Law enforcers turn violators

At a time when acute respiratory ailment known as Novel Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has been declared as Pandemic, this article on protection of waterbodies looks bit insignificant. The idea of writing this piece is basically to shake the conscience of authorities at helm on the eve of World Water Day; officials, who have taken issues like water, waste management and sanitation for granted that actually has a direct link with public health. Let us all pray for getting rid of COVID-19 as soon as possible. At the same time we must note that in future if unhygienic and impure water continues to be supplied to people or solid and liquid waste isn’t treated as per the scientific guidelines some other viral or bacterial epidemic may engulf Kashmir valley or even entire Jammu & Kashmir which will be remembered for ages.

The idea of commemorating the world water day on March 22nd every year is to focus attention of people living across the globe on the importance of water. This year’s theme Water & Climate Change is to make us aware about the direct link between the two. By the grace of Almighty, Jammu & Kashmir has been gifted by enormous waterbodies. We have mighty glaciers, lakes ,rivers , streams, nallahs and canals but as for as their management is concerned the same is pitiful and pathetic. Most of our waterbodies and even drinking water sources are being used as garbage dump sites and irony is that Municipal Institutions who are supposed to enforce the laws governing municipal solid waste management are themselves the perpetuators of crime .

Unscientific Waste Management

Addressing unscientific disposal of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) is a challenging task for civic authorities across the world. Due to harsh climatic conditions and scarcity of land to create new scientific landfill sites, waste management in Jammu & Kashmir is more onerous and arduous task. Focus of authorities in J&K should have been setting up scientific waste management facilities, but their priorities are quite different. Government is more focused on infrastructure development like construction of new highways, dams and flyovers plus laying of power transmission lines and railways. During 2019-20 annual budget mere Rs 4 crores was  allocated by Government for Rural Waste Management in J&K and only Rs 464 crores was allocated to 91 Urban Local Bodies (municipal committees and councils). Even the money available under Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin is unutilized as not even 1 % of the DPRs have been prepared on Rural Waste Management by respective Districts . Out of 4130 Panchayat Halqas in Jammu & Kashmir not more than 5 or 6 village Panchayats undertake waste management work under SBM Gramin.

Due to the flawed Government polices municipal solid waste management in an ecologically fragile place like Kashmir has become a great casualty.  Most of the cities and towns including populated villages have turned into garbage dump sites and unfortunate part of it is that Municipal authorities have themselves become the rule breakers and perpetrators of crime as garbage dump sites have been created around water-bodies like lakes , canals , rivers or streams.

Doodh Ganga
Doodh Ganga is a small river that originates from Pir Panjal glaciers in South West of Kashmir. Around half a million population in Srinagar city is supplied drinking water from Doodh Ganga water filtration plant located in city outskirts at Kralpora. The water supplied is completely unhygienic as huge amount of solid and liquid waste enters into this water-body at several places right from Branwar to Kralpora (30 kms stretch) . Chadoora town is the main source of making Doodh Ganga water impure as scores of lavatories and washrooms open into Doodh Ganga plus the dumping of Municipal Solid Waste further makes this water unhygienic. The local Municipality of Chadoora has no identified Landfill site, with the result municipal authorities also dispose of their garbage unscientifically.

Wular lake

The Municipal Committee Bandipora dumps all the municipal solid waste collected from this North Kashmir town on the banks of Wullar lake at Zalwan Nussu which is a small hamlet located within municipal limits. In-fact I have taken up this issue at highest forum ie National Green Tribunal (NGT).  In my petition before NGT New Delhi I had mentioned about the unhealthy & illegal practice adopted by Municipal Committee Bandipora which is not only violating MSW Rules 2016 but is also destroying this world famous wetland. Dozens of species of migratory birds visit Wullar lake in winters who come all the way from central Asia, Eastern Europe , Siberia and China. When NGT sought a response from the District Administration Bandipora and Municipal Committee Bandipora,  NGT was informed in writing that solid waste at Nussu Zalwan site has been buried in trenches and covered by earth-filling.  This is completely an illegal act and one can imagine what kind of officials Government has posted in civic bodies who are ignorant of the fact that municipal solid waste cannot be buried under soil without proper treatment.

When contacted Executive Officer of Municipal Committee Bandipora said an alternate site measuring around 4 acres has been identified and is being used for garbage disposal away from Zalwan site. When I asked for the name of the village, the officer could not respond and said the place is around Zalwan only. The officer was also ignorant of the fact that it was illegal to bury the waste under the soil. Local residents on the other hand refute the claim of Executive Officer and allege that municipal solid waste continues to be dumped near the wetland. The local Auqaf Committee along with the concerned ward councilor have written a letter to Chairperson of NGT,  copy of which is available with me.

Ferozpur River

Due to non-availability of a scientific landfill site in Magam , Municipal Solid Waste collected around the municipal limits of this town is dumped by Municipal Committee Magam near the banks of Ferozpur river which passes through this town. From last 10 year MC Magam has been requesting authorities to provide them land for creating a scientific landfill site , but that seems to be not a priority issue for Government and people are forced to drink contaminated water. It is so unfortunate that water from the same waterbody is consumed by dozens of villagers downstream especially the residents of Alamdarpora Magam, Mallabuchan, Malmooh, Tonjiheran, Tantraypora, Hagerpora,  Gund e Qasim etc. Many residents in these villages lift the water directly from Ferzopur river through pipes with the help of electric motor pumps as Govt has failed to provide piped drinking water in many areas of Magam and Pattan.  A team of five doctors from Sub District Hospital Magam few years back prepared a report raising their concern about the outbreak of waterborne diseases due unscientific garbage dumping near Ferozpur river but the report had no takers. Irfan Ali Banka a local social activist has been working tirelessly on protection of Ferzopur river from garbage dumping. He launched a campaign on this issue few years back, but he says authorities don’t give a damn to his repeated pleas. Banka who has done his M Tech and Masters degree in Anthropology says that in his Master’s Project preliminary survey on anthropological study of river Ferozpora affecting people revealed that more than 90 % of people using water from this river towards Magam downstream have been affected and people mostly suffer from skin and gastrointestinal ailments

Conclusion

It is not possible to highlight all the waterbodies that are being used as garbage dump sites by Municipal bodies across J&K , but I can say with authenticity that Municipal institutions in Poonch , Rajouri , Ramban , Udhampur , Kulgam, Sopore , Kupwara are involved in this heinous crime. I can’t only blame these Municipal institutions as authorities don’t provide them necessary land for scientific disposal of waste. Government needs to decentralize its waste management system and establish small landfill sites at different locations to ensure waterbodies are not used for garbage dumping. People who have some land available around their house should be motivated to undertake in-house compositing of organic waste.  Financial allocation for sanitation , waste management and supply of safe drinking water has to be increased…