Monthly Archives: April 2017

Skewed all along

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Skewed Bridge being skipped!

The earlier much-hyped skewed bridge has been again in the news in GK since last few days. One heading reads that “Govt. brings the twist in ‘skewed bridge plan” stating that after spending Rs. 8 crores on its construction, the J&K government has converted the much-hyped skewed bridge over Jhelum at Rajbagh into a pedestrian bridge under “political consideration.” It is reported that the government had defended its construction in a PIL stating that it would reduce traffic congestion in the city.” Besides, it is stated that “the decision to shelve its construction and convert it into a pedestrian bridge seems fishy” adding that the government has so far spent Rs. 8 crores on erecting its piers and other construction activities besides, it is painful to see public money going down the drain for unknown reasons. The executing agency of the project has reportedly stated that “another bridge will be constructed in the vicinity.”However, it has been reported that the construction of another bridge within few meters from the skewed bridge raises concerns over ill-planning and “bankruptcy of ideas.”Besides, the work is reported to have already started erecting piers for the bridge near a known flood outlet running parallel to Abdullah bridge and passes over J&K Emporium garden opposite Tourist Reception Centre. This bridge is reported to get completed in next two to three years. It is further reported that the officials and civil society members are slamming the government for “mindless” developmental activities at Rajbagh, which could be fatal in times of floods. The conversion of the skewed vehicular bridge to footbridge is reported to incur the loss of crores of rupees to Govt. exchequer.

The skewed bridge has generated lot of controversies for the last few years due to its design. Its target date of completion i.e. December 2014 was rescheduled to June 2017 due to the deluge of September 2014. The cost of construction of the bridge has been estimated to Rs. 12.37 crores and it was projected to reduce the traffic hassle in Srinagar, as currently, the Rajbagh area which is connected to the city centre by Abdullah bridge gets huge traffic. However, some experts had cautioned that the bridge foundation and piers may block water flow in the river. Besides, in spite of the controversies that raged over the proposal of the bridge due to its skewed design, the government announced its construction. It triggered a debate over its developmental benefits and environmental impact on river Jhelum.

Presently concern has been expressed as:

The state government’s decision to construct another bridge adjacent to Abdullah bridge over river Jhelum at Rajbagh would “increase flood threat” in Srinagar and could prove an environmental disaster as the piers and foundations of the new bridge shall act as the barrier in the water flow and can cause massive damage during floods. It was this very site in Rajbagh that was worst hit in September-14 floods. Hence the government must stop its construction as it would enhance flood threat over Rajbagh and other low-lying areas during high water discharge in river Jhelum.

The controversy on the construction of a bridge over river Jhelum in the vicinity has been raising its head since the eighties when the first ever proposal of the then just started convent bridge was got shelved under stiff opposition by the Institution of Engineers led by late Er. S.D.Drabu and the alignment was later shifted to the present Abdullah bridge. The negative points expressed that time were still valid when the skewed bridge was proposed and was again opposed by the engineers as borne out in GK dated November 02,2012 under the heading: “Skewed bridge construction is Dracula’s return from the grave” and GK September 16, 2012 “Engineers criticize skewed bridge, proposed Jehangir Chowk-Ram Bagh flyover” and GK November 15, 2012 “Omar supports skewed bridge”; when the technical opinion was over-ruled by a non-technical Minister.

It is an unhealthy trend in our state that every project gets politicized with the change of guard. Technical opinion from the experts is either being ignored, overruled or not sought for.

Some examples:

  • Inland water transport on river Jhelum (Project Report framed by M/S Rites at a cost of Rs. 25 Lakhs). The experts of international repute recommended the project for implementation being most viable and to be extended later on, on the upstream and downstream of the Srinagar city and other water bodies like Dal lake, Mansbal lake, and Wullar lake. Only green sign-boards were fixed on the de-boarding ghats with a few tiny boats unaffordable by the common passengers as against 50 seated vessel designed by Vishakhapatnam shipping company to serve as an alternative mode of transport to reduce the mounting traffic congestion and frequent traffic jams.
  • Mechanized Compost Plant for Solid Waste Disposal of Srinagar City (only land-fill of Achan wetland was resorted to.) Besides losing a precious wetland it has been a cause of obnoxious stench in the city and neighboring SKIMS hospital.
  • Low-cost sanitation scheme for Srinagar city with UNICEF assistance handed over to SMC- the results are untraceable. This project was aimed at reducing the direct discharge of faecal matter into the open surface drains flowing into the water bodies like river Jhelum, Dal lake etc.
  • Chrar-i-Sharief Development Project started with  HUDCO loan of Rs. 25 crores, returnable after 15 years in easy installments. The project suffered as a non-technical  bureaucrat was put in-charge of the project and the work got stalled.

Again for every construction work on rivers and waterways, it is incumbent on the part of the concerned department/s to undertake the model studies to arrive at the best solutions. This needs to be given serious thought.

In other states/countries a sizable amount is spent for getting the best consultancy and the projects are implemented strictly according to the prescribed drawings and specifications without anyone’s interference. This results into the best end product.

Hence the public needs answers to the queries that appeared in the media like:

  • Why mindless developmental activities are taking place at Rajbagh which could be fatal in times of floods?
  • If the foundations of the skewed bridge were designed and laid for the catering of vehicular traffic, why was the plan shelved after spending a huge amount of money on it?
  • If the Govt. justified in the Hon. court of law the construction of skewed bridge for vehicular traffic, why was the plan reversed now?

The Government needs to come up with answers for the satisfaction of all concerned.Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili FIE Chairman IEI J&KSC

Water Bodies in Kashmir

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Half of the water bodies in and around Srinagar have disappeared over the last century under the pressure of rapid and badly managed urbanization

AMBIENT WATER QUALITY MONITORING DATA

Water Pollution

When toxic substances enter Lakes, streams, rivers and other water bodies they get dissolved or lie suspended in water or get deposited on the bed. This results in the pollution of water whereby the quality of water deteriorates affecting ecosystem. Pollutants can also seep down and affect the ground water. The city sewage and industrial waste are the major contribution to water pollution. Very less percentage of waste water generated is treated and the rest is discharged as it is in water bodies. Agricultural runoff or water from fields that drain into rivers is another major pollutant as it contains fertilizers and pesticides.

The water quality management in India is accomplished under the provision of Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act 1974. The basic objective of this Act is to maintain and restore the wholesomeness of natural aquatic resource by prevention and control of pollution.

In order to assess the nature and extent of pollution and measures needed to control it. Water Quality Monitoring is an important prerequisite: the objectives being:

  1. Evaluate Water Quality trend over a period of time.
  2. Assess assimilative capacity of water body thereby reducing cost on pollution control.
  3. Assess the fitness of water for different uses.
  4. Rational Planning of Pollution Control Strategies and their prioritization.
  5. Evaluate effectiveness of pollution control measures already in existence

National Water Monitoring Network (NWMP)

Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) Delhi in collaboration with Jammu & Kashmir State Pollution Control Board, Jammu has established water quality monitoring network at 27 stations covering 5 Districts of Jammu region. The network covers Six Rivers (Tawi, Chenab, Banganga, Basantar, Ujh, Devak at Udhampur and Utterbehni), Two Lakes (Mansar and Surinsar), Two Wells (Dug Well, Gaghwal and Tubewell at SICOP, Kathua) One Pond (Maladhar Talab Hatli, Kathua) and a Wetland (Gharana, R.S. Pura). Water Quality monitoring is done on the quarterly basis in surface water bodies while on Half yearly basis in ground water station. Water samples are being analyzed for 24 Physico-Chemical Parameters for water samples apart from Field Observation.

Field ObservationWeather, Approximate Depth of the mainstream, Color, Odor, Visible Effluent Discharge, Human activities around the station, Station Detail, Temperature, Dissolved Oxygen(DO).

Core Parameters: pH, Conductivity, Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), Nitrate-N, Nitrite-N.

General Parameters: Chemical Oxygen Demand(COD), Ammonia-N, Total Dissolved solids, Total Suspended solids, turbidity, Total Hardness, Fluoride, boron, Chloride, sulphate, Total alkalinity, Phenolphthalein alkalinity, Phosphate, Sodium, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium.

Water Bodies of Kashmir

The beautiful Kashmir Valley has over a thousand small and large water bodies, which are the bedrock of both its ecology and its economy. Unfortunately, over the last century, massive urbanization around these water bodies has led to pollution, siltation due to deforestation and overexploitation of the many streams and lakes. Many have shrunk to a fraction of their original size while some have all but disappeared.

According to the State Water Mission, water bodies in Kashmir are the worst victims of human interference and rapid urbanization. Massive erosion in the catchment area is resulting in these lakes becoming silted up, thereby converting water areas into landmasses.  Other water bodies have disappeared due to natural causes like glacial action and low precipitation. Some are on the verge of extinction.

