Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
Video Producer, Text: Aastha Gulati
Uttarakhand's Sattal Lake, a little over 20 km away from Nainital, is home to some of the rarest species of birds and wildlife. A haven for nature lovers from across the country, Sattal's flora, fauna, and avian diversity has caught the attention of many. Most importantly, the area has preserved its pristine nature, unlike its more commercial counterparts.
A tweet by local MLA Sanjeev Arya on 5 March broke the news of a proposal to 'develop' the lake's surroundings by undertaking landscaping work. As per his tweet, a children's park, a view point, and shops will be constructed.
Posters of a 'bhoomi poojan' (inauguration ceremony) were also put up in the area, confirming locals' fears of intrusion into an ecologically sensitive area.
Most locals in Sattal are dependent on the forest and its biodiversity for their livelihood. They feel that the proposed plan will change the face of this quaint forest area.
"I run a restaurant here and have been associated with the business for several years. It is the source of my family’s income. Guests say that the natural beauty and serenity of this place should stay as is. Bhimtal and Nainital are also natural, but they are not like Sattal because a lot of development and construction work has happened there. People are facing problems because lakes run dry."Restaurant Owner
There is no livelihood-impact assessment or an environmental-impact evaluation. In May, locals had filed an RTI with the Forest Department, the irrigation department, the Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN), and the Uttarakhand Housing and Urban Development Authority, seeking details of the project as well as clearances and approvals obtained for it. The queries remain unanswered. (The Quint has accessed a copy of the RTI and corresponding annexures.)
At a time when we are already facing a climate crisis, it is disheartening to see the government ignore these risks, especially in such a fragile ecosystem. One cannot urbanise under the ruse of 'beautification'. Early in June, work near the lake was stopped after pressure from residents.
Moreover, any construction and permanent structure in Sattal will drive away bird species – almost 500 of them.
"The proposed project will need to cut down forests and construct an ‘eco park’ here with buildings and meeting halls. This will affect the natural habitat and the pristine state of the area for which tourists visit. A lot of people’s livelihood depends on tourists who come to experience Sattal’s natural beauty."Homestay Owner
Given that the details of this project are still unclear and biodiversity of the area is under serious threat, a Change.org petition filed by us is asking for Sattal to be declared a 'conservation reserve'.
KMVN's Response to The Quint
The Quint spoke to an official from Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (KMVN), the government outfit tasked with the implementation of the project. The official, who spoke to The Quint on the condition of anonymity, explained that the landscaping work is part of the National Lake Conservation Project sanctioned back in 2003. While current efforts are to beautify and better manage the area, local material will be used for the proposed construction, he added.
The official added that there will be no children's park, parking lot or view point as per several revisions in the plan. Instead, an eco park for birds will be made. Additionally, there will be no new shops constructed. Only eight shops out of the sanctioned 20 will be constructed, of which 12 were built in 2011.
(Footage was provided to The Quint by Amdy, a photographer from Sattal. of the Sattal Conservation Club. All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)