Kashmir's Ramsar sites, a case of silent death

There are around 26 designated wetlands of international importance in India. These designated wetlands/lakes are called Ramsar sites. Among these 26 sites three wetlands in Jammu & Kashmir and one in Ladakh have also been declared as Ramsars Sites. Wullar, Hokersar & Sunisar Mansar are three Ramsar sites in J&K and Tsomoriri lake in Ladakh is also a designated Ramsar site. Wullar was declared as a Ramsar site in 1990 while as Hokersar and Sunisar Mansar lakes were declared as Ramsar sites in 2005. Tsomoriri lake in Ladakh was recognized as Ramsar site in 2002. A Ramsar site is a wetland area designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. In spite of such a great international importance of these wetlands, authorities at the helm instead of taking steps to conserve these water-bodies are leaving no stone unturned to destroy them. Wullar lake is one such live example as the lake is dying a silent death due to constant dumping of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). Situation of Hokersar is also very bad as there is constant encroachment and garbage dumping around this wetland as well. Last year I was forced to file a petition before National Green Tribunal (NGT) seeking intervention  for conservation of Kashmir’s wetlands as saviors of environment and wetlands have turned out to be its worst enemies.

Ramsar Convention

The Convention on Wetlands, known as the Ramsar Convention, is an inter-governmental environmental treaty established in 1971 by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which came into force in 1975.  The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands was named after the city of Ramsar in Iran, where the convention was signed for the first time in 1971. Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International importance holds the unique distinction of being the first modern treaty between nations aimed at conserving natural resources. India became a Contracting Party to the Ramsar Convention in October 1981, and designated Chilika Lake (Orissa) and Keoladeo National Park (Rajasthan) as its first two Ramsar sites. As on date there are around 170 countries that are Contracting Parties to Ramsar Convention.


Commitment of Countries
Contracting Parties (countries) are supposed to make following commitment during Ramsar convention.
To designate at least one site that meets the Ramsar criteria for inclusion in the list of wetlands of international importance. 
Promote the conservation and wise use of wetlands
Include wetland conservation within their national land-use planning
Establish natural reserves on wetlands and promote wetland training and consult with other Contracting Parties about the implementation of the Ramsar Convention. 

Under the Ramsar Convention large number of natural and man-made habitat types ranging from rivers to coral reefs can be classified as wetlands. The wetlands include swamps, marshes, billabongs, lakes, salt marshes, mudflats, mangroves, coral reefs, fens, peat bogs, or bodies of water – whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary. Water within these areas can be static or flowing, fresh, brackish or saline and can include inland rivers and coastal or marine water to a depth of six metres at low tide. There are even underground wetlands identified as Ramsar sites. 

Violation by MC Bandipora
For last many years Municipal Committee (MC) of Bandipora has been dumping Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) on the banks of Wular Lake at Nussu Zaalwan locality. The entire untreated garbage collected from Bandipora town is carried in lorries and dumped on this wetland. This is an open violation of Municipal Solid Waste Rules (MSW Rules 2016) and Wetland Conservation and Management Rules 2017.  I have been highlighting this felonious and unlawful practice through my columns, blogs and social media posts but authorities at helm are unmoved. Last year i was forced to file a petition before National Green Tribunal (NGT). In its written response MC Bandipora send a misleading reply to NGT and claimed that it was not dumping Municipal waste near the lake.  On February 19th this year the local Councillor and Auqaf Committee too wrote a letter to Chairperson of NGT wherein they expressed their resentment over the illegal garbage dumping by MC Bandipora. I have filed a counter response before NGT and matter would be listed by this month end before the tribunal.


Violation by MC Sopore
            Due to absence of any waste collection site in Sopore town, the Municipal Council (MC) Sopore with the support of District Administration Baramulla has chosen western banks of Wullar lake around Ningli Tarzoo to dump its municipal solid waste. I fail to understand how can senior Govt authorities who are familiar with all the legislation and rules governing environment and ecology commit such blunders? The area used as garbage dump site is not only a wetland but also a demarcated Forest area under Ningli Forest Range Sopore. Wullar Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA) under section 19 (b) of Environment Protection Act (EP Act 1986) shot a letter to Executive Officer MC Sopore on 17/03/2020 wherein Sopore Municipal Council was informed that it had committed an offence under the EP Act 1986 and Rule 4 (2) of Wetland Conservation and Management Rules 2017. WUCMA sought a response from MC Sopore within 60 days and until this day no response has been filed and the garbage continues to be dumped in the area. Locals living in the area are showing their resentment but nobody is ready to listen to them!

Criminal offence
The Wetland Conservation and Management Rules 2017 has listed out activities prohibited within notified wetlands. Wullar is not only a notified wetland but a wetland of international repute (Ramsar site) which is dying a silent death. Under wetland conservation rules setting up of any industry and expansion of existing industries, manufacture or handling or storage or disposal of construction and demolition waste, solid waste dumping, discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries is completely prohibited. How can District Administration Baramulla give permission for setting up of garbage dump site around a wetland of international importance ? Instead of creating nature reserves and promoting wetland training administration is causing destruction of these water-bodies. Pertinently Jehlum river also flows through the same area and both Wullar and Jehlum are hardly 200 metres away from the existing garbage dump site.

Conclusion

The idea of writing a detailed background on Ramsar Convention on this World Environment Day is basically to educate our administration & civic officials who seem to be totally indifferent and casual towards environment and international conventions governing them. Dumping municipal solid waste around Ningli Tarzoo is like committing a murder of nature and legitimizing this officially by District Administration Baramulla is a highly deplorable act. RTI Movement would raise this before Ramsar authorities and Hon’ble National Green Tribunal both.

In fact Divisional Commissioner Kashmir in an affidavit filed before NGT last year has ensured that no municipal solid waste would be dumped in wetlands or water-bodies and a clear direction was given to all the DCs. But I fail to understand how this order has been violated by District Administration Baramulla when Divisional Commissioner is under an oath before NGT?  The minutes of meeting (Annexure M Page 38 , para 3) that took place on 19.09.2019 under his Chairmanship of Divisional Commissioner Kashmir mentions this in detail.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Chairman J&K RTI Movement. He is also Acumen Fellow