Friday, January 18, 2019
facebook
Jammu Kashmir » Community

Posted at: Dec 15, 2015, 12:38 AM; last updated: Dec 14, 2015, 11:22 PM (IST)

Rivers up for grabs, govt remains insensitive

No major policy change to save water bodies in the state since devastating floods last year

Sorry state of affairs

  • Despite the Water Resources Regulation Act providing executive powers to the authorities to act against the offenders, not much has been done to stop illegal construction along rivers
  • The state with some of the longest rivers in the Indian subcontinent — Indus in Ladakh, Jhelum in Kashmir and Chenab and Tawi in Jammu — are being destroyed by pollution and land grabbers with the patronage of politicians
  • Land along the Jhelum, Tawi and the Chenab is being systematicallytaken over to establish housing colonies and other urban infrastructure, which has almost choked them
Rivers up for grabs, govt remains insensitive
The banks of the 165-km Jhelum, also called Vitasta, have been taken over in recent decades, which has vastly reduced the river’s drainage capacity, leaving little space for water to move Tribune Photo: Amin War

Sumit Hakhoo

Tribune News Service

Jammu, December 14

More than a year has passed since the devastating floods in September 2014 ravaged Jammu and Kashmir, but the state government seems to have forgotten its promise to rein in unabated encroachment along rivers and other water bodies. This was a major reason for destruction which cost the state billions in infrastructure and around 300 precious lives.

Despite the Water Resources Regulation Act providing executive powers to the authorities to act against the offenders, not much has been done to stop illegal construction. Rivers have been turned into a junkyard, illegal structures have been constructed and untreated sewage is directly disposed of in water bodies along their course.

The state with some of the longest rivers in the Indian subcontinent — Indus in the Ladakh region, Jhelum in the Kashmir valley and Chenab and Tawi in the Jammu region — are being destroyed by pollution and land grabbers with active patronage of the politician-land mafia nexus during the past two decades. The worst scenario is faced by the Jhelum and Tawi, which snake through two capital cities of Jammu and Srinagar and are on the verge of collapse.

The unprecedented devastation after the swollen rivers breached their banks, destroying thousands of homes and leaving a trail of destruction, did not bring any major policy shift within the government to stop organised destruction of water bodies despite warnings from environmentalists that Jammu and Kashmir might face the worst natural calamity in coming years if proper course correction of policies was not done.

Land along the Jhelum in the Kashmir valley and the Tawi and Chenab in the Jammu region is being systematically taken over to establish housing colonies and other urban infrastructure, which has almost choked them.

The same has happened on the banks of the mighty Chenab, which flows through Akhnoor, 25 km from Jammu, before entering Pakistan as villagers have taken over flood-prone land for agricultural purposes. This fact was accepted by the Centre for Science and Environment, which attributed the floods to a combination of unexpected weather pattern and unplanned urbanisation, leaving Jammu and Kashmir in ruins in which it was now.

The sudden rise of water in the Jhelum, which criss-crosses the Kashmir valley, had caught the civic administration napping, inundated the beautiful ancient city and made a dent on the credibility of government departments. Similarly, flash floods in Jammu and border towns of Poonch and Rajouri wreaked havoc on public and private property.

Plight of Tawi

The destruction of residential structures along the Tawi, Chenab and Ujj in the Jammu region was revenge of nature against inaction of successive state governments which turned blind eye towards illegal construction since 1990, when Jammu saw massive influx of people from militancy hit districts.

The city saw expansion from 32 sq km in 1990 to 117 sq km in 2014, which mainly included land along the Tawi and seasonal rivulets on the outskirts. A walk along the riverbed is all the evidence one needs to know the state of the river, which has its origins in the Himalayas near Seoj Dhar peak, Bhaderwah, Doda district.

The mushrooming of illegal colonies stared from Nagrota, Sidhra, Panjthirthi, Circular Road, Gujjar Nagar, Jogi Gate, Bhagwati Nagar and Beli Charana down to several villages till the river moves into Pakistan. The active patronage of politicians and corrupt civic officials of the Jammu Municipal Corporation, Jammu Development Authority and Housing Board has ensured that the land mafia violates the river with impunity considered sacred by Dogras.

It is a depressing fact that as so far only 1,721 kanals has been recovered from occupiers while thousands is still under illegal possession. Land along the fourth bridge on the Tawi, a portion of which got washed away, had become a haven for unauthorised colonisers. In past few years, houses and shopping complexes have come up on the river bank.

“We have approached the district administration and ministers to tackle the issue of encroachment, but so far, not much has been done. The illegal construction is still going on and people from other districts of the state are being settled along the river,” said Ashwani Sharma, president, Tawi Bachao Andolan.

In 2011, major rain had damaged the Circular Road after landslides destroyed several stretches. At that time, the administration had announced that it would take preventive steps in the area and come down heavily on unauthorised houses, but it remained a political rhetoric.

Agony of Jhelum

Srinagar, named after Hindu goddess Lakshmi, once known for its lakes and marshes, has now turned into a concrete jungle, making it vulnerable to floods, a fact admitted by the state government admitted after the September 2014 floods.

Encroachment started in the late 1960s when new colonies were established on fertile agricultural fields and marshes which came to be known as Shivpora, Indira Nagar, Sanat Nagar and Rawalpora, which got inundated in the floods last year.

The construction of illegal structures, including residential houses, continues on the banks of the river near Khanabal bridge in Anantnag, Bijbehara, Sangam, Kakpora, Samboora and Padhgampura and Pantha chowk and towards Srinagar till it merges with Wullar Lake in Bandipora district.

“The banks of the 165-km Jhelum, also called Vitasta, have been taken over in recent decades, which has vastly reduced the river’s drainage capacity, leaving little space for water to move,” said Bushan Parimoo, an environmentalist.

Since 1947, 50 per cent of water bodies within the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir have been converted into residential and commercial places. In the last two decades, militancy weakened the hold of the civil administration, allowing grabbers to convert large chunks into commercial and residential areas.

However, Minister for Irrigation and Flood Control, Choudhary Sukhnandan Kumar said the fight against encroachment was a long battle. “Decades of neglect and greed cannot be corrected in one year. We have a long-term flood management plan which will be implemented in phases. We had sought Rs 400 crore to make a spill channel to divert the Jhelum waters. Funds from regular plans are being used for protection work in Jammu,” he said.

COMMENTS

All readers are invited to post comments responsibly. Any messages with foul language or inciting hatred will be deleted. Comments with all capital letters will also be deleted. Readers are encouraged to flag the comments they feel are inappropriate.
The views expressed in the Comments section are of the individuals writing the post. The Tribune does not endorse or support the views in these posts in any manner.
Share On