Grabbing Land to Set up Illegal Garbage Dump Sites 

Dump site near Forest land Ninglee Sopore

ULB’s continue to violate MSW Rules in J&K 

ON 10th April 2021, four village panchayats in Baramulla district adopted a joint resolution by invoking section 5 of the Forest Rights Act 2006 (FRA) which empowers the Gram Sabha to protect the wildlife, forest, and biodiversity of the village. The section 5 of FRA also ensures that adjoining catchment areas in the village , its water sources, and other ecologically sensitive areas are adequately protected. Through the resolution, the village panchayats of Tarzoo A , B & C and Dharnambal impressed upon the Government  especially Deputy Commissioner Baramulla and Municipal Council, Sopore, to stop unscientific garbage disposal in Ninglee Tarzoo area which was a severe threat to the environment and biodiversity in their area. The illegal garbage dumping site was not only causing a threat to the environment but the land that is being used to dump municipal solid waste belongs to forest department and local panchayat for which Urban Local Body i.e Municipal Council Sopore had not obtained any permission.

Background  

For 10 years, the Municipal Council of Sopore in North Kashmir has been on the lookout for space for a landfill, but without success. Earlier, waste was either dumped by the roadside or near water bodies in town. Sopore town residents and traders protested the unscientific waste management but the municipal institution has not been able to do anything.

The main reason is the lack of scientific knowledge among the officials of Urban Local Bodies (ULBs), plus the unavailability of financial resources. The municipal institutions in Jammu and Kashmir, particularly in small towns, are controlled by the Directorate of Urban Local Bodies in Kashmir and Jammu. These two directorates are dependent on the Housing and Urban Development Department (HUDD) in the Civil Secretariat. The unscientific waste disposal is not only causing problems in Srinagar or Jammu cities but it is a challenge for the people living in small and large towns as well like Baramulla , Sopore , Anantnag , Kulgam , Magam ,  Udhampur , Kathua, Poonch , Ramban and many other towns.

During the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, trucks of the Sopore Municipal Council carrying solid waste collected from the town started illegally unloading them near the Wular wetland area in Tarzoo village. The area also falls under the Ninglee forest range. The district administration of Baramulla had given permission to municipal council Sopore to dump waste near the Wular wetland area. The district administration Baramulla was under tremendous pressure from residents of Sopore town as the municipal waste for many years was lying scattered on road sides and open plots. All the Urban Local Bodies (ULB’s) across J&K never ever ensured to treat the municipal waste as per MSW Rules 2016 but instead relocated the waste. Same is the case with Sopore Municipal Council. They chose a wetland to dump its waste unscientifically violating MSW Rules, 2016. There is  not a single scientific landfill site across J&K so waste is dumped unscientifically in every town.

Undue advantage of COVID Lockdown 

The Wular lake is a UNESCO Ramsar site in Jammu and Kashmir and one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia with an average size between 30 to 260 square kilometers, depending on the season. The residents of Tarzoo, a huge village consisting of 5 panchayats, protested the municipal waste being dumped around their village but soon there was a national lockdown from March 21st 2020.The municipal council of Sopore took advantage of the lockdown and kept dumping its waste near the wetland. This was being done in clear violation of MSW Rules 2016, Wetland Conservation and Management Rules 2017, Water Pollution Act 1974 and other environmental laws. After a few months, residents under the Central Auqaf Committee again started their campaign. This author has been writing about the issue for more than a year. One of my articles published in June 2020 was treated as a complaint by the National Green Tribunal (NGT). On 10 July 2020, the NGT Principal Bench headed by Justice AK Goel issued notices to the District Magistrate Baramulla, State Wetlands Authority (SWA), and Jammu and Kashmir Pollution Control Board.

Chief Justice Visits Tarzoo 

The residents of Tarzoo village through their Central Auqaf Committee also moved to the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir. It took a strong note of the case. Then Chief Justice Geeta Mittal visited the spot last in October 2020 and ordered that site be immediately closed. It was a historic visit as in the past a Chief Justice had never visited Tarzoo village. The waste already dumped there was buried under the soil which was transported in trucks just before her visit. The Division Bench of the High Court directed the constitution of a committee at the district level to identify an alternate location for waste treatment along scientific lines. After Chief Justice Geeta Mittal retired, the district administration and municipal officers identified another site in the same village to dump waste. Unfortunately the site happens to be forest land and a wetland catchment area. Some land (4 kanals) belong to the local Panchayat. For the last 6 months, the municipal waste has been dumped in the encroached area. Forest department hasn’t given any No-Objection Certificate (NoC). The residents and their panchayat representatives are resisting this, but nobody is respecting their representations and resolutions.

