As Chandigarh grows, its famous Sukhna Lake shrinks

Chandigarh, Feb 18 (IANS) Chandigarh’s famous landmark, the Sukhna Lake, is shrinking and has been reduced to half its original size even as the ‘City Beautiful’ continues to expand.

The man-made lake, which is popular among tourists, boating enthusiasts and daily morning and evening walkers, has a capacity of only about 513 hectare metres against the original capacity of over 1,074 hectare metres in the late 1950s when it was built. Much of the capacity of the Sukhna Lake has been lost to hundreds of tonnes of silt that has accumulated in the lake over the last five decades.

While the lake is shrinking, the 114-square-km city continues to expand. Originally planned by its founder architect Le Corbusier for a population of 500,000 residents, the city has now over 1.1 million residents and a floating population of over 100,000 people a day.

The latest findings of a slow death facing the Sukhna Lake have come from the Chandigarh Administration’s engineering department in an affidavit submitted to the Punjab and Haryana High Court.

The lake is a must-visit spot for the over one million tourists coming annually to this city – a union territory and also the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana states.

Engineering department officials say that much of the silt inflow into the picturesque lake, which has the Kasauli hills of Himachal Pradesh in its backdrop, occurred between 1958 and 1979.

‘The silt inflow, which was as high as 156 tonnes per hectare earlier, has been greatly reduced. It is down to nearly five tonnes per hectare now owing to conservation measures introduced in early 1980s,’ an official of Chandigarh’s engineering department told IANS.

The average depth of the lake has come down from 4.69 metres to 3.48 metres. With less rainfall last year in the lake’s catchment area, the water level of the lake is quite low and the monsoon is still about five months away.

It is not that efforts have not been made to restore the lake to its original glory.

‘We have made nearly 200 check dams in the catchment area of the rivulets that bring water to the lake. This has helped in controlling the incoming silt into the lake,’ Chandigarh’s former conservator of forests Ishwar Singh said.

The administration has now submitted a nearly Rs.74 crore plan for the de-silting of the lake to the union home ministry for approval.

In 1988, a ‘shramdaan’ (voluntary labour) campaign was initiated by the administration to involve people and machines to get silt out of that portion of the lake where there is no water any longer. Nearly a third of the lake is now completely dry. However, the campaign, after the initial hoopla, became an annual ritual without achieving much. It was finally scrapped in 2005.

The lake was built in 1958 after putting up a dam on the Sukhna choe (rivulet) coming into the area where Chandigarh now stands. The three-kilometre crest of the dam – the promenade – is now a popular walking spot.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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