As 13th FC nears end, JK on brink of losing Wular funds

Greater Kashmir

EMBARRASSMENT| Centre alerts state on remaining financial assistance

Srinagar, Jan 14: As the 13th Finance Commission is inching towards its end, Jammu and Kashmir is on the brink of losing funds worth Rs 60 crore earmarked for conservation of Wular Lake in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district.
In 2011, the Centre had cleared the Wular Lake Conservation Project under the 13th FC at Rs 120 crore. Under the plan, the state was to get Rs 30 crore each year from 2011 to 2015 to complete the ambitious project.
Official sources told Greater Kashmir that the state government’s “tardy approach” in executing the project is set to cost it dearly as it has able to get only Rs 60 crore for the program even as just 75 days are left for completion of the five-year financial award (2010-2015).
“Besides, of Rs 60 crore released by the Centre, only Rs 32 crore has been utilized by the State so far,” they said. “The remaining amount will lapse when the term of the Commission ends in March 2015.”
Last month, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest had raised this issue with the state government at a high-level meeting convened by the Ministry of Home Affairs to review J&K’s developmental projects.
“The project is being financed by the 13th Finance Commission and so the expenditure needs to be expedited to draw the full amount by March 2015,” read the minutes of the meeting, copy of which is with Greater Kashmir.
Secretary Forests, Muhammad Afzal Bhat, admitted that some of the funds allotted for the project may lapse.
“So far we have been able to get Rs 60 crore in two installments but we will try our best to draw another installment of Rs 30 crore before the tenure of the FC is over,” he said.
Afzal said delay in setting up the Wular Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA)—one of the prerequisites for getting the funds—is a reason for low utilization of the central financial assistance.
“Besides, limited working season also hampered utilization of funds. We are only able to take up conservation works in September- December when water level in Wular Lake is low. Even last year, we could not take up the work during these months due to floods which caused increase in water levels,” he said.
Chief Executive Officer, WUCMA, AbdurRazzaq also admitted less utilization of funds. “We have spent Rs 32 crore so far,” he said.
Pertinently, the State government had formulated the Rs 386-crore comprehensive management action plan for conservation and management of Wular Lake.
The project, prepared in consultation with Wetland International Asia, New Delhi was submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Forests few years ago.
A survey conducted by the Wetland International-South Asia for the State Government has painted a grim picture of the lake.  It states that direct discharge of solid and liquid wastes from the settlements all along river Jhelum, mainly from Srinagar city and other towns in the upstream areas, have led to degradation of water quality of Wular.
The survey states that the area of the lake in 1911 was 217 sq.km, which includes 58 Sq.kms of associated marshes. The lake has been reduced from 159 sq.km to less than 86 sq.kms. Overall there has been reduction in the lake area by 45 percent, mainly due to conversion of agriculture (28 percent) and plantation (17 percent).