SRINAGAR Known as the queen of Himalayan wetlands, Hokersar which hosts around half a million birds annually is being vandalized in the name of flood management and an apparent treatment operation for the wetland these days.
The careless manner with which the dredging for construction of drainage channel across the wetland and also the apparent treatment operation for maintaining the water level is being carried out is in total disregard for area’s delicate ecological balance.
Hokersar is a wetland of international importance given its inclusion in the list of Ramsar sites. Situated in the outskirts of Srinagar wetland is a favourite halting and breeding ground for the migration of birds from Siberia and central Asia.
The dredging of the channel, is being carried out by the Kolkata-based dredging firm, Reach Dredging Ltd. (RDL). But the earth being excavated for creating the channel is being dumped around which has created huge mounds of earth in the wetland.
In the tender notice (of Irrigation and Flood Control), reviewed by Kashmir Observer, it has been clearly specified that the excavated earth has to be cleared right-away.
As it is not permitted to keep or dispose off excavated soil inside wetland , thus same has to be taken outside the Hokersar Wetland immediately after excavation, which is to be kept in mind while execution of the Work., the notice reads.
It further reads: Transportation of excavated earth to be carried outside the periphery of Hokersar wetland by whatsoever means required at site & as per the directions of the Engineer-in-charge upto a maximum lead of 18 KM including loading, unloading leveling & dressing.
The Standing Committee of National Board for Wildlife had also given strict guidelines for respecting the ecological sensitivity of the wetland while approving the construction work.
The permission order of the board, reviewed by this writer says: The user agency, while implementing the drainage construction project, will abide by the orders to be issued by the Honble Supreme Court and follow provisions of the Jammu & Kashmir Wildlife Protection Act, 1978 (Amended upto 2002) strictly. The user agency will follow the eco-friendly engineering practices during the construction.
It further says that the material so excavated shall be disposed off outside the wetland by mechanical means or otherwise to the extent of full quantity and no bund rising may be taken up along the alignment.
But despite the excavation work being carried out in the wetland for the past many weeks, mounds of excavated earth lie within the wetland which act as a huge threat for the wetland.
Reliable sources told this writer that the company made the lowest bid for a paltry amount of 2100 lacs rupees (21 crore) even as the approximate cost of the project in the tender notice was mentioned as 3171.53 lacs (32 crore). It is quite evident that they had a fair idea how they can adjust the costs. Otherwise it is unbelievable how they could settle for such a low sum, the sources said.
Sources privy to an earlier work carried out by the company (dredging of River Jhelum) and the entire process of tendering and post allotment of contract for dredging of channel through Hokersar, told this writer that the company has much clout in the administration from Srinagar/Jammu to Delhi and its officials manage things as per their desire. They referred to RDLs degrading work for Jhelum and said that the company managed to get shifted two assistant engineers, one executive engineer and a chief engineer who had raised objections about the companys dredging operation in Jhelum on different occasions.
RDL was given the contract for dredging of river Jhelum following the devastating floods of 2014 to increase the water carrying capacity of the river and save Srinagar city from future flooding. Almost throughout the companys dredging operation, it attracted negative headlines in local newspapers for concentrating at sites in River Jhelum where there was enough sand. It was often reported that the company was not carrying out the degrading operation scientifically.
Yet, the company managed the completion of the work (though questionable). In the present contract also, sources said, it was allotted to the company in a speedy manner despite the fact that the detailed project report (DPR) for the rupees 2100 crore flood management programme, which the Hokersar dredging is part of, is still under process.
In the current contract also, the company, sources said, has managed to get an engineer, Mohammad Aslam Zargar, shifted as soon as he started asking questions to the company officials about the deposition of excavated earth within the wetland. He was removed from supervising the work within days as he was asking the company officials to remove the excavated earth immediately, sources told this writer and added that RDL is behaving like a new East India Company in Kashmir.
Experts have also questioned the way things are happening with respect to the construction work in Hokersar.
While the transfer of a competent and dedicated engineer of I&FC raises many questions, particularly when he was overseeing a very prestigious project that he had been involved in conceptualizing, it is equally important to understand how the contractor, who was to be blacklisted for his dismal performance on the earlier dredging contract in Srinagar was shortlisted and then awarded the contract, said Iftikhar Drabu, a noted analyst and engineer.
I recall reading scores of articles reporting on lack of progress of Jhelum dredging, the very frequent machine breakdowns and the fact that he focused only on stretches where he could extract sand.
Another important issue, he said, is the contract price – unless the contractor has found a loop hole in the tender how could he quote so low.
Compared to the departmental estimate he is leaving one third of the estimate value on the table. The contractor certainly has some strong, reliable and effective connections, Drabu said.
Despite calling the companys office number and the personal number of Kinjal Desai, a top office bearer of RDL, several times, this writer couldnt get any response.
Wildlife warden for central Kashmir, Abdul Rouf Zargar said that his department has asked the RDL authorities to remove the excavated earth immediately from the wetland. They have the obligation under supreme court guidelines to remove the excavated soil. We will take action against them as per the law if they fail to comply with the Supreme Courts guidelines, Zargar said and added: I believe they have started removing it in one stretch.
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