SRINAGAR Sludge which was allowed to accumulate in Hokersar wetland during the dredging of a flood channel passing through the wetland is finally being removed following directions by National Green Tribunal (NGT) to the Jammu & Kashmir government to submit a factual and action taken report within two months about pollution and degradation of Hokersar, Wular, and Kreentchoo-Chandhara Wetlands in Kashmir.
On December 29, 2018, Kashmir Observer had carried an investigative story (Vandalisation Of Hokersar: Kolkata-Based Dredging Firm Acting As East India Company) along with photos detailing how the Kolkata-based dredging firm, Reach Dredging Ltd. (RDL) was openly violating the guidelines of the National Board for Wildlife while carrying out dredging of the flood channel through Hokersar wetland. The Irrigation and Flood Control department of Jammu & Kashmir government had to seek permission from National Board for Wildlife before allotting the dredging contract to any user agency.
Consequently, the board had given a permission order, but had clearly mentioned that these guidelines should be followed by the user agency: 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.
The permission order had further warned 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 these guidelines, the excavation work carried out in the wetland for months, had resulted into creation of mounds of excavated earth posing a huge threat the survival of wetland. In the story, it was reported by this newspaper that the earth being excavated for increasing the carrying capacity of the flood channel (through the wetland), is being dumped around, creating huge mounds of earth in the wetland.
However, days after the story appeared and got circulated around, prominent social and environmental activist, Raja Muzaffar, who was preparing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) for filing it in NGT about the degradation of wetlands in Kashmir, used the details of the story in his petition and demanded immediate remedial measures and action against the violation of rules.
He later contacted the author of the story, Athar Parvaiz, and put him in touch with his lawyer, Rahul Chowhary and his assistant, Sharon Mathew, to brief them about illegal dredging operation in Hokersar and overall degradation of the wetland.
That the dredging work for the construction of the said Flood Channel has commenced. However, it has been observed that the earth being excavated for the purpose of this channel is being carelessly dumped in the wetland itself. Large mounds of earth have been created in the wetland, resulting in increased siltation in the wetland. Despite the clear directions stipulated within the Tender notice, mounds of excavated earth continue to lie within the wetland, causing an imminent threat to the ecology of the wetland, a portion of the text of petition reads.
Now that directions have been issued to the Jammu & Kashmir government, the dredging company has come under pressure and the removal of excavated earth has started. The regional wildlife warden of Kashmir, Rashid Yahya Naqask, told Kashmir Observer that the news story and the PIL have proved to be of great help as the removal of excavated soil from Hokersar wetland is now going on in full swing. We take these things quite positively. We are happy that such newspaper reports and PILs are affecting our functioning in a positive way, Naqash said.
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