In and around Srinagar, some 22 wetlands have been converted into residential colonies during the last 50 years, the Assembly’s Committee on Environment noted in a report tabled during the budget session. “It is the cause of concern for all that about 22 wetlands have so far been converted into residential colonies in and around the Srinagar city during the last 50 years,” the report said.
The committee, chaired by CPM MLA Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, recommended that the government prioritise de-siltation of Srinagar water-bodies besides Wullar Lake, which serves as a outlet in the eventuality of a flood in Srinagar. During the floods of 2014, “it is a fact that the Wullar Lake did not allow the water to enter… because of the massive siltation in it,” it said.
The committee recommended that the Flood and Irrigation Department restore the storage capacity of these wetlands, besides removing encroachments. It noted “that the dredging and de-silting presently being done would not yield any results till the encroachment problem is not addressed”. It suggested that since the Centre is keen to fund projects under the Indus Water Treaty, the state government should “rise to the occasion and submit its storage projects in Jhelum basin and in other basins”.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Tarigami said, “Our water-bodies have been severely encroached upon and pollution is unchecked. The committee has been studying environmental concerns of the Valley for about eight months and I feel like they have not been prioritised by successive governments.”
He noted that major tourist destinations such as Pahalgam, Karta and Gulmarg struggle with waste management. Tarigami said more than funds, it is a “lack of political will” that places this fragile ecology in danger.
“Dal Lake is the face of the Kashmir Valley. It is part of the Kashmiri identity and it is greatly damaged. The lake is dying and it will impact the city as well,” the legislator said.
The report quotes an expert that the committee consulted as stating that the “the concerned department was fully aware about the likelihood of occurrence of flood in 2014 or 2015 as reflected from the reports prepared by the department [Irrigation and Flood Control] from 2005 to 2010. The documents collected through RTI Act and has been made part of the Public Interest Litigation (PIL) No 08 of 2017 filed in the High Court”.
The report said the department “had also pointed out that it had spent crores and crores of rupees just to protect the encroachments but did not dredge out the Flood Spill Channel area which was worst hit by the floods of 2014”.
The largest wetland in the state, Hokersar, is yet to recover from the environmental impacts of the floods of 2014, which raised its bed by approximately two feet due to accumulation of silt. Tarigami raised concerns over the “sustenance and survival” of this ecology, saying unchecked construction and pollution are being ignored by authorities.
J&K has 3,600 water-bodies and wetlands and environmental experts suggest most are shrinking or hit by encroachment. “All of southern Srinagar has come up on what was initially a marsh. Development started there in the 1960s and since then all major wetlands have been encroached upon,” environmentalist Shakil Romshoo said. Romshoo said Wullar Lake primarily served as a natural reservoir for flood water storage. “However, one of the biggest reasons for the floods of 2014 was that the Wular pushed back the overflowing water of Jhelum due to massive sedimentation,” he said.
Romshoo said wetlands are being treated as wastelands and used for construction whenever land is needed. “Nature has created a lot many wetlands on the left and right of Jhelum which over time have converted to paddy lands or colonies,” he said.