Frequent rainfall in March-April isn’t uncommon to Kashmir. For centuries Kashmir valley has been witnessing rainfall in spring. Post 2014 floods we panic when there is a rainfall for two or three consecutive days. Residents of Srinagar city especially feel distressed during rains. It reminds them of September 2014 when almost 80 % of the city was flooded. We are witnessing a lot of water logging these days. Roads that were damaged during winter snowfall have further got disfigured by accumulation of rainwater. The drainage system is almost defunct in Srinagar and other towns. Amar Singh College Srinagar gave a different look some days back. This college campus had turned into a small lake-like place. The pictures went viral on social media. Commissioner Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) Athar Amir Khan took an extensive review on dewatering. He visited places like Moomin Abad Batamaloo, Parimpora Fruit Mandi, Zainakot, Bemia which were almost flooded. The Commissioner visited Amar Singh College also. As per media reports the commissioner SMC gave instructions to deploy additional mobile pumps to drain out water from Amar Singh college campus. As the water absorption capacity of our soil in Kashmir valley, particularly Srinagar city has come down drastically, some questions keep pounding my mind. How much water can be drained out when there is water-logging in places like Amar Singh college or Bemina area? Where shall the pumped water go? What is the future of Srinagar city?
Water absorption capacity of soil
Maintaining soil water holding capacity means increased profits for farmers. Soil water holding capacity is a term that all farmers should know to optimize crop production. When there is a deficit in the amount of water in the soil, the soil profile needs to be replenished by precipitation or irrigation. The water absorption capacity of soil in Kashmir has decreased. There is more moisture in our soil and many areas get water-logged just after a few hours of rainfall. The traditional paddy farms in many areas of Kashmir and Srinagar outskirts or Budgam / Ganderbal too get inundated soon after little rains. All this is mainly due to population growth, urbanization, construction of septic tanks and land conversion. I will add one more important reason to this which is the Plastic Waste, which haschoked our irrigation canals, drains and streams, plus a huge quantity of it having been buried under the soil which doesn’t allow water absorption into the soil.
The frequent water logging in Srinagar can be related to the phenomenon of urban floods which is entirely a manmade disaster. The reason is mainly the poorly constructed and maintained drainage systems, plastic waste choking the drainage system, shrinking green spaces and unscientific road construction. All this contributes to water logging on the road surface soon after rainfall. Government of Jammu & Kashmir needs to put a complete ban on the use of plastic bags which includes snacks sold in non-biodegradable plastic packets. The fact of the matter is that Non-Biodegradable plastic material is already banned in J&K under the Jammu & Kashmir Non-Biodegradable Material (Management Handling & Disposal) Act 2007 but the law is not enforced on ground. Unscientific management of plastic waste , poor drainage and sewage system is the main cause of urban flooding. This was also one of the main reasons for 2014 Kashmir floods.
Unscientific plastic disposal
Plastic waste is either dumped in open fields or thrown in canals, streams, rivers or lakes. For the last almost 4 weeks Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO) has been involved in cleaning of Khushaal Sar and Gil Sar. We must appreciate this great move. Tons of plastic waste has been taken out from this particular water body alone. Now we can imagine how much waste is dumped in other water bodies of Srinagar ? We have tons of plastic waste in Dal and Wular lakes. The beds of Jhelum, Chenab, Lidder, Vaishav, Doodh Ganga and many other small and big rivers are filled with plastic waste. Waste is even dumped in agricultural land. The drains are choked with plastic trash. The wetlands and paddy lands which have been converted into shopping complexes and housing colonies are filled up with all kinds of plastic waste. The Govt land and open spaces on the highways and road sides includes forest areas and Kah Charai land is regularly filled up. Plastic waste is now a challenging task in rural areas of Kashmir as well. Ironically money is available to treat this waste but the same is not being requisitioned by J&K Govt from center under Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin. In my district Budgam out of 292 panchayat villages, 17 projects were identified for rural waste management 2 years back but not even a single one has been executed. This is the case with other districts as well. Who will seek accountability from the officers at helm? Now we see all the plastic waste being dumped in canals , fields and forests in villages. This is really a tragic situation.
Plastic ban order not implemented
It took the Government 12 years to implement sub section 3 of section 7 of Jammu & Kashmir Non-Biodegradable Material (Management Handling & Disposal) Act 2007. Under this law the Government has powers to ban the use of Non- Biodegradable material. As I mentioned above this law was not repealed post 370 abrogation. Like many other erstwhile J&K laws, this act is also protected under the J&K Reorganisation Act 2019. Sub section 3 of section 7 of this act reads
“If the Government in consultation with Prescribed Authority is of the opinion that use of any non-bio degradable material in any non-bio degradable material control area or part thereof may cause, or is likely to cause environmental, health or other problems , it may by notification in the Government gazette ban, prohibit or restrict the use of such non biodegradable material in the non-biodegradable area of part thereof with effect from such date being not less than one month, from the date of publication of notification as may be specified in the notification”
Vide SRO 231 Government of J&K through the department of Forests, Environment & Ecology in consultation with the Prescribed Authority ie J&K State Pollution Control Board (JKSPCB) on March 26th 2019 issued formal orders to completely ban the non-biodegradable disposables (mostly plastic material) like disposable plates, cups, bowls, tumblers, spoons, forks and knives etc. Pertinently J&K state has already been declared as a non-biodegradable material control area under NBM Act 2007. Through one of my articles published in this paper on March 31st 2019 I had welcomed the decision taken by the Government, but after more than 2 years we achieved nothing. The ban was never enforced on ground. Who should be blamed ?
Plastic waste accumulation in our soil and water bodies is not only affecting the soil health but this is causing water logging as well. Managing plastic waste is not a rocket-science. If the Govt of Madhya Pradesh can use plastic in road construction by mixing this with bitumen, why cannot J&K follow the same model? I had written an article on plastic roads of MP and work done by Syed Imtiaz Ali an entrepreneur based in Bhopal. This model has been approved by UNDP as well. From 2012 Imteyaz Ali’s NGO Sarthak has provided more than 50,000 metric tons of waste plastic to Madhya Pradesh Road Construction Corporation (MPRCC). Sarthak has played a major role in constructing more than 12,000 kms of roads in rural Madhya Pradesh. In addition to it around 300 kms of plastic roads have been constructed in urban areas of MP state. If MP and some other states can take a lead, why not Jammu & Kashmir ? Kashmir is like a bowl and plastic waste is getting accumulated in our water bodies and soil. This will lead to our destruction if authorities will not take some drastic measures.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Anant Fellow for Climate Action. He is also Chairman J&K RTI Movement