Environment & Gram Sabha 

According to section 5 of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) , the Gram Sabha is entrusted with protecting wildlife, forests, the environment, and the ecology of villages. The gram sabha of 4 panchayats passed a resolution asking the Municipal Council Sopore to stop the illegal and unscientific waste dumping in the area in April and till date the district administration and MC Sopore hasn’t respected the order. The resolution was signed by four Sarpanches and the Central Auqaf Committee of Tarzoo. The resolution of gram sabha is binding on the government, but it seems the same has no takers.

Violation of Biodiversity Act, 2002 

The Biodiversity Act, 2002 was enacted to realise the objectives enshrined in the 1992 United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). This convention recognises the sovereign rights of states to use their biological resources. There are several committees constituted at the national, state, and local levels under the Biodiversity Act, 2002.

The wetlands of the Wular lake attract a variety of bird and animal species. This is where the municipal council Sopore with the support of district administration Baramulla  is dumping municipal solid  waste.

At the village level, section 41 of the Biodiversity Act provides for the constitution of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMC). The BMC has to prepare a peoples’ biodiversity register and has powers to ensure conservation and eco-restoration of biological resources.

Therefore, it can resist the way waste is being dumped unscientifically in the Tarzoo area, as it violates village-level biodiversity. The waste is being dumped on grazing land for local cattle and sheep, where hundreds of species of birds, including migratory birds that visit the area from October to March every year, come to rest.

The municipal council Sopore is violating the Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2016 and threatening the habitat of wildlife and biodiversity. How can garbage be dumped on forest land? The Government could have established a biodiversity park in the area instead.

Penalty of Rs 1.30 crores 

The Municipal Council Sopore has no awareness about biomedical  hazardous waste. The Ninglee dump site is used to dump biomedical and hazardous waste as well. The area in which the government has set up a new garbage dumpsite is part of the Wular wetland area and happens to be a forest land as well. The lake is a mere half km from the site. Wetland includes the lake and its marshes, rivers, lakes, deltas, floodplains and flooded forests, rice fields, coral reefs, marine areas no deeper than six metres at low tide, as well as human-made wetlands such as waste-water treatment ponds and reservoirs.

The State Pollution Control Board now called J&K Pollution Control Committee (PCC) vide its order no 36 -PCB of 2020 dated : 24.11.2020 directed the Executive Officer MC Sopore to deposit an amount of Rs 1.30 crores as environmental compensation. The amount hasn’t been realized till date by PCC due to reasons best known to them.

Some months back Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha, while interacting with District Magistrates from Kashmir valley, directed them to ensure the Forest Rights Act (FRA) is properly implemented. The joint Gram Sabha of four panchayats in Tarzoo, Baramulla, has passed a resolution to stop illegal garbage dumping in their area, but the DC Baramulla hasn’t acted over it in spite of 5 months.

A garbage dump site being built on an eco-sensitive area—that too against the wishes of four village panchayats—makes it clear that the administration has gone out of control in Jammu and KashmirThe Municipal Committee  Magam was  dumping municipal solid waste into the Ferozpur river for the last many years and from the last few months they are now carrying the waste to a nearby village namely Sanoor Kalipora. The villagers of Sanoor Kalipora and adjoining areas passed a resolution urging J&K Pollution Control Committee (PCC) to stop this illegal practice but till date nothing has been done. The municipal committee of Magam is now using police force to ensure people don’t stop municipal vehicles from dumping the waste in the village. The Ganderbal Municipal Committee is using Beehama wetland to dump its municipal waste. The Kulgam Municipal Committee is dumping waste near the banks of Vishaw river and the Municipal Committee Budgam is dumping the waste near Mamath Kul. Ironically, the waste from towns is now carried to rural areas and the resolution of the village assemblies (gram sabhas) is also not respected. Forest department has woken up from deep slumber by dismantling the spun pipes laid near the garbage dump site by MC Sopore. There will be no end to this tussle unless ULB’s don’t treat municipal waste as per MSW Rules 2016. Hope Govt wakes up soon.


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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