SRINAGAR, Jan 14: Government’s flagship program “Swachh Bharat Mission” seems to have least benefitted the Wullar lake in North Kashmir as unabated dumping of waste on its banks is posing a grave threat to its biodiversity and the overall sustainable development.
Situated in North Kashmir’s Bandipora district, Wullar lake is considered as the largest freshwater lake in Asia and the lake holds an international importance due to its unique biodiversity, as per Ramsar Convention. However, Government’s ill-conceived conservation measures are threatening its existence.
“At a time when much stress is being laid on the disposal of solid waste management, the waste is being dumped on its banks,” Shakeel Ramshoo, Head of Earth Sciences, University of Kashmir said.
The worst part, he said, is that the waste is being dumped by the local municipalities and not by the people. “It is not hidden from anyone. We can easily find vehicles of municipality unloading the waste near its banks. It is bad for the health of the lake and in the long run it will basically result in more siltation and reduce its carrying capacity. It is the most important lake for its flood functionality,” he said.
An official at the Municipal Committee said in a catchment area of about 11.25 acres the department dumps nearly 630 tons of garbage around the banks of Wullar every month. “On an average the municipality has been dumping nearly 21 tons of garbage on its banks since 1968, when it came into existence”, he said.
To save the lake, the Government planned to set up an integrated solid waste management unit and identified an alternative site away from the lake. “On the instructions of the Government an alternative site has been identified in Sumbal area of the district,” an official said.
As per the Department of Urban Development, tenders have been floated thrice in last five years for the purpose but failed to receive “appropriate response” from the bidders. “In order to establish the Integrated Solid Waste Management units in PPP mode, the tenders have been floated for the third time this year. Despite conducting three pre-bid meetings with the intended bidders to address their concerns no response has been received,” an official document stated.
The main reason behind the delay is disagreement over the arrangement of funding which Government has adopted for the purpose. The Government would provide only 35 percent of the cost under Swachh Bharat Mission while the rest has to be borne by the company itself. “We have floated tenders for the third time. We are not receiving appropriate response,” an official at the Urban Local Bodies told the Excelsior.
In 2014, the Government notified sprawling 90- kanals of land for the setting up of the unit at Shalkhud, Sumbal area of the district. It was supposed to dispose off scientific lines without harming the environment and, most importantly, to save the Wullar Lake. The site was identified for the waste of ecologically sensitive areas falling under four Municipal Committees comprising of Sumbal Hajin and Bandipora with a project cost of around Rs 18-crore and plant capacity of 53.1 metric tons per day.
The site was identified to bring in environment friendly techniques but failed to kick start even after repeated pleas from the people. In absence of a proper waste management, locals said, embankments of the lake are reeling under the blanket of unwanted waste causing a nuisance to the residents
To worsen things, the Wullar Conservation and Management Authority, which was formed, as the name suggests, protect the lake, has miserably failed. Instead, as per locals, the authority is abetting in dumping the waste by providing vehicles to Municipal Committees.
“The vehicles with “save Wullar” illustrations can be seen ferrying the garbage all day towards the lake which is ironic,” Owaise Ahmad, a local said. He explained that the lake swells during rainy season and the waste finds its way into the lake. “The waste washes off the whole area including the dumping site and all the hazardous waste gets into the water,” he said.
Deputy Commissioner Bandipora, Shahbaz Mirza, said that they have shifted the dumping site to stop waste from going into the lake. “The lake is safe now,” he added.
Asked about the setting up of the waste management plant, he said:”That is a long term project and project report has been submitted to the Government.”
The locals, however, said that the place is not far away from the lake. “It has been slightly shifted. It continues to pose threat to the lake,” a local said. Besides, he added that there are apprehensions from the farmers that new site would affect their farmland.