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Lake region of the Kumaon Himalayas, comprising Khurpatal, Nainital, Sattal, Nal Damyanti Tal, Bhimtal and Naukuchiatal (eight lakes and ponds) is situated in the outer foothills above and adjacent to the Bhabhar / Terai sub-region. Kumaon lakes are situated in UP, among the foothills of the Himalayas, and range in elevation of about 3500 ft to 6400 ft. All lakes are small, with the largest one, Bhimtal, covering 72 ha. Lake Naukuchiatal is the deepest, with a maximum of 40.8 m. Few of the lakes are fed by streams, and most of them are land locked. The lake region of Bhimtal, Naukuchiatal and Sattal is unique for its biodiversity since it falls in the blend zone of Paleastic and Indo-Malayan zoo-geography. It boasts 500 species of resident and migratory birds, 20 species of mammals, over 525 species of butterflies and over 11,000 species of moths, beetles, bugs and other insects.

Over the last couple of decades, alarmingly adverse developments have occurred which threaten the existence of this ecologically fragile region and the health and economic security of the human populations that depend on it. Bhimtal and Naukuchiatal have moderate levels of nutrients and are mesotrophic. Lake Sattal is poor in nutrients. The lakes have high rates of sedimentation, Bhimtal with 4.70mm/yr, Naukuchiatal with 3.72mm/yr, and Sattal with 2.99mm/yr., which results in poor sorting of grains and less adsorption of heavy metals, leading to their depletion in the bed sediments of the lake.

These lakes are under restoration with funds provided by the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP) of the Government of India. Sattal, Bhimtal and Naukuchiatal lakes, have been traditionally used as primary sources of drinking and irrigation water for the entire Kumaon region. The catchment area of these lakes known as June state or Jones Estate is a hot spot of bio diversity and a unique eco system. While this region falls under ‘no construction’ zone, it was being ravaged by rampant construction work, undertaken by private builders, backed surreptitiously by the government.

High altitude lakes of Kumaon region have become highly polluted due to enrichment and unscientific stocking of fish like Gambusia affinis . A comprehensive lake conservation plan using the stocking of environment friendly fish species and aeration of the whole lake system has been prepared to combat the pollution and slowly improve the lake ecosystem. The strategies formulated will completely deutrophy (remove the nutrients) the lake and help in the establishment of ecologically suitable, technically viable and socially acceptable aquaculture in the lakes.

Research paper:

Environmental Geology Environmental pollution impact on water and sediments of Kumaun lakes, Lesser Himalaya, India: a comparative study (Abstract only)
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Water and sediment geochemistry of major Kumaun Himalayan lakes, India (Abstract only)
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Himalayan Lake Study

Reconstruction of the Holocene climatic history and recent anthropogenic changes in the southwestern Himalayas (Panjab and Kumaun Lakes)
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Limnology of Lakes, Reservoirs, Wetlands

Geochemical Studies of water in the Kumaun Himalayan Lakes
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  2000: 100 acres of Government land been given to a private developer to build a township and resort in village June Estate. It was discovered that the 100 acres was in fact Van Panchayat land, dense forest and covered under the green belt of the Bhimtal master plan, there was a huge public outcry against the scandal and it came to be known as the “June Estate Prakarn”. A private builder was given the permission to develop a township and resort project known as ‘Shivkoot Hills’ in this land.

2001: High-level inquiry to look into this matter was initiated by Uttaranchal government. PIL filed for the protection and conservation of the hills and lands adjoining to the lakes of Bhimtal, Sattal and Naukuchiatal in the District of Nainital. PIL filed by SAVE (Society of Appeal for Vanishing Environments), in protest against the proposal of township in the forest area.

The court studied the petition and instructed the district administration and the Land Development Authority (LDA) to take effective measures to prevent all unauthorized activities in the June Estate. The court further instructed the state authorities to file a counter affidavit by January 9, 2002. However, the respondents did not meet the deadline and no counter affidavits were filed.

2002: Counter affidavit filed by Sarpanch, Van Panchayat and also mentioned that road was constructed even after the inquiry was ordered but all other construction activities were stopped. This affidavit has strengthened the petitioner’s case.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), New Delhi in consultation with Urban Development, Government of Uttaranchal has assigned to Alternate Hydro Energy Centre (AHEC), IIT Roorkee, the task of preparing a Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the Conservation and Management Plan of the four lakes in district Nainital.

2003: Battle is on going and legal hearings were expected to start mid-July '03 onwards. Inquiry is still going on, and preliminary findings are yet to be made public, yet the construction work is going on and 3 kilometer road has been constructed already.

2008: Bhimtal lake is drying up due to the illegal construction going on in and around the area, due to increased tourism activity. Sources from which the water used to flow into the lake are depleting as a result the lake is drying up slowly. Earlier, it used to be filled with water during the monsoons, but now as only 1/3rd of the lake is filled with water.

Recent update: After the intervention of the Hon’ble Supreme Court, for prevention of defecation in the open in the Lake Region, out of five proposed state of art public toilets in Bhimtal, three have been completed and two are under completion. In Naukuchia Tal out of the proposed two, both of them are operational, in both Sat Tal and Sariya Tal near Khurpa Tal one each proposed are operational.

The dry lake in Sariya Tal was revived and it has now been converted into a small lake and a tourist spot.

In Bhimtal, one parking site and one jetty on the shore of the lake have been constructed. An aquarium has been established in the island in Bhimtal. The Bhimtal aquarium is technically at par with the best in the world and way ahead of Indian standards. The island and the island restaurant housed there were a constant source of pollution in the lake. To avert this, the restaurant has been removed from the island and the owner has been allotted a shop in a vantage position in the town.

The Nainital Lake Development Authority converted the restaurant into an aquarium to prevent pollution and clean the lake.

Fredrick Smetacek (Jr),
Chief Co-ordinator
Society of Appeal for Vanishing Bhimtal, Nainital
Environments (SAVE)
"The Retreat"
Post Box 5,
Bhimtal, Nainital


Brijraj K. Das
Centre of Advanced Study in Geology,
Panjab University,
Chandigarh, 160014, India
Email: bkd_geochem@hotmail.com