I have tried my best to highlight the water pollution in Doodh Ganga, which is the drinking water source for a huge population in Srinagar, and some parts of Budgam. In addition to writing a few columns, op-eds, I have on several occasions written to authorities at the helm to ensure water in Doodh Ganga is free from solid and liquid waste. People can't blame the Public Health Engineering (PHE) department which supplies the water, but instead we should blame the J&K Pollution Control Board (PCB) and District Administration Budgam who have miserably failed to ensure people get clean drinking water. Some years back I moved a petition on this issue before the erstwhile J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) as well. The commission took the issue very earnestly, but after some months of filing the petition, SHRC was shut down when the article 370 was abrogated. This didn't demoralize or dishearten me. In September this year I used Right to Information (RTI) Act to seek information from Pollution Control Board (JKPCB) about some kind of a study taken up regarding Water Pollution caused by fecal matter and liquid waste getting drained into Doodh Ganga river. I also asked PCB the exact number of lavatories and drains going into the river from Branwar to Barzulla via Chadoora, Wathoora areas of District Budgam and action taken vis a vis water pollution in Doodh Ganga by way of dumping of solid and liquid waste? Through my RTI application I also sought similar details pertaining to River Jehlum from Khanabal to Baramulla.
Response from PCB
The in-charge officer water laboratory Srinagar operating under the J&K Pollution Control Board (PCB) in his response dated 17.9.2020 addressed to Regional Director PCB Kashmir which was further forwarded to me seemed ignorant and unmindful about the water pollution in Doodh Ganga which is one of the major drinking water source for uptown Srinagar. The reply from water lab reads :
"No study has been undertaken by Water lab PCB Srinagar."
To another query about the study undertaken by JK PCB vis a vis fecal matter and liquid waste being drained into River Jhelum from Khanabal to Baramulla, the response was:
"An exercise has been undertaken by J&K PCB with allied departments of respective district administration to locate the toilets and drains that empty into River Jhelum from Khanabal to Baramulla. A survey to river Jhelum was conducted in the year 2019 to find out the point source and diffuse sources of pollution. The observations made in the study were submitted to the High Court in a case titled Javid Ahmad Zargar VS State and others based on the report submitted by PCB many toilets have been demolished by the concerned agency,". This study was never made public by PCB through its website as the information falls under section 4 of RTI Act 2005.
District Adm Budgam
Clean water and sanitation is one of the important constituents of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This figures at serial 6 of SDGs. In-fact access to safe water and sanitation are included in human rights, as recognized in 2010 by the UN General Assembly. Having spent my childhood around Doodh Ganga I feel shocked to see heaps of solid waste lying scattered on the banks of Doodh Ganga. I can't blame only the locals as Govt has provided no alternative for collection and disposal of solid waste in rural area. In spite of the fact that Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM-Gramin) has a well defined programme for rural waste management under Solid Liquid Resource Management (SLRM) but District Administration Budgam has failed to implement this scheme on ground. During Back to Village programmes, this issue was highlighted by me before the visiting officer Mr Sarmad Hafiz IAS, the Secretary Tourism last year, but the District Administration could not execute the plan. The photos of the Back-to-Village continue to be there on the official website of District Budgam but who will tell the visitors surfing this website that all the promises made during this meeting were never fulfilled. This includes the promise made to construct a small foot bridge.
Huge amount of solid and liquid waste continues to pollute Doodh Ganga. In Chadoora town the liquid and solid waste goes into the river in huge quantities. The same water is then lifted at Kralpora water filtration plant, which is around 5 kms from Chadoora town. When one feels disillusioned, his last hope is judiciary. I had no resources to hire a lawyer to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on this issue. I therefore decided to write to the Hon'ble Chief Justice of J&K High Court. Some weeks back I read in a newspaper that a committee under supervision of the Divisional Commissioner had been constituted to check pollution in Doodh Ganga. A formal order was issued by the General Administration Department (GAD) in this regard on 20.11.2020 vide Govt order No: 1055-JK(GAD) of 2020, but I thought that it was a routine order. Very recently an officer working in Public Health Engineering (PHE) told me about the case as the High Court has issued notice to Govt. It seems my letter has worked. Is PCB's role only limited to inspect small scale industrial units (SSI) and then giving them No Objection Certificate (NoC) after a great struggle. Isn't PCB's role also to inspect major pollution water sources in J&K? If PCB does not check liquid and solid waste entering into Doodh Ganga or any other drinking water source, who else will do this job? During his Public Outreach programmes, I wish DC Budgam would also look around and take notice of pollution in water bodies, choked irrigation canals, and messed up villages where heaps of trash can be seen everywhere. The money is already available for such works, but the only thing is willpower, and ability to get things done.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement