An appeal to the Chief Secretary !
Representational ImageSource: Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

An appeal to the Chief Secretary !

What is the government planning on eco-restoration of J&K in next 10 years ?

I, along with senior members of Environmental Policy Group (EPG), had a detailed meeting with the then Chief Secretary B V R Subramanhyam on December 17th 2018 at his Jammu office. The meeting was organized in the backdrop of a High Court order wherein Chief Justice directed the J&K Chief Secretary to listen to our suggestions on scientific waste management in J&K. A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) had been filed in the High Court by EPG for scientific waste management in J&K both in urban and rural areas.

After listening to the arguments of EPG counsel Shafqat Nazir and senior members Faiz Bakshi, Syed Nasarullah and myself in one of the case hearings around the end of 2018, the Chief Justice had ordered the J & K Chief Secretary to listen to our suggestions. On December 17th I along with EPG senior members Syed Nasarullah , and Dr M M Shuja went to Jammu to give a powerpoint presentation to the Chief Secretary. The meeting was attended by the administrative secretaries of housing and urban development department (HUDD) & the department of Environment & Forests as well.

In-house composting

We had urged upon the Chief Secretary (CS) and his administrative secretaries to enforce implementation of Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2016 in letter and spirit. When CS asked me how could the pressure on landfill sites in Srinagar and Jammu or other towns in J&K be reduced I responded with the suggestion that all those people who have land available around their houses be directed to compost the food and other biodegradable waste within the the house by making compost pits or using plastic or steel drums to process that waste. I also suggested that municipal sanitation staff be given clear direction not to lift food waste from those households having 8 marlas or more land around their house. The Chief Secretary after closing his eyes for a while told me whether the suggested model was being followed in any state or country ? I told him “let J&K be the role model for other states or countries by making in-house composting a public movement “

After more than 2 ½ years of that meeting with CS, we have made no progress at all and the situation is going from bad to worse. I can't blame Mr B V R Subramiyam for having failed to address the issue. The situation from 2019 has not been conducive at all. I am now again urging the newly appointed Chief Secretary Mr A K Mehta to take this issue seriously.

Leave aside in-house composting of kitchen waste, the municipal institutions have failed even to implement MSW Rules 2016? Not only is the waste management a challenge in Srinagar and Jammu cities but this has become more onerous task for municipal officials in towns like Budgam, Sopore, Magam, Kulgam, Udhampur and other towns as they have not even been able to identify land to create a scientific landfill site. The waste in these towns is either thrown into rivers or is dumped in forest areas or wetlands. The Pollution Control Committee has issued environmental compensation notices to MC Bandipora, Sopore for Rs 64 lakhs and Rs 1.30 crores respectively and MC Magam and Budgam are also on their radar.

Rural waste management

In rural areas where the Government was supposed to undertake waste management under Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin (SBM-G) programme, we see not even a single project in operation across more than 5000 gram panchayats in J&K. In an RTI reply vide letter No: DPO/Bud/3613-14 Dated: 15.02.2021 the District Administration Budgam told me early this year that not even a single project on waste management has been executed in entire district which has 296 panchayats. In spite of the fact that detailed project report (DPR) for 17 panchayats was submitted to Deputy Commissioner some years back and two projects having been okayed as well at Galwanpora and Sheikhpora, the work was not taken up. If there were some hindrances in two villages why could not explore other areas of the district?

I remember a lot of media coverage was given when the district administration planned to start waste management work in Galwanpora some 3 years back but the net result as on date is Zero? I am not only singling out district administration Budgam but the situation is the same in other districts? Our officers are not taking eco-restoration, environment or waste management seriously. Will the Chief Secretary seek an explanation from the Department of Rural Development & Panchayati Raj for having failed to take up waste management in rural areas inspite of money available under the national flagship programme solid & liquid resource management (SBM-Gramin)

Conservation of wetlands

This author has been spending money from my own pocket for eco restoration and other works in wetland areas which otherwise should be done by the Wildlife department or other Govt agencies. I hired a lawyer in New Delhi and moved a petition in the National Green Tribunal (NGT) a few years back for restoration of Wullar, Hokersar and Kreenchu Chandhara wetland in Pampore. In its detailed order last year in August the NGT directed the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir to consider the utilizing funds available under SBM-Gramin so that solid waste management could be taken up in Kashmir’s wetlands on a regular basis. The petition titled Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat v/s J&K Govt was listed before NGT Principal Bench headed by Chairperson Justice A K Goel last year in August. The NGT principal bench's 15 page order suggests on use of SBM Gramin funds. Till this date nothing has happened on ground. I submitted a written response before NGT on non-compliance of its order but unfortunately the case could not get listed due to the COVID 19 situation. I urge the Chief Secretary to seek an update on this issue. "There is a dedicated officer from the forest department in your office looking after NGT cases" Mr CS

Conclusion

This year’s observance of World Environment Day is based on the theme of ‘ecosystem restoration’ and focuses on resetting our relation with nature. This marks the formal launch of the UN decade on ecosystem restoration. Big and small nations have different plans for the next 10 years on ecological restoration. An ecologically sensitive place like Jammu & Kashmir needs a special push for eco-restoration in the next 10 years. The situation is more demanding in Kashmir valley. Our rivers, lakes, glaciers, and forests are under severe threat. Public spirited citizens like Manzoor Wangnoo who heads Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO) have become inspiration for local green activists and youth. This man has been working day and night for the last 4 months to conserve and clean Gilsar and Khushal lakes in Srinagar’s old city. Mr Chief Secretary let us all sit together and plan a big event for the next 10 years. Let the responsibilities be fixed on Govt officers. Let a duty roaster be made and monthly meetings be held as a regular follow-up. There is no dearth of public spirited citizens and volunteers in J&K. Please take this matter seriously.

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement and Anant Fellow for Climate Action.

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