Unscientific waste disposal in Wular

Unscientific disposal of solid waste is a global challenge. For a small place like Kashmir valley municipal solid waste (MSW) management is becoming an arduous task day by day. As explained in my previous columns, MSW is being unloaded and dumped into water-bodies of Kashmir, particularly wetlands and rivers by none other than municipal institutions themselves. This is because Kashmir valley is shrinking day by day as even agricultural land holding has reduced to mere 0.50 hectares. I keep exposing these unscientific & unethical acts through my articles and social media posts, but it seems the problem is of very serious nature now and authorities at the helm are themselves confused about how to tackle the situation? Unfortunately this issue is still not given a priority by the government.

Managing solid waste of Sopore town, like other towns and cities, has been a challenging task for the Municipal Council Sopore, and the District Administration Baramulla for the last over a decade now. To get rid of this, the  District Administration identified a place in the Ninglee area just a few kms out of the town near Tarzoo village early this year. The area is unfortunately a wetland and catchment area of Wular lake, but who cares ? The administration in order to address the public anger of Sopore town found a solution which is not only an unscientific idea but a clear violation of all environmental laws. But I am glad that some public spirited citizens of Tarzoo village woke up at the right time. The entire Central Auqaf Committee got organized and resisted against the illegal garbage dumping. From March this year tons of waste has been dumped in the wetland. I appreciate the work done by Ajaz Ahmad Dar, Patron of Tarzoo Auqaf Committee and his group. They are fighting at several fronts.

I visited the area on July 1st on the invitation of Central Auqaf Committee. I found mounds of municipal waste being dumped in the wetland and a JCB leveling the same and just a few meters away there were fishermen catching fish in a small boat. By dumping the trash in the area authorities are destroying the whole ecosystem of the area. Around 60 to 70 meters away there are tourist huts constructed by the Government some years back. The area was to be developed into a Tourism Development Authority, but the present district administration wants to convert this entire beautiful area into a garbage dumping site which is a ridiculous idea.

Earlier, on the occasion of World Environment Day, I had written a detailed article titled Kashmir’s Ramsar sites, a case of silent death (GK June 5th 2020), exposing this unlawful act. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) took cognizance of this piece and treated it as a complaint. The Principal Bench of NGT issued a notice to the J & K Government and sought a report from Deputy Commissioner Baramulla as well. A notice was sent to Secretary J&K Wetlands Authority which has never been constituted till date under the provisions of Wetland Conservation & Management Rules 2017.

PIL by Tarzoo residents

The residents of Ninglee, Tarzoo through the Central Auqaf Committee Tarzoo meanwhile filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) before the J&K High Court few months back. Advocate Shafqat Nazir who has been espousing the cause of fighting against environmental degradation through the PILs, along with Environmental Policy Group for the last several years is pleading this case. The High Court division bench headed by Chief Justice Geeta Mittal sought a detailed report from the government when the matter was listed before the HC on July 10th this year. Since then the case was listed before the division bench of Chief Justice on several occasions. In its recent order dated 14.09.2020 Chief Justice led division bench directed the authorities to clear the Municipal Solid Waste from the site. The Chief Justice might visit the site herself as she expressed so during several case hearings. Fearing CJ might take notice of MSW being illegally dumped, the MC Sopore in mid July even dumped the municipal solid waste under the heaps of soil that was brought to the site in several trucks.

HC’s recent order

The division bench order dated  Sept 14th 2020 has quoted  some communication of Wular Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA) wherein they have clearly said that creating a municipal waste dump site at Ninglee Tarzoo is a clear violation of Wetland Conservation and Management Rules 2017 and Environmental Protection Act 1986 as the area is a demarcated land of Wullar wetland. WUCMA in its communication has further said that M C Sopore and R&B Division Sopore have encroached upon Wular wetland by creating a garbage dump site and invited tenders for the fencing of the site as well. The documents were presented before the division bench and Chief Justice quoted the same in the detailed order. The operative part of the order reads:

“In view of the seriousness of the issue, we direct the Municipal Committee, Sopore, to take steps for removal of municipal Solid Waste forthwith which has been dumped within the demarcated area of the Wular Lake. The Municipal Committee, Sopore, shall place on record the site plan, the location of the dumping site before us, before the next date of hearing”

NGT on Wullar

Last year I sought intervention of the National Green Tribunal (NGT)  to stop unscientific garbage dumping and encroachments in Wullar, Hokersar and Kreenchu Chandhara in Pampore. On western shore of the lake the Bandipora Municipality is using Wullar banks at Zalwan for waste dumping. I am grateful to the Legal Initiative for Forest and Environment (LIFE) that helped me in seeking NGT’s intervention. In the past also lawyers at LIFE pleaded my case on other environmental issues. Rahul Chowdhary, Ritwick Dutta, Saurabh Sharma and Meera Gopal all advocates associated with LIFE have always provided a helping hand for conservation of Kashmir’s environment. In its recent order NGT’s Principal bench directed Divisional Commissioner Kashmir to initiate waste management work around wetlands and adjoining villages under Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM-Gramin) by bringing together wildlife conservation department and Directorate of Rural Sanitation on one platform.

Conclusion

Even after a lapse of more than 4 years, government has miserably failed to implement the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) Rules of 2016. There is not even a single scientific landfill site in J&K. In cities like Srinagar or Jammu MSW continues to be lifted and dumped in an unscientific manner. The existing landfill sites are choked. In the majority of the towns there are hardly any designated garbage dump sites, not to think of a scientific landfill site. In Kulgam, Kupwara, Sopore, Chadoora, Magam and several other towns the municipal waste is thrown unscientifically in water bodies. All the plans of the government have failed. The file on waste to energy project for Srinagar is eating dust somewhere in the civil secretariat. Even the human fecal matter is now brought in tankers and thrown into water-bodies by municipal bodies. Dal lake, Wular lake, Jehlum river, Doodh Ganga, Mamath kul Budgam, Vaishaw river in Kulgam, Ferozpur nallah Magam, and dozens of others water-bodies have been turned into trash dumps and cesspools. In rural areas waste management under SBM-Gramin is not being taken up. For the last 4 years not even a single project in 5000 panchayats across J&K has been executed? We have been left at God’s mercy now. Chief Justice’s intervention has come at a right time. The Judiciary is the only hope that can command the government to ensure scientific solid waste management in Jammu & Kashmir.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Founder & Chairman of J&K RTI Movement