Municipal Waste in Wullar Lake

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Through my regular write-ups in local English dailies , social media posts and through my videos , I keep telling people that biggest challenge Jammu and Kashmir state will face in the next 10 to 15 years is managing the solid and liquid waste especially the Municipal Solid Waste (MSW).This is because of population growth and shrinking of land due to massive urbanization. As per Municipal Solid Waste Rules (MSW Rules 2016) a landfill area has to be 100 meters away from river, 200 meters from a lake or pond, 200 meters from Highways, Habitations, Public Parks and water supply centers. In addition, the landfill has to be 20 km away from Airports. All these guidelines are being constantly violated in Jammu & Kashmir as there are no scientific landfill sites. What we have in our state are the “Garbage” dump sites that have been created mostly near the banks of rivers, streams or lakes. Most of the municipal solid waste finds its final abode into the water-bodies like rivers, lakes and streams especially in Jammu , Udhampur, Ramban or Kulgam, Sopore or Bandipora in Kashmir valley. Rivers like Tawi, Devika, Chenab and Jehlum and lakes such as Dal and Wullar are being constantly used as garbage dump sites. Municipal Council Udhampur is using banks of Devika to dump its municipal waste , Municipal Committee Ramban dumps all the waste on the banks of Chenab , similarly MC Kulgam dumps garbage near Vaishav river and MC Bandipora is using Wullar lake for final disposal of Municipal Solid Waste. Neither State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) nor District administration nor any other authority of Government is sincerely taking efforts to stop all these illegal activities. Through my regular columns in this paper , I have now decided to highlight all such water-bodies of state that are being used as garbage dump sites by Municipal Corporations , Municipal Councils and Committees. It is these institutions who actually have to implement Municipal Solid Waste Rules (MSW Rules 2016) and penalize people for any violation but when the authorities become violators what can we expect from people ?Through this piece I would like to highlight the inefficient management of municipal solid waste by Municipal Committee Bandipora which is using world famous Wullarlake to dump all its Municipal Solid Waste collected from various areas of the town.
Garbage dumping
Wullar is said to be one of the largest fresh water lakes in Indian subcontinent. This lake is 16 km long an 10 km wide. It lies at the north end of the Kashmir valley. Its area varies from 30 to 260 square km according to the season. The lake controls the flow of the Jhelum River, which traverses it. Wullar lake along with its wetlands has been subjected to environmental degradation at various places. The worst part of Wullar’s degradation is dumping of Municipal Solid Waste which includes hazardous biomedical / plastic waste on its banks at ZalwanNussu village which is located only few kilometres away from Bandipora town. Ironically this activity is being carried by Municipal Committee Bandipora which is an agency of Government and State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) has never taken this matter seriously inspite of having a mandate under MSW Rules 2016.
Wullar lake and Ramsar convention
In 1971 International Convention on Wetlands was signed at Ramsar, a city in Iran. This is known as convention on wetlands or Ramsar convention. During the Ramsar Convention of 1990 held at Montreux Switzerland, Wullar lake was recognised as an important biodiversity zone. The Lake was thus designated as a Wetland of International importance under the said convention. Moreover Wullar has also been classified as a wetland in the National Wetland Atlas of India prepared by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) several years back. Hon’ble Supreme Court in the matter of M.K. Balakrishnan V. Union of India has stated that the areas marked as wetlands in the ISRO Atlas are to be protected as per Rule 4 of the Wetlands (Conservation and Management) Rules, 2010. MSW Rules 2016 strictly prohibits to create a landfill site near a pond, lake, river or a highway. The landfill should be more than 200 metres away from a pond / lake, but in Bandipora the local Municipality has created a garbage dump site inside the wetland itself which is part of Wullarlake. The municipal vehicles on daily basis dump 6 to 7 quintals of solid waste around Wullar lake at Zalwal Nussu village. I have sent several e-mails to authorities including local Deputy Commissioner to stop this illegal practice but nobody has responded. A local social activist Mir Mushtaq has posted several videos on facebook / watsapp to expose the illegal dumping of municipal solid waste by MC Bandipora ,but it seems Government is not at all bothered about all this.
Role of WUCMA
With an aim of conservation of Wullar lake, Government in year 2012 created an independent authority namely Wullar Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA) through a cabinet order vide SRO 311 Dated : 25.09.2012. WUCMA is supposed to do following activities :
* To administer affairs of Wullar lake and its associated marshes
* To protect lake eco system and catchments directly draining into it
* To cooperate and collaborate with other institutions for lake conservation
* Outsourcing of lake conservation work
For management of solid waste WUCMA provided Municipal Committee (MC) Bandipora funds to the tune of more than Rs 1.60 crore during last 5 years. In addition to this National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) provided Rs 76.47 lakhs under its Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to MC Bandipora for sanitation work. Instead of utilizing these funds for scientific waste management , MC Bandipora continues to dump the municipal solid waste inside the lake. Instead of taking action and stopping release of funds ,WUCMA continues to provide money to Municipal Committee Bandipora which is utilized unscientifically and against the MSW Rules. WUCMA has never sought accountability of the funds from the MC Bandipora. Sources say that funds were mostly used to purchase vehicles. Now, more and more waste is carried to the lake site at ZalwanNussu area in the big vehicles. WUCMA had a mandate to hire technical agencies for different works. The money could have been used by WUCMA or MC Bandipora for massive Information Education & Communication (IEC) programme so as to make local population aware about waste management. In addition to it door to door collection of waste and training of municipal staff could also have been undertaken. A small waste management plant could also have been set up in some area of Bandipora with the money WUCMA or NHPC gave to MC Bandipora. The objective behind giving funds is yet to be achieved and the situation has turned bad to worst in Bandipora.
I have been urging upon authorities to stop destruction of lakes and wetlands. Earlier these water-bodies used to be earth filled but now an alarming situation has arisen as they are now used for dumping of garbage by the Municipal authorities. I have already requested Chief Secretary, Secretary Environment and Forests and District Development Commissioner Bandipora to take measures to protect Wullar lake. If Government fails to take action I will have no option left other than seeking legal intervention from the National Green Tribunal (NGT) New Delhi.
(The author is Founder and Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement )