The Dal dwellers, who have been living on the banks of Dal Lake in Srinagar for generations, have been forcefully evicted by the state in the name of conservation of the lake. These people comprise fishermen, vegetable sellers, houseboat owners and shikara riders, belonging to the Hanji community. The eviction drive, which began in 2011, is seen as a move to implement the 'Save the Dal Lake' conservation project, which was introduced in 1971 under various nodal agencies or departments. According to the state's Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA), the estimated project cost is INR 500 crore. The project comprises two components: conservation and rehabilitation. While fruitful conservation efforts are yet to be seen, the state is facing backlash for its rehabilitation effort. Following the eviction, the government plans to relocate the Dal dwellers and shift their houseboats to Doledum area, 15 kilometres from the lake. Over the years, some of the evictees have been shifted to Rakh-e-Arth in Srinagar. This is a wetland and is not suitable for any kind of construction and living. Many of the houses that the government constructed for rehabilitation have developed cracks or have skidded off, risking the lives of families residing there. They are distressed as their livelihood is totally dependent on the lake. Although the affected people accepted the compensation package of INR 1 lakh per family offered by the government, they have realised it is not enough to cover their losses and have demanded that the government relocate them back to the lake. Dal Lake is home to and the main source of livelihood for a population of more than 50,000, a majority of them belonging to the Hanji community. The lake houses 700 houseboats and 2,700 shikaras. The Hanji community earns their livelihood from the lake by engaging in various activities, such as fishing, growing vegetables like nadru (lotus stem) and haak (green leafy vegetable), ferrying tourists in shikaras and collecting water lilies for cows, although some of them also practise farming. As part of the conservation of the lake, more than 2,000 families have been forcefully evicted from 75 hectares of land so far, as told to LCW by a junior government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. In the process, their movable assets, including livestock and agricultural produce and equipment, have also been displaced. The Dal dwellers have called their forced rehabilitation to Rakh-e-Arth human rights violation. Speaking to a news channel in February 2020, they threatened Back to Dal programme if the government fails to reconstruct their houses on the banks of the lake and provide them means of livelihood. As per the government's estimate, the Dal dwellers reside in 111 mohallahs in the interiors of the lake. About 320 families own dunga boats (smaller version of a houseboat that is movable and is used to ferry passengers within the lake), 758 families own houseboats (for commercial purpose), 3,009 families live in huts and 5,928 families in live in concrete houses. Ghulam Rasool Akhoon, president of Dal Dwellers Welfare Union, told LCW that focusing on the Hanji community diverts public attention from the dismal administrative performance of the government authorities, including the states judiciary. The eviction is another attempt to use the Hanji community as a scapegoat for the deterioration of the Dal. They must get appropriate compensation as per their property values and also be relocated to the Dal Lake, he added.
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J&K Lakes and Waterways Development Authority
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Land Acquisition Laws
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