Restore lost sheen of Poonch

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
United Nations has declared sanitation and clean drinking water as one of the important components of seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs). SDGs are a 15 year agenda which United Nations adopted in year 2015. Figuring at serial 6 lot of thrust has been given on UN member countries on clean water and sanitation. The fact of the matter is that sanitation and safe water have been recognized as human rights by United Nations in 2010.  Recently I happened to visit historic town of Poonch to attend a workshop on scientific solid waste management in collaboration with local district administration and Municipal Council Poonch (MCP) . I was very much surprised to know that Poonch town was created into a municipal body way back in year 1935 through a gazette notification issued by local ruler . Unfortunate part is that inspite of being notified as a Town Area more than 85 years back , Poonch town could not develop on scientific lines especially vis a vis sanitation and waste management . Even after 85 years of its creation Municipal Council Poonch has been deprived of logistical support by the Government. I won’t  blame Government only, being an autonomous institution , successive Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of Municipal Council Poonch have also not been able to create necessary infrastructure or sanitation facilities in Poonch town.
Door to Door waste collection
I was shocked to know that user fees is not being collected from the residential or commercial establishments in lieu of sanitation services provided by the Municipal Council Poonch. I was told by CEO of Municipal Council Poonch  M A Lone,  who has been recently given charge of the town, that door to door waste collection is not undertaken in Poonch town. This is the main reason that user fees is not at all collected.  CEO along with his Sanitation Inspector  Pradeep Sharma seemed very much enthusiastic about creating a facility of scientific solid waste management in the town. They are working on starting door to door collection of garbage but due to some logistical reasons like lack of manpower , training , vehicular support it might take few months to go ahead. During my interaction with the Municipal staff I made it clear to them that nobody is going to pay local municipality user fees unless they provide door to door sanitation facilities. I am sure when this facility is provided by the Poonch Municipality as soon as possible, People will definitely start paying user fees as well not less than Rs 50 per month. This will generate monthly income for the municipal council as well.
Interaction with Safai Dosts
To carry forward scientific solid waste management ,there is a great role of Safai Karamcharis whom we call Safai Dosts or Safai Mitras. Usually, whenever we start an awareness campaign or conduct capacity building workshops, our target is student community , Government officers , Municipal staff. Only in some cases safai dosts are taken on board. Before undertaking scientific solid waste management in a town or a city, we must listen to these people who actually have to do this work. Unless we  sensitize Safai Dosts about waste segregation at source ie at house hold level, this programme is not going to succeed. Keeping this in my mind, I requested CEO Mr Lone to organize a meeting of these Safai Dosts. The meeting was arranged at short notice. During my interaction with male and female Safai Dosts of Poonch Municipal Council , I stressed upon them to start segregating waste at their own household level. They were very much articulate and infact CEO agreed to provide them two trash-bins for collecting bio degradable and non bio degradable waste. When these field workers of municipality start segregating waste, I am sure they will enforce this upon the local residents as well.
Dump site in Poonch
Due to lack of information and education about waste management, majority of our garbage dump sites in J&K are located near water-bodies. Same is the case with Poonch town. The garbage collected from town is dumped near the banks of Poonch river and this practice is going on from last several decades.  Poonch town has scarcity of plain land and that is also the reason that all the waste is dumped near this water body. But to address this, local Municipal Council and District administration in past should have de centralized this process so that all the garbage would not have been transported to this particular site. After my interaction with some local social activists and political leaders like Lokesh Sharma , Shamim Dar and others,  I was told that Poonch river flows through at least two dozen villages before entering into Pakistan via Jhangar and Nowshehra. The water which is polluted with solid waste and even with biomedical waste dumped by local District hospital Poonch flows through villages such as Kanuian , Mangnar, Jalass , Behra , Salotri , Ajote , Gulpur , Khadi and several other villages. The same water is lifted at several places by Public Health Engineering (PHE) department and is then supplied to a large population living in Poonch district. I am sure there would be large number of Gastrointestinal cases registered in local Govt hospitals around Poonch every year and its  reason would be  intake of impure water.
Poonch is a historical town and it has a glorious past. It has not only the honour of being notified as a town way back in 1935, but in 1850, Raja Moti Singh who was son of Raja Dhayan Singh, the Prime Minister of Khalsa  Darbar set up Poonch as a separate state also called Poonch Principality. The Dogra dynasty ruled Poonch state from 1850 to 1947 which is considered as the Golden era in the history of Poonch. The Poonch Principality got status of a state from British Raj in 1901 during the reign of Raja Baldev Singh. Almost 65%  of the total area of Poonch district such as Bagh, Rawlakot and Sadnuthi tehsils went to Pakistan during 1947 partition.
This town lost its sheen. Many intellectuals migrated from this city , Poonch town was converted into a refugee camp and thus the institutions created during Dogra period had no caretakers. Municipal Council Poonch is one of such institutions. It is the duty of state Government to again institutionalize this civic body. Newly posted Deputy Commissioner Poonch  Mohammad Aijaz seems to be very much concerned about sanitation and waste management in the town and district at large. Infact, he had started this work in Shopian as well while he was posted there in past but due to unavoidable situation the work could not go ahead. I have been told that a separate land has been identified by authorities for creating a scientific landfill site for Poonch town. To begin with local Municipality must start a rigorous Information Education and Communication (IEC) campaign in the town involving students , civil society , religious leaders and Safai Dosts. I am sure the day is not far when the lost sheen of Poonch will be restored.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here