag was a landmark. Named after a sufi whose shrine shadows it, the spring was a source of clean drinking water for the villagers. It was also a centre of social life: villagers would gather under the shade of old Chinar trees by it, resting and sharing their joys and worries. Today, the spring is a dirty pool. 

The Chinars were felled 15 years ago and whatever is left of Guffar Nag has been concretised, the typical bureaucratic solution to almost every problem.

“It is named after Guffar Sahab, a great soul who would sit under those Chinars with his disciples,” says Ghulam Mohi-ud-Din Khanday, his great grandson. “The water was so clean you could see your reflection in it; it was like a mirror. But neither the Chinars nor the spring exists anymore. The new generation has destroyed what should have been preserved.”

He may be right to complain about an entire generation for natural springs like Guffar Nag are dying out across Anantnag district. In and around Islamabad town alone, one could count no less than 25 major springs until only a few decades ago – Malak Nag, Gaj Nag, Hemal Nag, Soner Pokher Nag, Khosi Nag, Gratbal Nag, Mal Nag, Hatbal Nag. They supplied clean water for drinking and bathing once but many are now so polluted they stink; most have been concretised to “save” them.

“I still remember the early morning rush at many of the springs here, people gossiping and cracking jokes while bathing or doing ablutions. Those days are long gone,” says Mohd Khalil Tota, who lives in the town. “Then during the day, you would see women taking water or washing clothes and utensils and children bathing.”

Many of the spings fed streams that ended up into the Jehlum. But pollution and encroachment has reduced the streams to ditches now. “The outlets of these springs were encroached upon and turned into drains. This is one of the reason behind floods but no one is paying heed,” says Mohd Amin Sofi, a shopkeeper. 

The springs themselves were fed by aquifers and as such their water was warm in winter and cold in summer. Many of them, especially in Old Town, were enriched with Sulphur and bathing in them was known to help alleviate body pain and some skin disorders. The most famous of these was Malak Nag. 

“People from even outside the valley who had skin-related diseases would come here,” says Mohammad Ayoub Drabu, referring to Malak Nag. “Some would bathe in it and some would take water in cans and buckets.” 

The springs also nourished a variety of fish but now only the Sherbagh spring has any fish at all. That is because pollutants and toxic chemical compounds in their waters have far exceeded the limits determined by the World Health Organization, according to a study by Ghulam Jeelani, an associate professor of Earth Sciences at Kashmir University. 

Though the springs have served as “traditional water sources” for centuries, the study rues, little is being done for their cleaning and preservation. “Poor sanitation systems around the springs, lack of cleanliness, open defecation, manure spreading and pasture lands were found to be main cause of microbiological contamination,” the study points out. “The spring water should be treated before drinking. The sanitation system of the area must be improved and the cleanliness of springs should be maintained regularly.”

This is imperative, the study maintains, because “surface water supplies are dwindling due to global warming, deforestation, large-scale growth in population and settlements without commensurate improvement of infrastructure and civic amenities”. As such, “the dependency on water from natural springs is increasing. But the continuous deteriorating conditions of the water quality of these springs are threatening and may result in several water borne diseases.”  

Yet, the Municipal Council Anantnag doesn’t even have proper records of the springs. The council’s Executive Officer, Shabir Ahmad Wani, said there are only five springs in “proper condition” in Islamabad town now. “We take care of springs like Sherbagh, Gaj Nag, Hemal Nag and Malak Nag,” he added. “I will talk to my sanitation team. We will start a cleanliness drive of these springs as soon as possible and we will try to preserve whatever is left now. It is necessary to preserve water bodies.”

Shabir complained that they have “limited funds and resources”. “We didn’t get any funds for the springs until now,” he said. “This year, we will set aside some funds for cleaning the springs.”