Unabated pollution, encroachments and illegal mining pose threat to eco-fragile Doodh Ganga river in central Kashmir’s Budgam and Srinagar districts.
Originating from glaciers in Pir Panjal mountain, the water of Doodh Ganga was so clear till few decades ago that it was known as “stream of milk.” Doodh Ganga is one of the tributaries of river Jhelum and passes through several areas of Budgam and Srinagar and enters Hokersar wetland also.
Doodh Ganga is one of main sources of drinking water for uptown areas of Srinagar. However, in absence of conservation measures, Doodh Ganga has been extensively polluted and encroached upon during the past several decades. Due to official apathy and public greed, Doodh Ganga has been extensively encroached at many places on its embankments by way of construction of shops and buildings.
In absence of Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs), all drains in entire stretch of Doodh Ganga from Chadoora to Srinagar flows into this stream. As this was not enough, tons of solid waste including garbage is being dumped on its embankments at Branwar, Mochwa, Chadoora, Bagh-e-Mehtab, Tengpora and Chanapora.
Doodh Ganga also faces threat of extinction from large-scale illegal mining especially in Chadoora. In violation of norms under Jammu and Kashmir Minor Mineral Concession Rules 2016, heavy machines like JCBs and L&T cranes are being used to extract riverbed material. This is not only affecting flora and fauna of the river, but causing soil erosion and extensive siltation. Illegal mining is fast silting up Hokersar wetland as Doodh Ganga passes through this wetland, which is a designated Ramsar site.
More than 70 years ago, Doodh Ganga passed through Srinagar via Allochi Bagh and Batamaloo. One of its canals also passed through Batamaloo until few years back but this was gradually buried under concrete structures, parks and bus stands from Batamaloo to Shalteng.
Both authorities and people have been ruthless to Doodh Ganga. Its canal from Batamaloo to Bemina used to prevent urban flooding after rains. Realising this after years of slumber, the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) had earlier this year started a drive to remove illegal structures constructed on Doodh Ganga canal from Allochi Bagh to Chattabal. However, the drive was stopped after outcry by inhabitants and some politicians.
Restoration of Doodh Ganga canal is one of the important components of Smart City Project.
On a petition filed by a prominent environmental activist, Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) has been over the years passed slew of directions to J&K Government for conservation of Doodh Ganga. But after no tangible action has been taken to improve its condition. The NGT last year imposed Rs 35 crore penalty on J&K Government for failing to check pollution of Doodh Ganga owing to discharge of untreated sewage.
“Over the years, authorities have not shown any progress on the ground level with regard to controlling pollution in Doodh Ganga that flows through Budgam and Srinagar districts and happens to be the source of drinking water for more than half million population in Srinagar uptown,” the bench of Justice Sudhir Aggarwal and Dr A Senthil Vel (Expert Member) observed in an order passed
The bench said that no actual progress at the ground level has been shown in the Action Taken Report submitted by Housing and Urban Development Department J&K Govt. The case titled Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat v/s Union of India and others has again been listed for hearing on May 29
The Commissioner SMC has been asked to file an affidavit in support of his claim that some action on the ground has been taken.
“No action has not been taken against the real culprits by the Pollution Control Committee involved in illegal mining and instead some tipper and trolley drivers who were penalized more than a year back by Geology & Mining Department, have been again been heavily penalised . No action has been taken against the Geology & Mining Department who are involved in this criminal act in Budgam especially. With regard to pollution in Doodh Ganga, the STPs have not been installed even as NGT was given assurance about it around a year back. The untreated water continues to flow into Doodh Ganga from Chadoora to Tengpora via Chanapora, Natipora and Barzulla where pump stations have been set up by ERA & SMC,” said Dr Raja Muzaffar.
Dr Muzaffar, who has done extensive research on Doodh Ganga said diversion of its waters through a meadow around Metch Khanain for Branwar Hydropower Project affected its hydrology.
“Doodh Ganga also called Chatch Kull originates from the glaciers of Pir Panjaal around mount Shankar Bul Bul located at an altitude 4500 metres. The so-called development has destroyed this great river. By changing its historical course for a small Hydropower Project we have simply murdered Doodh Ganga. On the other hand constant axing of forest trees in Doodh Ganga forest range is causing threat to our ecology and environment. If the forest department doesn't show any seriousness in protecting the forest and environment around Doodh Ganga valley, the future generations will always curse them and we will lose everything we had been bestowed by nature" he cautions.
The High Court of J&K and Ladakh in its last hearing had directed the government to prevent pollution and environmental degradation of Doodh Ganga and construct a filtration plant over it.
The court had closed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL), which it had initiated in 2019 after taking cognisance of a news report in Greater Kashmir. The report had highlighted the deteriorating condition of Doodh Ganga stream and the filtration plant over it. The court had closed the PIL as the NGT was monitoring the case.
Doodh Ganga is important part of Kashmir’s eco-system.
So far irreparable damage has been done to this natural asset. We have to understand that it is not just a river but a lifeline by virtue of being an important water source. People must be apprised about its importance. There is a need of scientific intervention coupled with mass public participation in restoration of Doodh Ganga. Restoring its glory is as much collective responsibility of Government and people as their role in its deterioration.
Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.