Jammu and Kashmir High Court recently banned constructions within 200 meters from Wular Lake, one of the largest freshwater lakes of Asia. The court passed the orders after its visit to check if the garbage was really dumped at its peripheries near Sopore by none other than those responsible to keep a check on it. While the garbage was removed from the spot before court’s visit on October 10, ironically the government admitted dumping the trash there. The “excuse” by the government that it was done “for the want of land” is shocking to say the least. The local laws, as well as the International and National Protocols for such an area, expressly bars dumping of the garbage. A responsibility is cast on the administration to check the activities that threaten the existence of such areas. There is no justification for violating these norms by the officials.
The waterbody is important on countless aspects and protecting it must be a collective responsibility for all of us. The Lake’s associated wetlands support rich biodiversity and provide habitat to migratory birds within Central Asia flyover. It is also the largest fisheries resource in Kashmir Valley, supporting the livelihoods of large human population living along its fringes. Also importantly, the lake and its associated wetlands protect the Valley from floods as well as maintain the flow to support agriculture and hydro-power generation. However, over the past several decades, the water body is progressively shrinking. Unfortunately, it has not attracted the required attention despite the fact that the lake was designated as “Wetland of International Importance” under Ramsar Convention in 1990 in recognizing its importance for its biodiversity and socio-economic values. There are several reasons for ruins and some of them have been even well identified. However there has been little redeeming difference on the ground. Not only have encroachments continued with impunity, the lake has gone through a sustained environmental degradation.
The Wetland Management and Conservation Rules provide that the wetlands shall be conserved and managed in accordance with the principle of “wise use” as determined by the Wetlands Authority. The rules explicitly prohibit activities such as encroachment of any kind, setting up of any industry and expansion of existing industries besides Solid waste dumping including the discharge of untreated wastes and effluents from industries, cities, towns, villages and other human settlements as well as any construction of a permanent nature. There is need to adhere to the ban on illegal constructions within the distance prescribed by the court as also implementing ensuring implementation of laws.