Ever since the devastating floods of 2014, there is frequent talk about wetlands, their utility, need for preservation and the threat of encroachment and their rapid shrinking. In the beginning very few people had the understanding of the importance of wetlands but when the floods of 2014 happened, it was found that one of the major causes of the flood and inundation of otherwise safe areas was that the wetlands had shrunk and whatever of them was left had gathered silt so that the exit routes of excess water were blocked. As a result the backlash of the gushing waters caused the floods and inundation of civil lines and the enormous devastation it caused. This became the catalyst for focusing attention on wetlands, studying their behaviour and the ways and means of making them function in natural course and not allow the backlash of the water if provided proper exit.
In past couple of years Gharana wetland encroachment was highlighted by us. Since it happened to be a well known bird sanctuary for the migratory birds from Siberia since decades, the reason for visit of a small number of birds and for small period of time were probed. It was found that at one time 1500 kanal wetland of Gharana had shrunk to just 90 kanals and that speaks for massive encroachment. The Revenue Department cared two hoots for this colossal loss even after the High Court intervened and the media raised the issue furiously. Now it is revealed that under the J&K Wildlife Protection Act, 1978 as many as five wetlands measuring around 24,000 acres of land were identified in Jammu region. Thereafter, in February 1981 the Forest Department accorded sanction to notify five wetlands of Jammu province namely Pargwal, Gharana, Sangral, Kukrian and Nanga in pursuance to the Cabinet Decision No.35 dated February 2, 1981 under the provision of J&K Wildlife Protection Act, 1978.
Thirty-six years have gone by when J&K Wildlife Protection Act was passed and still the Revenue Department has not formally handed over the wetlands to the Wild Life Protection Department. Why has it not transferred remains a mystery? The worst part of this sordid story is that neither the Wild Life Department nor the Revenue Department know the present status of these wetlands meaning what is their exact area and boundaries and how much is left there on the ground after so much of encroachment has happened all these thirty-six years and nobody even bothered to register an FIR with the police for this big loss to the State property. Is it mere lethargy and carelessness or vested interests working behind the scene and hindering the transfer of these wetlands to the Wild Life Protection Department. The most important question is of taking initiative of retrieving the encroached land and restoring the original dimensions of the wetlands. The Wild Life Protection Department is reported to have send several letters to the Revenue Department to take steps of handing over the wetlands to it but there is no response. Consequently, the Wild Life Protection Department has made it clear to the Revenue Department and the Government that it is not possible for it to undertake any project of retrieving the encroached land and preserving the wetlands as long as proper demarcation is not done by the Revenue Department and the wetlands in question are formally handed over to it.
We feel there is much logic in the thinking of the Wild Life Protection Department. Not evicting illegal encroachments and handing over the remnant of the wetlands to the Wild Life Protection Department indirectly means legitimizing the encroachments made on large scale and thus putting the State at a huge loss. The State administration has to come into action and impress upon the Revenue Department to do the preliminary spade work and straighten the revenue record and then hand over the wetlands in their fullness to the Wild Life Department. The High Court has expressed its concern about the silted and mismanaged wetlands becoming the source of floods and has demanded a status report from the Revenue Department. This is in fitness of things and the Revenue Department shall have to shed its lethargy and nonchalant attitude and respond to the orders of the High Court.