More than 50% of water bodies in Srinagar and its suburbs have been lost during the past century, Humayun Rashid and Gowher Naseem of Srinagar’s Directorate of Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing have concluded in a study.

“During the past century, deforestation in the Jhelum basin led to excessive siltation in most of the lakes and water bodies of Srinagar and subsequent human greed brought about sustainable reclamation and land-use change in these assets of high ecological value,” the study said. More than 9,119 hectares of open water surface and wetland have disappeared between 1911 and 2014, while only 6,873 hectares were preserved.

Wetlands in the Kashmir Valley

The marshy and water body area of Dal Lake, a major tourist attraction in Srinagar, has shrunk from 2,547 hectares in 1971 to 1,620 hectares in 2008, estimated a paper titled Impact of Urban Land Transformation on Water Bodies. Although it has lost almost half of its water surface area in 40 years, it still looks like a water body. Adjoining lakes like Gilsar, Khushalsar and Aanchar have all but disappeared because the drainage system of the Dal which used to feed these small water bodies has been converted into landmass through heavy siltation.

Shakil Romshoo of Kashmir University’s Earth Sciences department has suggested that measures like de-siltation of water bodies and afforestation programmes in catchment areas of the Jhelum, Kashmir’s major river system, should start on a war-footing while construction should be totally banned in ecologically fragile areas.“If the indifference of successive governments and the greed of the society at large have led to the degradation of our water bodies, we at least have to think of measures to save them from further degradation before it is too late,” Romshoo said.

According to C.L.Trisal the studies carried out on the physicochemical characteristics of water and sediments, biological features and nutrient dynamics of Dal Lake by various investigators are reviewed. The results indicate that the direct discharge of sewage from houseboats, reduction of plant cover in the catchment area, interruptions to the flow of water, human encroachments, increase in population within the catchment area, etc, have resulted in the deterioration of water quality, prolific growth of aquatic macrophytes and siltation. Based on the data available some measures are proposed for the conservation of the lake’s ecosystem.

Economic fallout

Towns like Pahalgam, Sonamarg, Srinagar and Sopore – must-see places on the tourist map of the valley – owe their existence to water bodies. These include the Lidder River, the Hokarsar wetland, Dal Lake, Wullar Lake and the Manasbal Lake.  According to tourism department officials, over 10 lakh tourists visit these places annually and around three lakh people are directly and indirectly dependent on these tourist places for their livelihood.

The multimillion dollar handicrafts industry of Kashmir, which gives employment to over two lakh people, is also heavily dependent upon the arrival of tourists in the region. A study on the Impact of Tourism Industry on Economic Development of Jammu and Kashmir says that almost 50-60% of the total population of Jammu and Kashmir is directly or indirectly engaged in tourism-related activities. The industry contributes 15% to the state’s GDP.

Another big contribution of Kashmir’s water bodies to the state’s economy is the revenue generated through taxation of water usage for electricity generation by power development agencies like the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation.  According to Jammu and Kashmir’s Economic Survey of 2014, revenue of Rs 24.2 crore has been realized since 2010 on account of water usage charges on hydroelectric projects in the state.

It is estimated that over 1.5 lakh Kashmiris get direct and indirect employment from sand extraction and fishing. Figures available with the geology and mining department suggest that sand worth 15 crores is extracted each year from Kashmir’s water bodies, particularly from the Jhelum and its tributaries, through the organized sector. This does not take into account the fact that 40% of sand extraction – worth Rs 7.5 crore – is carried out illegally, an official said on condition of anonymity.

Fisheries is another big livelihood generation sector linked to the water bodies.  Masood Hussain Balkhi of Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology said that aquatic resources of Jammu and Kashmir form about 16% of the total area of inland aquatic resources of India. Fisheries are an Rs 5.5 crore industry in Kashmir and employ over 90,000 people both directly and indirectly.

His colleague, Farooq Ahmad Bhat, added that annual fish production of the region is 20,000 tonnes. Fish diversity and production in Kashmir have shown a sharp decline over the past few decades and some local fish species had even become endangered and threatened. The ramagurun (Botia birdi), for instance, which was once abundant, has now almost disappeared as has the algaad (Schzothorax niger), Bhat said, blaming encroachment, pollution, and siltation.

