Almost across the world, Governments have lost their monopoly on representing society. The civil society organizations, trade unions, activist groups and media give people voice nowadays with greater efficacy and effectiveness than Government run institutions. In conflict hit places especially, the Government institutions are the worst performers as a result there is mis-governance and corruption. It is the civil society groups who play greater role in bridging the gap between people and Govt institutions. If we take the example of Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, decades long civil war destroyed this country. In addition, corruption in the country further crippled this huge nation. It has affected everything in this resource rich country. In spite of having unlimited water from the river Congo which is the world’s second-largest river, the country is not able to even set up a handful of mega hydroelectric projects. The foreign investors do not want to invest in this corrupt and conflict ridden country despite knowing that there are abundant deposits of copper, gold, diamonds, cobalt, uranium, coltan and oil. These natural minerals could have made Congo one of the world’s richest countries, but today this is one of the poorest countries in the world with mere 15 % of the population having access to electricity. I can write a series of articles about what happened in Democratic Republic of Congo but my aim is not to make people aware about the socio-political problems of this troubled country, but I am related to Jammu & Kashmir.
Our institutions have also been crippled, corruption having shattered us. At a time when J&K faces so many challenges at socio-economic and political level, if some public spirited citizens of Kashmir take initiatives for public good the authorities at the helm should come forward and support them. But when Government institutions start blaming each other for the mis-governance, incompetence and inefficiency, then how can things be streamlined ?
On March 13th 2020, I wrote a piece in support of Mission Ehsaas which is a campaign launched by Nigeen Lake Conservation Organization (NLCO) to clean up Khushaal Sar and Gilsar. I had criticized Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) for having failed to clean up these water bodies. The Vice Chairman Mr Tufail Matoo responded back with another piece titled “LAWDA: Facts on Ground” (GK March 20th). The aim of the officer to write the piece was to make people, especially the Government in civil secretariat, aware that Gilsar and Khushaal sar do not come under the territorial jurisdiction of LAWD. Does this mean that all the other areas of Dal and Nigeen lakes, which are under direct control of LAWDA, are being regularly cleaned? Only a few days back the High Court of J&K directed the LAWDA VC to be present in court so that he can throw some light on steps being taken to clean the Dal. I can quote many incidents wherein officials of LAWDA in the past have demanded money from people raising illegal structures around Gilsar and Khushaal sar. I do not want to go into this never ending debate.
Let me focus on the areas which are under control of LAWDA but they are completely ignored and look worse than slums. I am fully aware of the topography of Dal and Nigeen lakes. During the last 7 to 8 years I have written several articles on Dal Lake which are based on my field experience, research and information obtained under Right to Information Act (RTI).
Malpora, Chowdhary Bagh
Malpora is a locality in the interiors of the Dal Lake near Jogi Lanker Rainawari. I had gone to this area in June 2016 to examine a canal filled with garbage. I met one Ghulam Nabi Khan, (50 then) who told me that 30 to 35 years back, he along with his friends used to swim and catch fish in the canal. The canal is still choked. Ghulam Nabi accepted the fact that people in the area were committing crime by disposing off all the waste into the waterbody but he said they have no other alternative as LAWDA never took steps for scientific waste management as mandated under MSW Rules 2016. The LAWDA has always relied on Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) for this work; SMC hardly clean up Dal interiors. Can’t LAWDA manage waste generated from Dal Lake interiors on its own? If billions can be wasted on civil works every year by LAWDA, why not spend a few crores for scientific waste management as well? SMC could also have been roped in. How many times LAWDA had a joint meeting with SMC on this issue?
Another water body in Chowdhary Bagh is also in shambles. One can see plastic waste piled up. The canal which passes from Jogi Lanker to Saidakadal is so filthy, I can’t express it in words. In addition to solid waste even the huge quantity of liquid waste is entering the canal and the lake. Now LAWDA will blame the Urban Environmental Engineering Department (UEED) for this. Let us stop the blame game and accept the facts that LAWDA has miserably failed to protect Dal Lake as its officials have been involved in huge corruption for the last 30 years or more.
Dumping sludge at Shalimar
Huge money was spent to set up sewerage treatment plants (STP’s) at Brein Nishat, Naseem Bagh and Hazratbal. All of them are almost defunct and the untreated sludge is carried in trucks and then unloaded at Shalimar foreshore road crossing for the last 10 years. In 2015 this author had also sought details under RTI Act from LAWDA on dumping of sludge of STPs near banks of Dal Lake on foreshore road at Shalimar Crossing. The Public Information Officer (PIO) LAWDA in his reply (Vide letter No : LDA/518/4843 dated: 14.10.2015 informed me that the department will provide information separately, but till date no information has been provided. Can the present VC of LAWDA provide this information now? Can he apprise citizens why the sludge was being loaded in trucks and dumped at foreshore road? In reply to other points about the functioning of the STPs, the PIO had informed me that all STPs were operational, which is completely misleading. Had STPs been working, why would trucks dump all the sludge and muck near Shalimar foreshore crossing?
This activity continues even now. Huge quantity of weeds (hill in local language) collected from Dal is dumped unscientifically around the same place at Shalimar which otherwise could have been utilized to make the best quality of compost. If the Tchoont Kul was cleared of encroachers who were rehabilitated as well, why has LAWDA failed to clean up this canal or the canal connecting Shalimar bagh with Dal Lake?
Almighty has bestowed Kashmir with so many resources, but our situation is similar to Congo. The conflict and political instability has crippled our society and not even a single work gets done if we don’t pay bribe. Govt contractors are now forced to pay 20 to 25 % commission. This is simply a ransom. Govt officials take undue advantage of conflict. So much money has been pumped in to clean Dal Lake in the last 40 years but the result is zero. Let the authorities at helm accept the mistakes as we all make them. What makes a difference is what we do after we make the mistake? How do we see the mistake? For many it is a learning experience but for some it is an utter failure. Let the officers of the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) introspect how they relate themselves with the mistakes and blunders they have committed in past !
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Anant Fellow for Climate Action. He is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman J&K RTI Movement