Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat
The Nambals & Sars of Kashmir also called Wetlands have remained center for attraction for European, Central Asian and Chinese migratory birds from many centuries. Because of extreme freezing climatic conditions during winters in Northern Europe, China and Central Asian countries, these birds find Kashmir’s climate quite hospitable. Wetlands in Kashmir have not only have been abode of these visiting birds but has been providing primary livelihood support to several communities. According to Kashmir Wildlife officials birds visiting Kashmir’s wetlands in winter months have been identified as Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Ferruginous Pochard, Red-Crested Pochard, Ruddy Shelduck, Northern Shoveler, Brahminy ducks , Tufted ducks etc. From last several years accumulation of solid waste, silt, encroachmentof wetlands for converting them into residential and commercial hubs has threatened this whole water ecosystem. Large number of wetlands have been encroached already by both private and Government organizations.
According to a news report published in a Srinagar based newspaper on May 8th 2016 , nine Wetlands in Kashmir despite being protected legally by Wildlife Department have shrunk to a great extent during last 50 years. Out of 100 acres , 20 acres have been encroached in Mirgund wetland on Srinagar-Baramulla road. Shalbug wetland in Ganderbal is recorded as 250 acres but around 20 acres have been encroached. Haigam wetland near Sopore consisted of 1,812 acres, out of this 250 + acres have been encroached. 30 % of the Malgam wetland in Bandipora has been encroached. Out of 1125 acres there are only 775 acres left. From 14 sq kilometers , Hokersar wetland has shrunken to 6 sq kms ? Due to accumulation of silt , solid waste and muck , the average depth of this wetland has reduced from 12 feet in 1970s to mere 1 feet as on date.
Wetlands in Pampore
There are four wetlands in Pampore namely Fashkoot , Chatlam , Krentchoo- Chandhara and Maen Bugh. Sources say that out of 178 acres more than 20 acres have been encroached already. Now some vested interested people are planning to encroach 30 acres of wetland (240 kanals +) around Kreentchu Chandhara which is located on the eastern side of National Highway (NH-44). This wetland is being earth-filled by an organized group of builders who plan to convert this area into a residential colony in view of its location on NH-44. An irrigation canal that was flowing in between Kreentchu -Chandhara wetland has also been encroached and converted into a motorable road.The revenue extracts our organization has accessed reveal that huge chunk of this wetland recorded as Abi Awal Nambal under Khasra Nos 787 ( 287 Kanal , 12 Marlas), 70 (104 kanal 9 Marlas) , 318 to 345 (178 kanal 12 Marlas) is under direct threat from real estate dealers who plan to develop the area by destroying the wetland, paddy fields and natural habitat of migratory birds.
While treating the pronouncement of Hon’ble Supreme Court in M K Balakrishnan V/S Union of India case as Public Interest Litigation (PIL No 11 of 2017- Wetlands ) J&K High Court passed a detailed order on 28.8.2018 on wetlands. On October 9th 2017 the Division Bench of J&K High Court while hearing a similar Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by an NGO Environment Policy Group (EPG) passed an order for maintaining status quo at Narkara wetland in Srinagar city outskirts where Government was planning to undertake construction of Srinagar campus of Indian Institute of Management (IIM-Srinagar). The division bench of the then Justice Badar Durez Ahmad (Chief Justice ) and Justice Alok Aradhe while hearing the PIL issued a status quo order on Governments plans to undertake earth filling of around 160 hectares of wetland located at Narakara Budgam. The division bench questioned ‘if there were no other sites available to Government than to earth fill a Wetland when the efforts should be to protect them’. The Government lawyer on the other hand pleaded before the High Court division bench that Narakara Wetland was actually “Banjar e qadeem which means a land that is Banjar (uncultivable) from decades. But that is not at all true and can be authenticated from the facts that there is lot of vegetation and paddy cultivation going on around Narakara which indicates that revenue records have been manipulated.
Petition before NGT
National Green Tribunal (NGT) also came to rescue of J & K wetlands by taking cognizance of my petition filed in April this year. NGT in its order has directed for constitution of a joint committee of J & K Pollution Control Board (PCB), Wildlife Department and Deputy Commissioners of Budgam, Bandipora and Pulwama to look into illegal encroachments and dumping of municipal solid waste in Hokersar,Wullar and Kreentcu Chandhara wetlands . NGT ‘s three member Principal bench headed by Justice A K Goel issued the notice to various authorities of J&K Government after my counsel Advocate Rahul Chowdhary prayed that authorities be commanded to stop illegal encroachment of Hokersar, Wullar and Kreenchu Chandhara wetlands.
There is clear mention of Pampore wetlands in the National Wetland Atlas which has been prepared by Ministry of Environment & Forests Government of India. This mega wetland atlas is part of the project on National Wetland Inventory and Assessment (NWIA). Lot of damage has been caused to Hokersar , Wullar Malgam and other wetlands. Now we have very handful of wetlands in Kashmir. Kreentchu -Chandhara wetland in Pampore on NH 44 is one such water-body that needs immediate attention of authorities for ensuring its preservation and conservation. Earth filling has been done for road construction. Now muck and dust is being used to make the kuccha road motorable. From last 3 months I have been repeatedly urging J&K Wildlife Protection Department to accompany me to Kreenchu Chandhara wetland in Pampore but the officers only gave me assurances and never fulfilled their promise. I am actually doing the job of Government authorities especially the Wildlife Department and spending my own money, time and energy . This was even acknowledged by the Regional Wildlife Warden Kashmir when I met him in April this year but unfortunately he never took any action afterword’s and only kept sending me watsapp messages which were never fulfilled. Inspite of getting hefty salaries, officers of Wildlife department have no time to assist me in this Good Samaritan work. I feel so much discouraged by this attitude of the Government officers and now I am planning to put all these facts in writing before NGT during the next date of hearing.
(The author is Founder and Chairman of JK RTI Movement)