Chandigarh: The hugely popular Sukhna lake, faced with a major threat of siltation, is set to regain its vast water expanse - thanks to some frantic digging by the authorities to clear up mounds of silt.
The lake, which has the picturesque Kasauli hills of the lower Himalayas in the backdrop, was conceived by architect Le Corbusier and his team who planned Chandigarh in 1958.
The deterioration of the lake over the years has caused much concern. The Punjab and Haryana High Court this week directed the union territory authorities to clear up the lake.
With the court watching the operations closely, the administration is trying to get the silt removed before the onset of the monsoon season - June-end. The authorities have now raised the target of silt removal to 80 lakh cubic feet from 50 lakh cubic feet.
However, a fresh area of the lake`s silted bed - about 15-20 acres - is beginning to show up over the receding water level. The new underbelly of the Sukhna Lake signifies that nearly half of the man-made lake`s original size is now a dry bed.
The city`s engineering department this month mounted the biggest exercise to remove the silt - using heavy machinery and equipment. Nearly 10 lakh cubic feet of silt has already been removed.
"We have pressed heavy machinery and several trucks and tractor-trolleys for silt removal. We hope to achieve our target before the monsoon sets in," Chandigarh`s engineering secretary Sanjay Kumar said.
Only 7.75 lakh cubic feet of silt was removed in 2009. In 2008 and 2007, the silt removed was a mere 2.14 lakh cubic feet and 0.67 lakh cubic feet.
Sukhna Lake, the most popular tourist spot in the city along with the Rock Garden, was built by making a 3-km long dam on the Sukhna Choe (seasonal rivulet). It was conceived as a place of relaxation, seclusion and sport by the city`s founder architect Le Corbusier and his team.
The lake faced unchecked siltation for over three decades from its catchment area, reducing its water storage capacity by nearly half, before authorities woke up to the problem. Efforts to de-silt the lake in the next two decades, including voluntary service (shramdaan) failed to bring any substantive results.
The forest and wildlife department has built 192 silt-retention dams and 200 check dams in the catchment area to prevent silt from flowing into the lake bed.
This helped cut down the inflow of silt into the lake - from 140 tonnes to five tonnes per hectare per year. However, by the time the silt inflow was checked, over 70 acres of the lake`s bed was lost permanently to silt - which the authorities are now trying to reclaim.
The lake is frequented by scores of morning and evening walkers every day, besides hundreds of tourists and other visitors.
"We have seen gradual deterioration of the lake. It is good that the administration is finally doing something about the silt because no one seemed bothered about it for the last 3-4 decades," morning walker AK Bhatia said.
The authorities have planned a Garden of Silence as an added attraction and a tourist information centre for visitors at the lake.
Boating is a very popular activity with tourists, with over 100 paddle and rowing boats and five shikaras or house boats, being booked daily.