Wetlands Under Threat: Violation Of Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2016

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Illegal Garbage dump at Ninglee Sopore | File Photo

How can District Administration Bandipora or Baramulla give permission for setting up a garbage dump site around the wetlands?

J&K Pollution Control Board (PCB) which has now been named as J&K Pollution Control Committee (PCC) a few months back imposed a huge penalty on Municipal Council (MC) Bandipora. The Pollution Control Committee acted after the National Green Tribunal (NGT) took notice of this case as the municipal institution was constantly dumping solid and liquid waste near the Wullar lake at Zalwan village just outside the town. This was viewed as gross violation of Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2016 (MSW Rules 2016) by NGT and Pollution Control Committee. The municipal council which was earlier a municipal committee has been dumping all the untreated municipal solid waste near the Wullar catchment area and for this illegal act, several notices were issued to MC Bandipora by NGT as well as PCC. Pertinently, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) had taken a serious note of this illegal waste dumping when this author filed a petition before the tribunal more than 2 years back.

Misleading NGT

Last year, NGT had issued orders directing the Divisional Commissioner Kashmir and J&K Pollution Control Board to stop the illegal practice of waste dumping by MC Bandipora at Zalwan. Municipal Council Bandipora in its written response last year had misled the tribunal by saying through a written response that it was not dumping municipal waste at Zalwan. In my counter response submitted through my counsels Advocates Rahul Chowdhary and Saurabh Sharma, I apprised the NGT that Municipal Council Bandipora was “lying”. I produced photographic evidence and videos plus written statements of the locals. A local social activist from Bandipora Mushtaq Ahmad Mir had also made a video at the Zalwan dumping site refuting the claims of Municipal Council Bandipora. That video went viral on social media.

The State Pollution Control Board (now called PCC) vide its Order Number : 45- PCB of 2021 Dated: 9.02.2021 directed the Executive Officer Municipal Council Bandipora to deposit a sum of Rs 64,12000 into Environmental Compensation Fund (ECF) account. This account number 0023040510000001 is operated by J&K Pollution Control Board now known as J&K Pollution Control Committee (PCC)

Order not in public domain?

It is heartening to see the order issued by the Pollution Control Committee (PCC), but I am unable to understand why this order was not put into public domain for almost three months. The PCC had given 45 days to MC Bandipora to deposit the compensation money into the Environmental Compensation Fund (ECF) but even after 2 months the concerned Executive Officer hasn’t deposited the money. The PCC earlier called PCB needs to take up the case with District Magistrate Bandipora who will do the necessary recovery under J&K Land Revenue Act as he is empowered to do so.

Targeting another wetland

After being slapped a penalty of more than Rs 64 lakhs by Pollution Control Board now called Pollution Control Committee (PCC), the Municipal Council Bandipora as per media sources has identified another shore of Wullar to dump its municipal waste. This is being done to show that municipal waste was no-more dumped at Zalwan. The news-report says that the new site at Nadihal village also happens to be a wetland area. I am yet to visit the area. According to news agency Kashmir News Observer (KNO), the Nadihal garbage dumping site is also part of Wullar catchment area and tons of garbage emitting foul smell has been dumped at the place causing a lot of inconvenience to the local population. Dozens of stray dogs are also seen at the site which is threatening the lives of young and old of the village.

Problem in Tarzoo Sopore

The Municipal Council Sopore also continues to violate the MSW Rules 2016 by dumping the municipal solid waste collected from Sopore town at Dharnambal in Tarzoo area. The land where this waste is being unscientifically dumped is a panchayat land which was encroached without the consent of the panchayat committee, the locals told this author when I visited the spot on 10th April this year. In addition, the authorities are now planning to encroach upon a huge chunk of forest land near the encroached Panchayat land where a permanent dumping site would be set up. Five village panchayats through a joint gram sabha held on April 10th 2021 Dharnambal Tarzoo Sopore passed a resolution against the unscientific waste dumping. The authorities were directed to stop the illegal practice. It seems there is no one to listen to these elected representatives. On the one side the Government claims that panchayat representatives are empowered to decide their developmental issues but when decisions are taken through a democratic process in a gram sabha it has no takers. The copy of the resolution has been sent to Deputy Commissioner Baramulla , Additional DC Sopore and Municipal Council Sopore around 2 weeks back , but Municipal Council Sopore continues to dump the waste at Dharnambal.

Last year, the MC Sopore was dumping its waste near Ninglee tourist huts which is part of Wullar catchment area. That illegal work was stopped after I brought the matter into notice of National Green Tribunal (NGT) and locals filed a PIL in J&K High Court through Advocate Shafqat Nazir, a noted environmental lawyer. The then Chief Justice JK High Court Geeta Mittla made a personal visit to the spot last year in October and the site was finally shut down. Unfortunately, the old garbage which contains even hazardous waste continues to be there which was earth filled in haste on the eve of Chief Justice’s visit.

Law enforcers turn violators

The job of municipal institutions is to ensure better sanitation and health of citizens in cities and towns. When legislations were enacted governing the environment and municipal solid waste, the municipal institutions were empowered to enforce and implement these rules and regulations. It is unfortunate that municipal institutions who are supposed to enforce laws like Solid Waste Management Rules (SWM Rules 2016) , Biomedical Rules and Plastic Waste Management Rules are violating them themselves. Wetlands like Wullar are under threat from the Municipal Council of Bandipora,Sopore and Hajin. There are three wetlands in Jammu & Kashmir and one in Ladakh which have been declared as Ramsar Sites. Wullar, which is one among them, was declared as a Ramsar site almost 30 years back. Sunisar Mansar in Jammu and Tsomoriri lake in Ladakh are also designated Ramsar sites. A Ramsar site is a wetland area designated to be of international importance under the Ramsar Convention. In Spite of such a great international importance of these wetlands , authorities at the helm are leaving no stone unturned to destroy these instead of looking after its conservation. Wullar lake is a live example as this wetland is dying a silent death due to constant dumping of Municipal Solid Waste (MSW) from its East , West and Southern areas. The dumping of this municipal waste has been institutionalized by authorities as Municipal garbage dump sites have been created within the wetland area. Locals are resisting but authorities are least bothered to listen to their woes.

Conclusion

The Wetland Conservation and Management Rules 2017 has listed out activities prohibited within notified wetlands. Wullar is not only a notified wetland but a wetland of international repute (Ramsar site) which is under serious threat. Under wetland conservation rules setting up of any industry and expansion of existing industries, manufacture or handling or storage or disposal of construction and demolition waste, solid waste dumping, discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries is completely prohibited. How can District Administration Bandipora or Baramulla give permission for setting up a garbage dump site around the wetlands ? The penalty money of Rs 64,12000 is also not recovered from MC Bandipora. If the penalty money is recovered, it will send a signal to other municipal institutions who will be forced to manage the municipal solid waste (MSW)on scientific lines as guaranteed under MSW Rules 2016.


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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Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat

Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and Chairman Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. Feedback [email protected]

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