Mission Wular Conservation

  • Athar Parvaiz
  • Publish Date: Aug 30 2017 9:30PM
  • |
  • Updated Date: Aug 30 2017 9:30PM
Mission Wular Conservation

                                                        Photo: Kashmir Ink

Engineers at Irrigation and Flood Control (IFC) department are working on a massive conservation project which can conserve the Wular Lake “for all times to come” 

 

All the people in Kashmir remember the September 2014 floods as Mother Nature’s fury, but some diligent engineers at Irrigation and Flood Control (IFC) department say that it was a gift from almighty, from an ecological perspective.

That flood, the engineers say, helped them in devising a project for the “ultimate conservation” of one of Kashmir’s greatest environmental assets – the Wular Lake. 

Overlooked by magnificent mountains, Wullar Lake is regarded as one of the largest freshwater lakes in Asia and the largest flood basin of Kashmir in the northern Bandipora district.   

Engineers at (IFC) department say that they are in the process of pulling off an engineering solution which can conserve Wular Lake “for all times to come.” 

The IFC department is working on a massive Wular Conservation project. The project, according to the engineers who are in charge of implementing it,will usher in a long list of benefits ranging from increase in lake’s size, eco-tourism, sustainable irrigation,easy navigation and great fish and fodder production apart from improving the quality of marshy lands surrounding the lake.  

“This is a step towards the ultimate conservation of the Wular Lake,” said one of the engineers who shared details of the project on the condition of anonymity. 

In October, the lake gets reduced to some 24 Sq km, the engineer said. “This will totally change after the project is completed. We are going to maintain the water level throughout the year in the entire area of the lake.” According to revenue records, which have guided the recent demarcation of Wular Lake, the total area of the lake is 130 sq km. 

In a detailed study of the lake, Wetlands International says that the original area of Wular Lake was 217.8 sq km, which included 58 sq km of associated marshes. As per the study, the area was reduced from 157.74 sq. km to 86.71 sq km during 1911 to 2007. Overall, the study says, there was reduction in the lake area by 45% mainly due to conversion of parts of the lake for agriculture and willow tree plantation. 

 

What will happen with the project? 

“People will forget about Holland and New Zealand once this project is complete,” the engineer said and added that if people in Kashmir come to know about the benefits of this project, they will not let the government sleep till this project is fully implemented.   

The initial work of the project, he said, was funded by the Jammu &Kashmir government through an 80 crore project. But he said that the major part of the project, which would run into thousands of crores, is yet to be executed. 

IFC, according to the engineer, had already completed a lot of work at Nengli-Sopore where Jhelum emerges from Wular Lake before meandering through the plains and mountains of Baramulla district and entering into Pakistan. The work, he said, includes the construction of a 1.5 km long and 36 feet wide (seven-meter at the top) bund and a 112m long iron bridge like structure which were constructed from year 2011 to 2014 when the devastating flood struck. 

“For us, that (2014 flood) was a nature’s gift. It was a real blessing in disguise because we had designed the project on one-in-25-years [benchmark of] floods. But the 2014 flood forced us to design the project afresh,” the engineer said. “So, we are now carrying out extensive soil tests before finalising the DPR for creating the additional infrastructure in light of the lessons we learnt from 2014 floods.” 

He said that Wular Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA) is also doing the conservation work, “but that is just like giving the first-aid to a patient who has got badly injured and fractured.” WUCMA has demarcated the boundaries of the lake and is removing willow trees from it besides removing the slit.  

Irfan Rasool, a forest conservator who overseesWUCMA’s conservation project, said that they have already finished the first phase of the project and the second phase will start soon.

The second phase of the conservation work, Rasool said, involves a 400 crore project which will be started in September this year. According to him, more than two million willow trees, which had been planted in the Lake through a government policy in 1970s for energy and industrial needs, will be removed (34,000 willow trees have been removed during the first phase) apart from de-silting 5 sq km of the lake area and creating embankments on 34 km periphery of the lake. The willow plantation had led to fragmentation of overall wetland regimes, rapid siltation, water quality deterioration and social conflicts, says the Wetland International report. 

 

Indus Water Treaty  

The IFC officials believe that their project falls within the norms of the Indus Water Treaty (IWT).  “Our project is a conservation project and a completely treaty-complaint project. We are not going to raise the water level. We will just maintain the water level,” the IFC official said adding that it is a “conservational and recreational project.”  

“Conservation part is under Article I and Article III of the Indus Water Treaty. It is permissive.You can use a water body for recreational purpose, flood storage, drinking, irrigation, aquatic life and navigation. All this is permissible under Article 1st and 3rdof the treaty.” 

The project, he said, is not violating the treaty because it comes under the non-consumptive category. 

But, the chief engineer of Irrigation and Flood Control, Imtiyaz Ahmad Dhar, refused to comment on the project saying “we are not doing anything.” 

A year after the project was started, unidentified gunmen on August 27, 2012 attacked the pillars raised for embankment and thrashed the labourers who were camping near the project site during evening hours and asked them to demolish the pillars. But the project work still went on after a CRPF camp was established at the project site for securing the project and the workers.  

Interestingly, a three-member delegation of Pakistan’s Indus Water Commission, which had  visited Kashmir in May 2013 for inspecting the water levels in River Jhelum and the status of Tulbul Navigation project, had not been taken to the project site of IFC. The Wular Conservation project of IFC is hardly one and a half kilometre upstream from the Tulbul Navigation Project. 

A former Engineer, who was among the hosts, said on the condition of anonymity that the team was not shown the work carried out by IFC at Ningli at the mouth of Wular. “We showed them several things, but not our project,” said the former engineer. 

“Even if we say that we are just raising the infrastructure to maintain Wular’s water level, they would have certainly challenged our work given the history of our disputes over water and the political disputes as also the suspicions about the Tulbul Navigation Lock,” he said. “They had the impression that we are doing something about the Tulbul Navigation Project which is more than a kilometre downstream the Wular conservation project.”  

India and Pakistan have long been embroiled in diplomatic face-offs over Kashmir and have fought three wars, but have so far managed to uphold the 1960 water treaty known as the Indus Water Treaty (IWT) which provides mechanisms for resolving disputes over water-sharing.

Under the treaty, Pakistan has got rights over waters of Indus and its westward flowing tributaries, the Jhelum and Chenab, while the eastern rivers (Ravi, Beas and Sutlej) were allocated for India’s use. India believes that it has not utilized the potential of Indus basin for hydro-power and irrigation schemes despite the norms under IWT allowing it so.

 

Would it trump Tulbul Navigation Project? 

When relations between India and Pakistan touched a new low last year following militant attacks on security forces in Kashmir and fire-exchanges at Line of Control (LoC), Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, said that “blood and water cannot flow together”, a veiled threat to downstream Pakistan which India accuses of sponsoring terrorism in Kashmir – Pakistan denies this accusation.  

Ever since, New Delhi has made frantic efforts to put hydro power and irrigation schemes in Jammu & Kashmir on fast-track. Official sources in Jammu & Kashmir Power Development Corporation (JKPDC) said that they have received inquiries from the central authorities about Tulbul Navigation Lock (project) as well in recent months and efforts are being made to revive the project abandoned earlier. 

“But, during recent meetings we have told the central authorities that the essence of Tulbul Navigation Project is gone as Irrigation and Flood Control department of Kashmir has already started a conservation project,” an official of JKPDC said on the condition of anonymity.

“In fact, I told the central authorities that the IFC department has already carried out a lot of work. So, there is no relevance of the earlier Tulbul Navigation project which is some 1.5 kilometres downstream of the current project of the IFC,” the JKPDC official said. But he added that a final decision on abandoning the Tulbul Navigation Project formally is yet to be done. “The Inland Waterways Authority of India is already in touch with the IFC for making the detailed project report,” he said.  

India had started construction at Tulbul navigation project in 1980s and had envisaged controlled release of water from the lake so that it maintains water level in Wular during the lean months from October to February for easy navigation and tourism contending that IWT has such provisions for the non-consumptive use. India also contends that the project is in Pakistan’s interest as well. But, Pakistan contests it by saying that the storage and controlling of water by India has serious implications for Pakistan. The two countries have held several rounds of talks over the issue since 1990s, but have never arrived at a consensus.