Table 1: Physio-Chemical Analysis of Dal Lake water at different locations for the year

2012 (Feb-July)

Parameters / Location Dalgate Nehru Park Nishat Water Pt Hazratbal Nigeen Behind Club
Air Temp. oC 20.3 20.4 20.6 20.4 20.6
Water Temp. oC 14.4 14.8 14.7 14.7 15.6
pH 7.7 7.6 7.7 7.6 7.9
Conductivity us/cm 177.2 158.8 163.1 307.6 231.6
D.O 5.7 7.2 6.4 5.8 6.2
C.O.D 21.6 22.5 39.4 34.0 24.5
B.O.D 1.8 1.8 2.2 3.6 2.0
Phosphate 0.17 0.199 0.241 0.43 0.148
Hardness 128.8 124.2 152.2 202.6 167.4
Chloride 12.2 11.4 10.5 16.8 15.6
(DataSource:StatePollutionControlBoard,Jammu and Kashmir)

The efficiency of a few STPs constructed at Lam, Hazratbal, Habak and Brari Numbal has been doubted by certain experts. The treated wastewater of these STPs is allowed to flow back into the lake which needs close monitoring. Besides, the direct depositing of faecal matter into the lake from the house-boats poses a devastating problem of pollution.

Massive vegetation growth in Dal Lake is one of the main obstacles in maintaining the glory of the lake. Rapid vegetation growth occurs due to the fast accumulation of nutrients as untreated waste flows straight into Dal Lake and other water bodies of the region.

 Clear and present danger

Having destroyed the water bodies, people have become vulnerable to exacerbated natural disasters like flooding. The September 2014 floods, the worst in Kashmir in the century, inundated Srinagar and at least 50 villages and killed 200 people, apart from directly affecting 20 lakh people across the region.

“Kashmir Valley is essentially a flood plain of the river Jhelum and its tributaries, rivulets, streams and canals,” Aijaz Hassan Ganie, a research fellow at the department of botany in Kashmir University, explained in an article in September that year. “All the valley lakes and the vast associated swamps played an important role in maintaining the uniformity of flows in the river Jhelum. In the past, during the peak summers, whenever the river would flow high, these lakes and swamps used to act as places for storage of excessive water and thereby prevented large areas of the valley from floods.”

While the impact of human activities and natural processes has already put Kashmir’s people in danger, the deterioration of water bodies will intensify further if required measures are not taken in time. Politicians such as Kashmir’s environment minister Bali Bhagat have acknowledged the problem. He said that his department “will definitely look into the causes of deterioration and start taking measures for conservation of water bodies accordingly”.

Rivers: Rivers are like arteries that flow into the heart, the ocean. The Global Alert platform links stakeholders of inland watersheds, anywhere in the world, with the ocean.

Healthy marine and coastal ecosystems are critical to all life on earth and provide necessary services, including food security, resources for economic growth, recreation and tourism, all of which can hinder or benefit the welfare of the coastline itself. Roughly 8 million tons of plastic enters the oceans each year. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has estimated that over 70% of marine debris starts out on land. From there it makes its way into the lakes, rivers, and streams that form an extensive network that can carry trash across continents and straight into the heart of the world’s ocean. Floating trash has no geographic or political boundaries, so solutions must involve scalable international collaboration, yet be local in scope and reach.

River Jhelum the Lifeline of Srinagar Under threat

Life in the Srinagar city and elsewhere in Kashmir revolves around the river Jhelum. The Jhelum River drains the Kashmir valley and it originates from a small spring at Verinag though its true source is a few kilometers further to South East. The four streams viz. Sandran, Bringi, Arapath and Lidder join the Jhelum close to Anantnag near Khanabal. The length of the Jhelum from its source to Baramulla is 241 Kms. The major towns (population 2011 census) contributing pollution to the river are Anantnag (11.72 lacs), Kulgam (4.23 lacs), Shopian (2.65 lacs), Pulwama (5.70 lacs), Srinagar (12.50 lacs), Budgam (7.55 lacs), Ganderbal (2.97 lacs) and Baramulla (10.15 lacs). The wastewater from these towns is discharged into the nallahs, drains, canals, which ultimately reach the river Jhelum and is the main source of its pollution.

The River flows through a long stretch of Kashmir region before finally surrendering itself to Indus River (823 kms). The Jehlum bifurcates the beautiful Srinagar city into two parts. The wonderful lakes are mostly connected by water from Jhelum.

