Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
Around two years back during an RTI roundtable at Anantnag the then State Chief Information Commissioner Khurshid Ahmad Ganai (presently Advisor to Governor) had said that very less RTI applications are filed to seek information related to developmental issues. He urged upon people to make use of RTI for issues related to roads , health , environment and other developmental issues. In-fact I had put my viewpoint on the issue and updated Mr Ganai about our intervention in developmental sector vis a vis RTI. In-fact majority of our RTI applications have been filed to get hold of information related to developmental issues right from 2004 when state enacted this law for the first time during PDP-Congress coalition Government headed by Late Mufti Mohammad Syeed. When it comes to seeking information on developmental issues under Right to Information Act (RTI) , the information seekers especially the whistleblowers and RTI activists are harassed a lot. Recently when a prominent activist from Magam Irfan Banka tried to seek information on unscientific disposal of municipal solid waste and issuance of illegal building permissions in Magam town of Budgam district , some local residents on the direction of few municipal officials attacked his father Nissar Ahmad Banka in broad-day light.
The municipal officials had misled some locals that Irfan wanted to get some buildings demolished in the town, but the reality was something different. Irfan actually wanted copies of permission obtained from Irrigation and Flood control department allowing Municipal Committee Magam to dump its garbage inside the Ferozpur nallah which flows through the town. In addition to it, he had sought details of building permissions etc. As the RTI application was not answered by Executive Officer who is also the designated Public Information Officer (PIO) ,Irfan went to State Information Commission (SIC) with a complaint and the matter has been listed for hearing on May 14th. A notice has been issued to MC Magam which has frustrated them a lot.
MSW Rules violated
Municipal authorities and local bodies are the implementing agencies for Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2016 (MSW Rules). But it has been observed that same authorities are violating these guidelines in most of the towns and cities of Srinagar and Jammu as well. The vehicles of Municipal Committee Magamin district Budgam are unloading all municipal solid waste in theFerozpur nallah. What a sick mentality these officials have ? Had they been sensitized properly , not even a safai worker would have agreed to throw solid waste into water ? As the officials are hardly aware about the ill effects of municipal solid waste , they keep doing this criminal act on daily basis. When the water level increases in the nallah (river) , the garbage is carried away and then it reaches to other adjoining villages of Magam thereby contaminating the water which is a source of some water supply stations run by Public Health Engineering (PHE) Department. Not only the municipal solid waste but dead animals are also thrown near the Ferozpur nallah by municipal officials and even some locals as well. Ferozpur nallah is no-more a water-body for municipal officials, they treat this as a garbage dump. What a sad state of affairs ?
Another aspect of story
I won’t only blame the Municipal Committee Magam for this mess. The district administration Budgam is equally responsible for the present crises as they are not able to find a suitable land on Magam outskirts where scientific solid waste management project could be set up. Management of solid waste is not a priority for district administration. Even this is not a priority for state administration as well including administrative secretaries whose heart hardly bleeds for Jammu and Kashmir and its environment. All are passing their time and getting fat salaries. Only a few weeks back I wrote detailed articles on Devika river and Ranbir canal , but I have not seen any impact at all. Authorities continue to be in a deep slumber and conscience of citizens is already dead. One can find solid waste thrown in agricultural fields and open plots on Srinagar Gulmarg road. Rural Development Department is also not utilizing its funds under Solid Liquid Resource Management. Sources say that 40 to 50 quintals of municipal solid waste is collected by Municipal Committee Magam regularly and not even one percent of this waste is treated scientifically.
I have been constantly highlighting the issue of destruction and devastation of our environment especially dumping of municipal solid waste in the water-bodies. I have not only written about it but we keep seeking information under RTI on the issue and seek judicial intervention as well by way of PILs and filing petition before National Green Tribunal (NGT). Recently NGT took notice of my petition vis a vis wetlands of Wullar ,Hokersar and Pampore. Other NGOs and civil society groups like Environmental Policy Group (EPG), RTI Foundation , JK Peoples Forum etc are doing a great work vis a vis protection of environment in J&K , but the response from Government is very much discouraging. We met Chief Secretary , Secretary Environment and Forests several times in this regard but on ground nothing is happening at all. Selfless people are putting their energy and resources to save J&K’s environment and on the other hand Govt officials who are paid to do this work are not even able to clean few water-bodies or remove encroachments near wetlands and rivers. Waste management has to be institutionalized, it has to be a priority for authorities. Our state has no land to landfill the garbage , our canals , lakes , ponds and nallah’s are getting chocked with solid waste and plastic. Ferozpur nallah which is known for its crystal clear water is getting poisoned by the callous attitude of authorities who need to show some seriousness. I will continue to write on the issue and keep senitising people and administration. I am optimistic that a day will come when we all will unite for this noble cause….
(The author is Founder of J&K RTI Movement)
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat