Bhimtal, is the largest of all the lakes covering 72 ha. Lake Naukuchia tal is the deepest of all, with a maximum of 40.8 m. 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 had occurred around these lakes which threatened the existence of this ecologically fragile region and the health and economic security of the human population that depend on it. Bhimtal and Naukuchia tal have moderate levels of nutrients. Lake Sattal is poor in nutrients. The lakes have high rates of sedimentation, Bhimtal with 4.70 mm/yr, Naukuchiat al with 3.72 mm/yr, and Sattal with 2.99 mm/yr resulted in 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 Naukuchia tal lakes, is being used traditionally 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 biodiversity and a unique ecosystem. 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 hopefully help in the establishment of ecologically suitable, technically viable and socially acceptable aquaculture in the lakes.
On 20 December, 2001, Fredrick Smetacek (Jr), Chief co-ordinator of Society of Appeal for Vanishing Environments (SAVE), a Bhimtal based non governmental organisation, filed a PIL in the HC of Uttaranchal under Article 226 of the Constitution of India, against the collector of Nanital, and various other office holders including Sarpanch Van pan-chayat, June Estate; Bhimtal; Chairman, Nagar Panchayat, Bhimtal; Pradhan Gram Sacha, Bhaktura, June Estate, Bhimtal; Jal Nigam through its executive engineer, Nainital, Irrigation department, through its executive engineer, Nainital; and the Forest department through its divisional forest office Nainital.
This PIL filed on December 20, 2001(PIL 944 of 2001) has been sorted out after the intervention of SC in 2009. The following are some of the highlights of the court action:
100 acres of Government land was been given to a private developer to build a township and resort in village June Estate. It was discovered that the 100 acres was Van Panchayat land, with 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.
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, Satt al and Naukuchia tal in the District of Nainital. PIL was 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 affidavit was filed.
Counter affidavit filed by Sarpanch, Van Panchayat also mentioned that road was constructed even after the inquiry was ordered although 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 s 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.
In the mean time a 3 kilometre road was constructed near the lake.
Bhimtal Lake stated to dry up due to the illegal construction going on in and around the area and also due to increased tourism activity. Sources from which the water used to flow into the lake were depleting and as a result the lake started to dry.
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 Sattal and Saiyatal (near Khurpa tal) the proposed toilets are operational.
The dry lake in Saiyatal 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 had 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.