Table : Physio-Chemical Analysis of river Jhelum at different locations for the year 2012 (Feb-July)

Parameters / Location Khanbal Awantipora Pampore Panthachowk Zero Bridge
Air Temp. oC 19.0 18.4 18.2 18.7 18.7
Water Temp.oC 10.3 10.6 10.1 10.45 10.4
pH 7.6 7.5 7.5 7.5 7.5
Conductivity us/cm 214.8 181.6 180.0 184.9 195.1
D.O 6.91 6.9 6.7 6.49 6.16
C.O.D 35.20 24.20 24.50 31.76 47.40
B.O.D 2.10 1.40 1.80 2.30 3.30
Phosphate 0.234 0.2 0.3 0.27 0.34
Hardness 149.8 117.8 122.6 123.3 130.2
Chloride 12.1 11.9 11.6 11.1 15.8

(Data Source: State Pollution Control Board, Jammu and Kashmir)

Srinagar City has 54 dewatering Plants and 32 discharge into river Jhelum. River Jhelum is also one of the source of drinking water supply for Srinagar, Sopore, and Baramulla. With high growth of urban areas and the increase in development which includes the increase in the supply of drinking water, augmentation of sewerage systems, the quantum of untreated wastewater and solid waste is rapidly increasing. It is therefore, imperative to undertake remedial measures for prevention of pollution of river Jhelum by formulating schemes for environmental infrastructure works to intercept divert and treat the domestic and industrial wastewater. The programme must also address the problems of siltation, bank erosion and agricultural runoff containing pesticides and fertilizers with the help and close interaction with the concerned nodal ministries. The Bio-diversity of the river must be studied and monitored to restore its ecological status Schemes for pollution abatement under the Jhelum River Conservation Plan (JRCP) are proposed to be implemented. The investment costs for the implementation of the schemes shall be borne by the Govt. of India. The costs for operation and maintenance of the assets to be created under the project shall be fully borne by the J&K State Govt. It is imperative to undertake remedial measures for prevention of pollution of river Jhelum by formulating schemes for environmental infrastructure works to intercept divert and treat the domestic and industrial wastewater. Esro Emphasis shall be laid on appropriate treatment technologies and resource recovery from sewage/sullage, by using the treated sewage for irrigation, sludge for manure. The schemes under the JRCP will be implemented by the J&K state government through its identified nodal agency, J&K Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LWWDA), Srinagar. The project lays a strong emphasis on public participation and institutional development to sustain the programme in the long term. The Ministry of Environment and Forests, GoI, is coordinating the overall implementation of the programme through the National River Conservation Directorate.

The following categories of works should be taken up under this programme.

* Interception & Diversion of municipal wastewater

*Sewage treatment

* Low cost sanitation

* Improved crematoria

* Solid Waste Management

* Bio-monitoring and Water Quality Monitoring studies

* Improvement of ghats

* Afforestation along the river banks

* Community participation

* Institutional Development and Training

In UEED I have been associated in the framing of the following projects in eighties:

  • Sewerage & Drainage Project of Srinagar City with the Delhi-based “Consulting Engineers”. The project suffered for want of international funding.
  • Low-Cost Sanitation Scheme for Srinagar City with UNICEF assistance involving Sulabh International Patna with some of our innovations. The scheme was handed over to SMC for implementation. This project was helpful in removing the direct flow of the faecal matter into the surface drains.
  • Solid waste disposal scheme for Greater Srinagar city with Delhi-based consultants namely “Universal Enviroscience”. The proposed mechanical compost plant never came up, instead, the landfill method was chosen.
  • In SDA in nineties as Project Director a project report for Inland Water Transport on River Jhelum was got prepared by me retaining M/S Rites as the consultants, but against the introduction of the proposed vessels, only a few motor boats were introduced. Besides providing an alternative transport to decongest the city roads, it would have helped to keep stirring the slow moving waters of the river.

Educational & Social Research Organization (Esro) is hopeful that programme will also addres the problems of siltation, bank erosion and agricultural runoff containing pesticides and fertilizers with the help and close interaction with the concerned nodal ministries. The Bio-diversity of the river will have to be studied and monitored to restore its ecological status. While the schemes under the Jhelum River Conservation Plan are being implemented on the same lines as in Ganga Action Plan Phase – I, Esro expect the special emphasis to be laid in order to reduce the cost on sewage conveyance and minimizing the energy needs for pumping the sewage. Efforts must be made to decentralize the sewage conveyance and treatment facilities. Also, a strong emphasis must be laid on the sustainability of project investments by adopting an Integrated Approach in Project Planning, Formulation, Implementation and giving adequate attention to Community Participation, Gender issues, Institutional Development & Operation and Maintenance aspects. It is stated that Esro will provide ever possible services for the conservation of the River Jhelum, whenever made to do so.

(Paper presented on World Water Day March 22, 2017, at the Institution of Engineers J&K State Centre Srinagar by Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili FIE)