God save the Wullar

 

The Wullar lake which used to be referred as the Asia’s largest fresh water lake in yester years but now a days this does not seem to hold true with unabated encroachment going on right under  the nose of Wullar-Mansbal Development Authority (WMDA) and the state forest department which are supposed to help in the conservation of the lake.

While travelling along the banks of Wullar Lake from Watlab, Sopore, towards Garoora- Sadorkoot, Bandipora one is able to see the deplorable condition of the lake. At places the lake has been filled for it to be used for agricultural purposes, while at other places after the willow trees have been planted houses are being constructed and there seems to be no one who will stop these activities.

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After Wullar-Mansbal Development Authority (WMDA) was constituted a positive vibe was generated among the stakeholders and environmentalists regarding the preservation and conservation of the lake. Since then a lot of money has been spent but the ground situation has not changed much, only the number of houses on the banks has increased and the size of the lake has considerably reduced.

In 2011 while replying to a question by MY Taing in the Legislative Council the Minister for Forests, Environment and Wildlife Mian Altaf Ahmed had said in the State Assembly that Rs 120 crore has been sanctioned by the Central government under the 13th Finance Commission for the conservation of the water body in Bandipora district and A Wullar Lake Development Authority will be constituted for taking comprehensive measures for its preservation.

Further the Minister had said the decision regarding eviction and re-settlement of dwellers around the lake will be taken on the completion of this exercise, adding, sewerage treatment plants are proposed to be established in the peripheral towns of the lake and sanitation units are proposed to be given to the population living in the vicinity of the lake

In a recent newspaper report the Additional Divisional Commission Bandipora Tariq Ahmad while denying there is any encroachment in Wullar basement area had said, “The Wullar Lake in now monitored by Wullar Development Authority. They are on demarcation job. If they report the matter we will take the action.”

In another newspaper report the Chief Executive Officer, Nazir Ahmed, of Wullar-Mansbal Development Authority was quoted as saying, “As far as conservation and action against encroachments are concerned it comes under the domain of forest department, our role has been reduced to just develop tourist infrastructure like parks and huts”.

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These conflicting comments by the top bureaucrats of the government give rise to serious questions regarding the functioning and collaboration of the different governmental departments. If the people who are supposed to work together towards the conversation and restoration of the Wullar have no idea what is going on or who is supposed to do what then who will take it upon themselves.

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Government of J&K had engaged renowned international agency named Wetland International to chalk out the strategy for the conservation of the Wullar Lake. The Wetland International- South Asia submitted its final report to the government of J&K in June 2007. The report had recommended the establishment of Wullar Development Authoruty but even after almost six years the government is yet to establish it. Wullar-Manasbal Development Authority (WMDA), which was constituted in 1996 to look after two lakes: Wullar and Manasbal. The experts are of the opinion that WMDA did some appreciable work in restoring Manasbal lake but could not do much in case of Wullar.

The report had also asked for the relocation of the bank dwellers so that further deterioration of the lake can be stopped and its restoration speeded up. On contrary the construction of new houses along the banks is going on unabated which raises serious questions regarding the functioning of the WMDA and the forest department. Just below the Wullar Vantage Park at Garoora constructions of new houses is going on with full speed and there is no one to stop these constructions.

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The central government has also given hints that it is not satisfied with the work of the state government with regards to the restoration and conservation of the Wullar Lake. Dr T Chatterjee the  Union Secretary for Environment and Ecology had come to Kashmir in October 2012 to take first-hand account of the progress of different Centrally funded Schemes including the Rs. 386 crore Action Plan for Wullar Construction and Management Projection. After visiting the Wullar lake the Minister expressed his displeasure with the progress of work.

It has been more than three months since the Minister’s visit but nothing seems to have changed on the ground. The Centre is showing great concern regarding the deteriorating condition of the Wullar lake, which is at the centre stage of the India’s foreign policy towards Pakistan, but the State government seems to be in a deep slumber and the bureaucracy only seem to be good in devising ways of skimming off their shares from these centrally funded schemes. With such being the affairs of the state how can we expect them to be bothered about saving the Wullar, we can only cry God save the Wullar!

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