Judicial Intervention only hope, PCB needs to be proactive
DOODH GANGA, a small river which originates from the glaciers of Pir Panjaal mountains is the drinking water source for a huge population in Srinagar and some parts of Budgam. I have constantly been highlighting the pitiful and pathetic condition of Doodh Ganga as a large number of people are made to drink unhygienic water for the last many years. In addition to writing columns or issuing press statements, I have been highlighting this problem by posting photos and videos of Doodh Ganga on social media. I every now and then appeal to the Government and people to preserve and protect this water body.
We can’t only blame the Public Health Engineering (PHE) department (Jal Shakti) which supplies the unhygienic water, but instead J&K Pollution Control Board (PCB) and District Administration Budgam are supposed to be blamed for this messy state of affairs. PCB as well as District Administration Budgam have failed to make sure people get clean drinking water. Around the year 2018, I even moved a petition before the erstwhile J&K State Human Rights Commission (SHRC). I urged upon the commission to intervene as supply of unclean drinking water to people was a violation of basic human rights. SHRC took the issue very seriously but when the case reached its logical conclusion , the SHRC was shut down in view of abrogation of article 370.
Seeking information under RTI
In September last year, I used the Right to Information (RTI) Act to seek information from the J&K Pollution Control Board (PCB) about various studies taken up regarding Water Pollution caused by fecal matter and liquid waste getting drained into Doodh Ganga river. I also asked PCB the exact number of lavatories and drains going into the river from Branwar to Barzulla via Chadoora, Wathoora areas of District Budgam and action taken vis a vis water pollution in Doodh Ganga by way of dumping of solid and liquid waste? Through my RTI application I also sought similar details pertaining to river Jhelum from Khanabal to Baramulla. The in-charge officer water laboratory Srinagar operating under the J&K Pollution Control Board (PCB) in his response dated 17.9.2020 seemed ignorant about the water pollution in Doodh Ganga which is one of the major drinking water source for Srinagar uptown areas like Hyderpora , Rawalpora , Barzulla , Solina, Jawahar Nagar, Batmaloo and many areas. The reply from PCB reply made it clear that no study had been undertaken by Water lab PCB Srinagar. To another query about the study undertaken by PCB vis a vis fecal matter and liquid waste being drained into River Jhelum from Khanabal to Baramulla, the response was cryptic. The reply reads as :
“An exercise has been undertaken by J&K PCB with allied departments of respective district administration to locate the toilets and drains that empty into River Jhelum from Khanabal to Baramulla. A survey to river Jhelum was conducted in the year 2019 to find out the point source and diffuse sources of pollution. The observations made in the study were submitted to the High Court in a case titled Javid Ahmad Zargar VS State and others based on the report submitted by PCB many toilets have been demolished by the concerned agency,”.
This study was never made public by PCB through its website as the information falls under section 4 of RTI Act 2005. In January this year, I sought details from Deputy Commissioner office Budgam about meetings held on cleaning of Doodh Ganga from September 1st to December 31st in response to J&K High Court’s direction on the pathetic condition of Doodh Ganga and supply of unclean drinking water ? I asked copies of the minutes of these meetings as well. Till date DC office Budgam has not supplied any information to me. I am now filing an appeal against PIO DC office Budgam.
Clean water and SDG
Clean water and sanitation is one of the important constituents of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This figures at serial 6 of SDGs. In-fact, access to safe water and sanitation are included in human rights, as recognized in 2010 by the UN General Assembly. Having spent my childhood around Doodh Ganga I feel shocked to see heaps of solid waste lying scattered on the banks of Doodh Ganga. I can’t blame only the locals as the Govt has provided no alternative for collection and disposal of solid waste in rural areas. In spite of the fact that Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM-Gramin) has a well defined programme for rural waste management under Solid Liquid Resource Management (SLRM) but District Administration Budgam has failed to implement this scheme on ground. During Back to Village programmes, this issue was highlighted by me before the visiting officer Mr Sarmad Hafiz IAS, but the District Administration could not execute the plan. The photos of the Back-to-Village continue to be highlighted on the official website of District Budgam but who will tell the visitors surfing this website that all the promises made during this meeting were never fulfilled.
Intervention by J&K High Court
This author in summer 2020 provided lots of updates to a journalist associated with a leading English daily of Srinagar. A detailed report was subsequently filed by the newspaper on 2nd August 2019. J&K High Court took suomoto cognizance of that news report but due to severe lockdown and curfew from August 5th 2020 onwards the matter could not be listed for several months. On October 30th 2019 J&K High Court issued notice to Government especially to Divisional Commissioner Kashmir and Deputy Commissioner Budgam. As mentioned above I sought updates from DC Budgam on the issue under RTI on January 18th 2021 and meetings held in this regard. Till date no response has been provided. Even the Govt has not started river clean up drive. The matter is now listed on April 4th 2021.
The solid and liquid waste continues to pollute Doodh Ganga. Most of the pollution takes place in Chadoora where large quantities of liquid waste gets drained into Doodh Ganga. Unfortunately, the same water is lifted by PHE (Jal Shakti) at Karlpora water supply plant which is located 6 kms down stream. A garbage dump has been created by Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) near the banks of Doodh Ganga at Bagh e Mehtab area near Railway bridge. This is a public place / bus stop on Srinagar- Chadoora road. I tried my best to bring the issue into notice of Govt , but authorities don’t even want to listen. District Administration Srinagar assured me several times that the garbage dump at Bagh e Mehtab would be shifted and a public park or open gym would be set up at the site, but the promises were never fulfilled till date ?
Is the Pollution Control Board’s (PCB’s) role only limited to inspect small scale industrial units ? If PCB can’t check liquid and solid waste entering into Doodh Ganga or any other drinking water source, who else will do this job? District Administration Budgam could also have utilized funds available under Swachh Bharat Mission Gramin for solid liquid waste management but not even a single penny has been utilized in Budgam. This was also revealed under RTI by District Panchayat Officer (DPO) Budgam recently. Under SBM Gramin the money is very much available for rural waste management but due to official negligence the work hasn’t been executed on ground zero during the last more than 6 years. Let us hope that the High Court issues some meaningful orders in the coming months so that the Govt is made to act and pollution in Doodh Ganga gets reduced so that people are supplied safe drinking water. This is my message on this World Water Day.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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