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NGT's suo motu cognisance

The remarks over deteriorating water bodies must serve as an eye opener calling for sustained conservation measures
12:00 AM Apr 01, 2024 IST | ARIF SHAFI WANI
ngt s suo motu cognisance
Mubashir Khan/ GK
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Jammu and Kashmir is blessed with numerous lakes and wetlands fed by glaciers, springs and rains. However, in absence of sustained conservation measures these water bodies have been facing an onslaught of pollution and encroachments.

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The reprimand by the National Green Tribunal (NGT) to the Jammu to Kashmir government over the deteriorating condition of water bodies in J&K must serve as an eye-opener for us. The NGT took suo motu cognisance of a news report shedding light on the deteriorating state of wetlands and water bodies within J&K.

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The report elucidated that both natural phenomena and human activities - escalating temperatures, unregulated sediment accumulation amounting to millions of tons annually, encroachment, and discharge of waste, have contributed to the degradation of wetlands and water bodies in the region. It pointed out the pollution crisis affecting water bodies like Dal, Wular, Anchar, and Manasbal lakes, along with wetlands including Haigam Rakh in the Jhelum Valley, Hokersar near Srinagar, and Shalbug in Ganderbal.

NGT expressed concern about adherence to environmental standards and enforcement of regulations outlined in the Wetland (Conservation and Management) Rules and the Environment (Protection) Act.

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The tribunal has summoned numerous authorities as parties to the case, including member secretaries of the Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Committee and the Central Pollution Control Board, the secretary of the J&K’s Forest, Ecology, and Environment Department, and the regional officer of the Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to furnish their responses at least one week before the scheduled hearing on May 22.

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We must welcome NGT’s intervention, but at the same time we need to introspect why we need whips and reprimands to wake up and save our water bodies? It is a bitter reality that irreparable damage has been done to our water bodies, especially wetlands in the last over three decades. It is disheartening that no sustained measures are being taken by authorities to save water bodies especially wetlands from at least further deterioration.

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Main source of irrigation and drinking water, river Jhelum, which is considered to be Kashmir's lifeline, is fast losing its carrying capacity due to pollution, and illegal riverbed extraction.
One of the largest freshwater lakes of Asia, Wullar in north Kashmir is fast losing its grandeur to extensive pollution, siltation and encroachments.

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Wullar acts as a huge absorption basin for the annual floodwaters– maintaining a balance in the hydrographic system saving Kashmir from floods. In recognition of its immense ecological and socio-economic importance, Wullar was designated as a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1990.

The lake has been encroached upon from all sides by massive plantation of trees and unbridled extension of agricultural fields into the water body.

Likewise water bodies in J&K’s summer capital Srinagar including Dal Lake, Aanchar, Khushalsar and Gilsar too are battling pollution and encroachments.

If there is a perfect example of official apathy towards conservation of water bodies, it is Brari Nambal. The lagoon is an outflow channel of Dal Lake. Brari Nambal is ecologically important as it helps to regulate hydrology of Dal Lake by releasing its surplus waters into river Jhelum via a conduit at Fateh Kadal area.

Absence of conservation measures coupled with unabated pollution and encroachments has pushed it to the verge of extinction. In 2015, the Government had formulated a comprehensive project to undertake the water body’s restoration and termed it as a “litmus test”. Despite the passing of nearly a decade, no scientific measure has been undertaken to restore Brari Nambal. Authorities failed in the “litmus test”!

Ecologically important wetlands in the Jhelum floodplains like Hokersar, Bemina wetland, Narakara wetland, Batamaloo numbal, Rakh-e-Arth, Anchar lake and Gilsar have been degraded due to rapid encroachment and urbanisation.

The total area of the major wetlands in the Jhelum basin with an area greater than 25 hectares have decreased from 288.96 sq km in 1972 to 266.45 sq km.
20 wetlands have been lost to urban colonies during the last five decades, particularly in the south of Srinagar. Deterioration of wetlands has severely affected flora and fauna and habitation of migratory birds.

Another example of official apathy towards water bodies is the dismal condition of twin lakes - Khushalsar and Gilsar. Till a few decades ago, Khushalsar and Gilsar, which are interconnected water bodies, were favourite haunts of visitors and nature lovers. These water bodies carry outflow waters of Dal lake through the Nallah Amir Khan and are important to maintain its hydrology.

Stinking water, weeds and garbage dumps are remnants of these twin lakes. A voluntary environmental group Nigeen Lake Conservation Organisation (NLCO) has been making massive efforts to clean tons of dumped garbage, and weeds, from these lakes to improve water circulation.

However, unabated flow of drains from adjoining areas is severely affecting flora and fauna of these lakes.

We have to understand that water bodies are an important part of our fragile eco-system. We should not wait for others to ask us to save our water bodies. We must introspect and join hands to save our water bodies. We have to own these water bodies as our survival and existence depends on these natural assets.

Author is Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir

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