Today is May 22nd. This day has been proclaimed as International Biodiversity day. In December 2000, the UN General Assembly adopted 22nd May as International day for biological diversity (IDB). This is to commemorate the adoption of the text of the biodiversity convention held on 22nd May 1992 at Kenyan capital city Nairobi. The aim of celebrating this day is to enhance the awareness and understanding of biological diversity. A unique theme titled "We're part of the solution" has been adopted for IBD this year. This year's slogan has been chosen in continuation to the momentum that was generated last year under the theme, "Our solutions are in nature". The solution for conservation and protection of biodiversity, ecology and environment can't be thrusted upon the people. This has to be participative, democratic and community oriented. Authorities at the helm need to respect the decisions that are taken at community level especially by the people through their village assemblies (Gram Sabha) wherein local elected representatives of Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are actively involved. If governments don't respect the resolutions of these institutions they have no right to commemorate this day or to speak about PRI's empowerment.
Problem in Tarzoo Sopore
For almost a year I have been following the case of unscientific waste disposal by the Municipal Council Sopore. The municipality initially used a patch of land near Ninglee Tarzoo to dump its waste. The locals approached the High Court over this issue. I filed a complaint in the National Green Tribunal (NGT), wrote about it constantly and did a lot of activism as well. Former Chief Justice Geeta Mittal took keen interest in the case and visited the site herself last year in autumn. The patch of land used as dump site is part of Wullar catchment area. It was finally closed down on the orders of the High Court. A direction was given to identify new site. Chief Justice Mittal retired and Municipal authorities again used an environmentally fragile land for dumping the waste. I can't fully blame them as the Govt is not showing seriousness towards scientific waste management. The new site identified by district administration is located at Dharnambal locality of Tarzoo Sopore is a demarcated forest land plus a wetland catchment area as well. Some land belongs to local panchayat as well. Without the consent of local panchayat , MC Sopore started dumping its municipal waste on the land and now the Govt is planning to transfer forest land for creating a new garbage site. We have been constantly guiding the local residents to fight this case logically by invoking forest and environmental laws.
Resolution for protecting Biodiversity
On April 10th this year the five village panchayats in the Tarzoo area adopted a joint resolution by invoking section 5 of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006. The FRA empowers the Gram Sabha to protect the wildlife, forest, and biodiversity of the village and to ensure that adjoining catchment areas, water sources, and other ecologically sensitive areas are adequately protected. Through the April 10th resolution, the village panchayats asked the district administration Baramulla and Municipal Council, Sopore to stop dumping solid waste which was a severe threat to the environment and biodiversity of the area.
PCC takes cognizance
Jammu & Kashmir Pollution Control Committee (PCC) earlier known as State Pollution Control Board (SPCB) also acted over the illegal dumping of municipal solid waste at Darnambal. I had been constantly pursuing them to act. Again RTI Movement assisted the Central Auqaf Committee Tarzoo and four village panchayats of Tarzoo A, B, C, Rakh-e-Hygam and Darnambal to draft the complaint. The Member Secretary Pollution Control Committee (PCC) Mr B M Sharma acted swiftly and issued a direction to his Regional Director Kashmir asking him to constitute a team of officers to visit the site along with the District head of PCC Baramulla. Pertinently all the municipal institutions in J&K are not at all adhering to the MSW Rules 2016. The municipal waste is merely collected from towns and cities and then dumped unscientifically. The waste is neither processed nor treated by urban local bodies. The Government is not taking this issue seriously. Only a few days back Principal Secretary Housing & Urban Development Department visited Budgam for a review meeting. I wish he had visited the filthy town of Magam where waste is dumped in the Ferozpur river and administration is not bothered at all. The towns of Charar Sharief or Chadoora are messed up. In Budgam's Reshipora hundreds of trees were axed by Govt for paving a way for DRDO's COVID hospital but after axing all the green trees District Administration said no. A new site has been identified in Khonmoh area. Who will compensate for this environmental disaster ?
Complaint before NBA
The Biodiversity Management Committees of four Panchayats in Tarzoo Sopore namely Tarzoo A , B, C and Dharnambal unanimously passed a resolution to protect and preserve the local biodiversity. A written complaint on illegal waste dumping in their area has been sent to Dr V B Mathur Chairman of National Biodiversity Authority (NBA) and Chairman J&K Biodiversity Council Dr Mohit Gera who is also the Principal Chief Conservator of Forests and head of forest force in J&K. Copy of the letter has been sent to Secretary NBA Mr Justin Mohan as well. The letter reads
"The Biodiversity of the aforementioned village Panchayats is under threat and the Municipal Council Sopore and local administration is responsible for all this. The famous Wullar Lake a Ramsar site is located in our area. This lake along with adjoining wetlands attracts a variety of bird and animal species. The area has a demarcated Forest land as well under Ninglee forest range. Unfortunately the Municipal Council Sopore dumps its municipal solid waste in our area at Dharmanbal. The joint Gram Sabha of five village panchayats passed a joint resolution on April 10 th 2021 to stop this illegal practice but the District Administration didn't take it seriously. The Pollution Control Committee J&K imposed Environmental Compensation as well on MC Sopore but it continues the illegal practice. That the municipal council Sopore is violating the Municipal Solid Waste Rules 2016 and threatening the habitat of wildlife and biodiversity "
Even after more than a month of adoption of a resolution for safeguarding local biodiversity in five villages around Tarzoo Sopore, the district administration Baramulla has not acted at all. Irony is that these elected representatives were not even called for a meeting. It seems that a copy of this joint resolution of 5 panchayats has been also dumped in the garbage dump site. On the other hand PM Modi keeps lauding the role of Kashmir's panchayat members but the ground reality is quite different. The elected representatives are saying " We are part of the solution" which is the theme of this day but the Government officers are not ready to accept their resolve. Instead of developing a huge biodiversity park in Tarzoo and Ninglee areas of Sopore , the Govt is adamant to create a garbage dump in the area. This is so unfortunate...
[Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is Chairman of Jammu & Kashmir RTI Movement. He is also an Acumen India fellow from 2017 cohort. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of International Business Times, India]