CHAKWAL: In Hindu mythology, the fabled pond at the Katas Raj temples was formed by the tears of Shiva, who wept uncontrollably over the loss of his wife Sati.
But the once ‘unfathomable’ pond, which continues to be one of the holiest Hindu sites in the region, is drying out for the second time in five years. The last time this happened was in April 2012.
Locals are worried by the drying out of the prehistoric pond, and for good reason: the water body is ordinarily on the verge overflowing all-year round.
Residents of the area blame cement plants in the vicinity, which they say have drilled a number of water-bores in the vicinity of the temples. These bores, locals and officials say, are draining the water table in the area.
Locals blame draining of groundwater by water-bores for pond’s plight
“Since the factories need a huge amount of water to make cement, the over 100 bores, which have been operating for nearly a decade, have reduced the water level severely,” a Punjab government official told Dawn.
Former Punjab governor retired Lt Gen Mohammad Safdar, whose native village Dulmial is six kilometers from Katas Raj, also blames the cement factory for creating an acute water shortage in the area.
“During our youth, we used to describe the pond as ‘bottomless’. The water from this pond would irrigate the different fruit gardens in the area. But since the advent of the cement factory, it has not fared well,” he maintained.
Before 2012, the pond used to supply drinking water to two adjacent villages; Katas and Waulah, as well as the city of Choa Saidan Shah. But after the pond dried up in 2012, villagers were forced to install tubewells in their areas.
Renowned travel-writer Salman Rashid, who frequents the area and has authored a book on the Salt Range, also blames the cement factory for the pond’s plight.
“The pond will eventually dry up one day,” he told Dawn.
“Subsoil water is being sucked up by the factory. The reduction of the water level has already caused several natural springs in the area to dry up. There was a spring a few yards from the pond, but it has also dried up now.”
The “senseless” plantation of eucalyptus trees in the area also reduced subsoil water, he said, explaining that the species consume a lot of water.
Former Chakwal district coordination officer Mehmood Javed Bhatti, who was serving when the pond last dried up, claimed that at the time, he shut down two of the cement factory’s water-bores had the water diverted to the pond.
Former district environment officer Syed Faisal Maqsood, however, pointed out that the cement factory wasn’t the only culprit. “There is a water-bore in every home in the area, since there is no proper water-supply,” he said.
Ironically, on Jan 11 this year, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif inaugurated a water filtration plant at the site, which was meant to provide clean drinking water to visitors. But the plant has not run since that day. Installed at a cost of Rs1 million, the potable water plant lies unused because it has no electricity connection.
When contacted, Evacuee Trust Property Board Deputy Secretary Syed Faraz Abbas told Dawn that his department had written to the Chakwal deputy commissioner (DC). However, when approached, DC Omar Jehangir had his own take on the situation.
“I visited the pond a few days ago. It was full of water. The rise and fall in the pond’s water level is a routine matter,” he claimed, and denied having received any correspondence from the ETPB.
When asked to comment, the communications manager of the cement factory in question said its management would look into the issue.
“We cleansed the pond and restored it the last time [this happened] because we are as concerned about this issue as anybody else. The pond is not drying out because of the cement plant,” she said.
Published in Dawn, May 12th, 2017