We have always blamed Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) and Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) for having failed to manage the municipal solid waste. Media, civil society, and public at large have been criticizing them for unscientific waste disposal. But there are many other agencies who also are to be blamed for unscientific disposal of waste. In this column I will highlight how unscientifically the Irrigation and Flood Control Department (IFC) manages the waste that is excavated from irrigation canals across J&K. In addition I have some suggestions for the Government as well; especially to the administrative secretaries of the Irrigation & Flood Control, Urban and Rural Developments.
Cleaning of the Irrigation Canal
Recently the Irrigation & Flood Control Division Pampore undertook de-silting of an irrigation canal that runs from Marvel in Pampore to Mochwa in Chadoora. The canal flows via Wathoora, Gopalpora, Kralpora and Mochwa localities of Srinagar outskirts. These areas are part of district Budgam but are located merely 6 to 10 kms from Srinagar city, and thus have got urbanized due to large number of people from Srinagar city, and other districts, having settled here, especially during the last 15 to 20 years. The irrigation canal flowing through this area has thus turned into a drain with a lot of solid and liquid waste in it along with a large amount of plastic waste as well. For the last many years local residents have been urging the Irrigation Department to clean up the canal, but this was being delayed always.
Residents of Alamdar Colony, Gopalpora, gave several memorandums to Govt in this regard as the colony would get water logged frequently in the rainy season. Experts had been advising that nearby irrigation canal needs to be cleared of all the muck, silt and plastic waste. When the work was taken up in Gopalpora to Mochwa via Kralpora recently, though not around Alamdar Colony, the Irrigation Department dumped all the waste and silt excavated from the canal on the Srinagar–Chadoora road. It was advisable to take up the work in November or December when the water level was down in the canal, but the Department instead started this work at a time when we get plenty of rains i.e. in the month of March.
Dumping waste on roadside
The Irrigation Department dumped all the waste material on the roadside after its removal from the canal. The waste got washed away on the road surface from Mochawa to Gopalpora during recent rains. Some part of it went back into the canal. People told me that it was better not to clean the canal as the work has been done in the most shabby manner. I uploaded several videos of this unprofessional work of the Irrigation Department on social media.
Chief Engineer Irrigation Kashmir assured me that road-sides would be restored back. The waste has dried up now but it is emitting dust all over the 4 km road stretch. When I tried to advise a contractor to make proper disposal of waste he behaved like an unprofessional. I found no official of the department at the site. I tried calling the concerned Executive Engineer some days back; he said he was busy somewhere else. The officer has been contacted by many locals but he keeps telling them to contact his Assistant Executive Engineer (AEE). How can he say that? He can't absolve himself of the responsibility he has been given by the Government? The officer is a public servant and is being paid a fat salary from the taxpayers' money. This is really unfortunate that he isn't coming to the site or responding to public grievances?
When I contacted AEE he responded back positively. The officer seemed helpless as the work was allotted on very low rates to the contractor. I suggested to the AEE to lift the waste from the roadside manually after JCB finishes its job, and to flush the entire 4 kms road stretch with high pressure water as well. The officer said he would ensure that.
Disposal of waste
I am unable to understand why such an important work was allotted on very low rates? This clearly indicates that the government is least bothered about waste management and upkeep of water-bodies, and that is the reason our waterbodies in the valley is getting choked. The tender documents issued by Irrigation and Flood Control Department must also ensure de-silting works are done as per Municipal Solid Waste (MSW Rules-2016). The contractor or executing agency should be provided a space to dump the silt / muck and plastic waste after excavating the same from canals. Plastic waste should be managed as per MSW guidelines and not thrown on roadside or dumped in open plots like it has been done in the case discussed in this article. Ironically in case of ongoing work on the irrigation canal the waste has been dumped on a piece of low-lying Govt land near Kralpora petrol pump on a busy Srinagar-Chadoora road. The site is looking so filthy and emits a pungent smell. Where is J&K Pollution Control Board (JKPCB)? This piece of land could have been developed into a public park but now I apprehend it would be encroached upon soon.
Waste is choking us
In a flawed strategy to replicate the urban infrastructure of large cities in the plains, Government departments have themselves become the rule breakers as garbage dump sites have been created by them around water-bodies and public places. When the law enforcing agencies do all these criminal acts, what can we expect from citizens? Agriculture landholding in Kashmir has come down drastically due to massive urbanisation. The shrinking farmlands may lead to food insecurity in the future but at present it has a direct impact on management of solid waste. There are no open spaces to create scientific landfill sites across Kashmir. For the last ten years the Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) has not been able to acquire even 10 acres of land for creating an alternate landfill site as the existing site at Achan is already choked. Not even 1 % funds available under Rural Waste Management programme have been spent in J&K from year 2014 onwards. The recent information I obtained under the RTI Act from DC office Budgam revealed that out of 17 projects identified for solid liquid waste management in Budgam, not even one project has been executed on ground? Can Deputy Commissioner Budgam tell us the reason for this? From cities and towns to villages we can only see trash. Irrigation canals, streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands are filled up with waste. The plastic waste has choked not only our wetlands, rivers or drainage system but this is choking our entire Kashmir valley.
If drastic measures are not taken to address the issue of unscientific waste management, the Kashmir valley will turn into a trash bowl as plastic and other waste is constantly dumped into Kashmir's water bodies. I appeal to the administrative secretaries of the Urban Development Department, Irrigation and Flood Control Department, and Rural Development to sit together along with Commissioner SMC and all the Deputy Commissioners of valley. They need to brainstorm for a few days what should be done to un-choke the valley? Managing solid and liquid waste is not rocket science, we only need willpower and determination to get this issue addressed. Judiciary also needs to play its role as the PIL on waste management is pending for disposal for the last many years now before the J&K High Court..
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Anant Fellow for Climate Action and Acumen India Fellow. He is also Chairman J&K RTI Movement