A water supply plant on the Doodh Ganga river. Photo: Raja Muzaffar Bhat
- More than five lakh people in Srinagar’s uptown area and some areas of district Budgam get their drinking water from the Doodh Ganga supply plant in Kralpora.
- However, municipal liquid waste – from homes as well as government pumping stations located on its banks – is dumped into its water without being treated.
- The Doodh Ganga had clear water around two decades ago. I spent my childhood learning to swim in its waters; today, it is not available for my son to do so.
- The National Green Tribunal has directed the J&K government to deposit Rs 35 crore as penalty – the largest penalty of its kind imposed thus far in Kashmir.
Since the Indian government split Jammu and Kashmir state in 2019, the local government has been non-responsive and instances of corruption have been on the rise. The local water bodies have also been deteriorating, thanks to illegal riverbed mining and the government’s refusal to use funds under the Swachh Bharat Mission to clean them.
One such instance pertains to the Doodh Ganga river, which is a major tributary of the Jhelum. More than five lakh people in Srinagar’s uptown area and some areas of district Budgam get their drinking water from the Doodh Ganga supply plant in Kralpora, on the outskirts of Srinagar. However, municipal liquid waste – from homes as well as government pumping stations located on its banks – is dumped into its water without being treated.
A week ago, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) directed the Jammu and Kashmir government to deposit Rs 35 crore as penalty after it determined that local authorities had failed to treat the liquid waste entering the river. The NGT’s order also noted the lack of good governance and determination within the government.
“Are there insurmountable difficulties for State authorities or lack of will and determination? We find it difficult to believe the first. In our view, it is lack of good governance and determination responsible for the situation which needs to be remedied soonest…”
Similarly, on October 19, the Supreme Court pulled up the Jammu and Kashmir government for dumping municipal solid waste near the banks of Wular lake in Bandipora, which is a Ramsar wetland (i.e. a wetland of international importance). The bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and C.T. Ravikumar dismissed an appeal by the Bandipora municipal committee and slapped a fine of Rs 64 lakh on the pollution control committee.
The apex court order noted:
“Is it the way you deal with matters? Is it the consciousness of your state? You cannot play with the lives of the people. Deposit the fine.”
The Doodh Ganga had clear water around two decades ago but is murky with pollutants today. That is why the stream has come to be called Doodh Ganga; ‘doodh’ is Hindi for ‘milk’. I spent my childhood learning to swim in its waters; today, it is not available for my son to do so.
When the government didn’t clean the Doodh Ganga, I moved the petition before the NGT in September 2021. The tribunal issued a notice to the Indian government in October the same year and, on March 8, 2022, imposed a penalty of Rs 3 crore. And now, the NGT has imposed a larger penalty of Rs 35 crore.
This is the largest penalty of its kind imposed thus far in Kashmir, for not controlling water pollution. Doodh Ganga today is indistinguishable from a large drain.
The national government likes to call Kashmir the ‘crown of India’. If Kashmir is the crown, water bodies like Dal lake, the Jhelum river, the Doodh Ganga and Wular lake are its jewels. And it is the moral responsibility of the government to restore them to their original glory.
Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow and a Srinagar-based activist, writer and independent researcher.