Talab: Endangered Heritage of Kashmir
Ponds act as habitat for aquatic flora and fauna, and constitute an important water buffer, particularly during summer period
Rayees Ahmad Pir
Jul 20 2018
Kashmir, famous for its scenic beauty, was also a land of fresh water bodies like rivers, streams, lakes, traditional dug wells and cultured ponds. It was a time when everything was in its purest form, and even Kashmiris, untouched by the worldly greed, avarice and selfishness, were filled with philanthropic and altruistic feelings.
Ponds, now a neglected thing had a special role to play in benefiting Kashmiris. A Pond (Talab), locally known as “SAR” in Kashmiri, is a body of still water, either natural or artificial, that is usually smaller than a lake. It may arise naturally in floodplains as part of a river system, or develop during geomorphological processes to isolated depressions, contains shallow water with marshy and aquatic plants and animals. Ponds act as storage for huge amount of water during floods as the run off created by rain due to steep slope & clayey formation does not allow water to percolate and infiltrate into ground water system. In these circumstances ponds become very vital for recharge to ground and increase the soil moisture and fertility of the surroundings.
Ponds act as habitat for aquatic flora and fauna, and constitute an important water buffer, particularly during summer period. “About 2 decades back, people were dependent on pond water for their day-to-day activities; and were utilized for domestic and agriculture purposes. During winter season, water freezes in the pipes, and then people utilized the pond water. Ponds were also used during lean periods, to meet the demand of water in times of crisis. These ponds saved the villages many times in the past from drought and fires.
Ponds are the part of Kashmiri heritage, and have a social and cultural importance too. A very beautiful scene would often meet our eyes when multitude of village youth especially women with carry clay vessels on their heads, would circle round the ponds and pass much time in tittle-tattling and discussing the home issues, due to which a bond of love and compassion developed which bridged the gap of hatred and hostilities (if any) between the them. Ponds, thus, would act as means of mass communication and sharing joys and sorrows. The villagers would even take bath in the ponds and swim. Very often some villages were named as “Sar Gaam” because of dozens of fresh water ponds surrounding it. Few ponds fell into the category of barren land which was reserved for grazing of livestock in the villages. The ponds have been dated back during Mughal period by Archeology and Museum Department of J&K within historical places.
The disappearing ponds of Kashmir
Once considered to be an inseparable part of the rural life, ponds are now already on the wane. Thanks to the rapid urbanization which has slowly destroyed the traditional ponds. Apart from public encroachments, government buildings, schools, play grounds now stand where the ponds once existed. Dumping clay, debris and other domestic wastes including toxic chemicals, not only vanishes the ponds & its aquatic habitat but also pollutes the ground water. The encroachment of the ponds has also resulted in the disappearance of ducks and swans, which were once abundant in the Valley. Even if some ponds exist in peripheries, they are seldom being used due to their pathetic conditions. Due to the apathy of the concerned departments and rapid urbanization these ponds have perished. Poor management of these ponds, day-by-day increase in population and growing demand for human settlements, have sounded a death knell to these precious resources which had a part to play in maintenance of ecological balance. Now the question arises – are we waiting for calamity? Who is responsible? Whom should we blame? Have we forgotten our responsibilities & watching as mute spectators or is the govt. silent?
Glaciers are now retreating fast, no. of rainy days are decreasing and increase in population and demand of water is increasing in two folds, so steps should be taken to save them”. Since, it is an issue where community is equally responsible, a community-based approach is needed to rejuvenate & restore the existing and extinct ponds. Mass awareness programs are needed to be conducted on regular basis. I urge the govt. bodies to regulate, rejuvenate and restore these natural resources because they are the lifeline of our system. Concerned govt. department needs to show grave concern in compilation of a complete list of all the ponds and initiate the process of Rejuvenation and conservation of the same by constructing gabion structures and iron mesh around ponds. Few channels adding water to ponds and also arrangement for draining out the stale water needs to be revived. Nowadays govt. of India is funding schemes to construct artificial ponds for storage and recharge ground water. Similarly, schemes should be executed to rejuvenate the existing natural ponds on war footing otherwise the day is not far when relics of these precious water resources will cease to exist and only regret and remorse will be our fate.
Rayees Ahmad Pir is Scientist (Hydrogeologist) Central Ground Water Board, Ministry of Water Resources RD&GR, North Western Himalayan Region, Jammu