Bilal Dar

Wular Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia, is located in Bandipora district of Jammu and Kashmir. It was formed due to tectonic activity, following which the area covered by the lake varies throughout the year, a phenomenon which is unique to this destination. When the waters are serene and collected, the lake hosts a number of events such as boating, water sports and water skiing, making it a favorite picnic spot among locals and tourists alike. The lake is replenished by the water of the Jhelum river and is one of the 26 wetlands of India.

Eighteen-year-old Bilal Dar has lived all his life on the banks of the Wular. Playing on the banks, he has noticed innumerable tourists visit the place and was also witness to the litter left behind by the tourists.

Losing his father at a very young age, Bilal had always wanted to support his mother and ensure that his little sister received the education he never got. Bilal, who never attended school, could do no work to support his mother except to collect the plastic trash, discarded shoes and other debris along the lake and sell it for whatever little amount he received at the end of the day. What started off as an effort to earn his livelihood, is now a passion for Bilal who is keen on ridding the lake of its trash and restoring the pristine glory of the Wular. It’s been five years since Bilal has been removing trash from the Wular and so far, he has cleared approximately 12,000 kg of trash from the lake.

Impressed with his work, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation made him its brand ambassador. Bilal has also received a special uniform and a vehicle to meet people and raise awareness of the need to conserve the environment and keep the surroundings clean. He also earns Rs. 8,000 per month now. However, he now stays in a rented house in Srinagar with his mother and sister so he gets very little money for personal use after paying the rent.

Before he embarked on the task of cleaning the lake, Bilal worked as a mechanic at a garage and as a helper at a local tea shop. The Prime Minister’s radio talk show “Mann ki Baat” made a special mention about Bilal’s work as Swachch Bharath ambassador. He was also featured in a documentary called “Saving the Savior—Story of a Kid and Wular Lake,” directed by Kashmir-based documentary maker Jalal-u-Din Baba.

When most kids of his age are hardly concerned about issues like the environment, here is a boy, with hardly any education working to rid his surroundings of plastic debris. NFS salutes Bilal who is an inspiration to not only children, but adults alike.