The pungent smell emanating from a garbage mound forces every passerby to speed up. The scene is in quite contrast to the memories of wrinkled-faced Ghulam Mohammad Bhat about the spot in Kralpora town, on Srinagar-Charar-i-Sharief road.
“A few decades ago this area was all green and soothing to the eyes,” said Bhat, an octogenarian. The spot assumes significance. At a shorter distance from heaps of garbage is Doodhganga filtration plant, which supplies water to around 2 lakh people in different Srinagar areas.
Built in 1972, the plant, having Doodhganga stream as its only source, filtrates 10 million gallons of water every day. But the water is no longer safe for drinking.
The garbage littered around the plant is not the only concern. All along the course of Doodhganga habitations have mushroomed on either side. The sewage coming out from the houses and all kinds of wastes ends up in once pristine water body, making its water unfit for drinking.
Doodhganga emerges from Tatakoti peak in Pir Panchal mountain range. A snow fed stream, it also gets waters from many springs, smaller lakes and tributaries, in Yousmarg and Branwar forests.
Known as ‘Chashi Kuel’ in local parlance, the water of the stream would be so pure that people used to say it is ‘milky’. However the condition of water body has deteriorated over the years.
Just few kilometers ahead of Kralpora, in Wathoora and Chadoora, concrete structures have replaced once vast rice fields.
The sewage pipes from the residential areas directly end up in Doodhganga. The leftovers of poultry, food wrappers, polythene bags and other kinds of waste are splattered all along its course.
The administration seems to be least bothered about the stream’s deteriorating condition. Take the case of Chadoora municipality committee which is one of the six committees of Budgam.
Each day, two to three ton waste of waste generated there is dumped in the trenches, on banks of Doodhganga, without any scientific segregation.
Along Chadoora-Surasyar road, toilets have been constructed on rivulets which flow into Doodhganga. In Sugam village, more than six such toilets have been built on a tributary which merges with Doodhganga.
A senior PHE official acknowledged that over the years there has been “increased bacteriological activity” in Doodhganga.
Last year, sensing gravity of the situation, State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) took cognizance of the issue and asked state government to submit a report on whether Doodhganga filtration plant was supplying potable water to people.
Dr Qazi Ashiq Hussain, who has done an extensive research on Doodhganga, explains the reasons for its deteriorating condition. “The filtration plant is located in highly populated area and lot of waste adds into the stream before it reaches the plant,” said Hussain, adding at most of the places the drainage system ends up in the water body.
“This is proving detrimental for the river’s biodiversity which is repository of numerous species of vertebrates and fishes. Stream is a vibrant habitat, once you pollute it, you kill it,” he cautioned.
Another reason for enormous turbidity in Doodhganga’s is naked karewas, devoid of any vegetation, along its course, which results in sediments easily flowing into the stream during rainfall and turning the water turbid, said Hussain.
On a normal day, as per the PHE official, turbidity levels in Doodhganga waters are found to be 30 to 60 NTUs. However in rainy or dry season turbidity levels increase enormously up to 1500 NTUs, signifying the extent to which rivers water has been contaminated.
In the last three decades, the “reckless” cutting of trees in forests in upper catchment of the stream has also led to deterioration of water quality.
“It has left soil open. Once this forest soil, high in organic matter, gets exposed to sunlight, it gives rise to enormous unexpected amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen levels in the soil, which ultimately find their way into the river,’ explained Hussain.
The pesticides seeping into the stream from the orchards and agriculture fields has added to contamination level of the Doodhganga water.
Assistant professor of environmental sciences at Kashmir University, Dr Arshid Jehangir said pesticides cannot be filtered if they get dissolved into water. “Pesticides can be removed only through sedimentation if they get attached with organic matter. However, if pesticides get dissolved in water, they cannot be filtered,” said Jehangir adding intake of pesticides cause mutation, cancer and can prove fatal for children.
The PHE department is now planning to tap Doodhganga upstream directly which they say will not only lower the costs of water treatment but they hope to get contamination free supply. The supply line would be taken 20 kms upstream to get water directly at Novhar forest areas.
The proposal, the department hopes will work as heaps of garbage can be seen littered on banks of Doodhganga, right from Srinagar up to Budgam.
The Rural Sanitation Department conceded that wastes were finding their way into Doodhganga. The department’s district’s nodal officer, Hilal Ahmad Mir said they were planning to build soakage pits and follow waste segregation program to address the problem.
Chief Engineer PHE, Abdul Wahid Lone agreed that Doodhganga was polluted. But he passed the buck on Economic Reconstruction Agency (ERA) for delaying the Novhar pipeline. “We had allocated the project to ERA five years ago. We have been regularly asking them to complete it,” said Lone.
The ERA project manager hydraulics, Ghulam Jeelani said the work on Novhar pipeline has been re-started and it will be completed in month’s time.