24 April 2004
The Daily Excelsior
Jammu: According to a newspaper account, the Department of Tourism has launched a drive with the help of some non-government organisations in Srinagar to keep the Jhelum river clean. Although it is not clear what exactly is being or has been done to rid this historic stream of its impurities, there is a hint that it is a step in the right direction. The fact that the report has claimed that the present initiative is the first of its kind is a pathetic commentary that the efforts made in this behalf in the past have either remained only on paper or have failed to have the desired impact. It has perhaps been forgotten that a Government-sponsored Jhelum conservation plan does exist to rescue this water body from the pollutants flowing in from four major towns of Anantnag, Srinagar, Sopore and Baramulla - all through about 250 km of its journey in the Kashmir region from the source of its origin in Verinag at the foothills of the Pir Panjal. According to this scheme, the wastewater from these thickly-populated areas is a major cause of pollution of the Jhelum which is virtually the lifeline of Srinagar city. It has proposed the following categories of works: interception and 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 and institutional development and training. It is really shocking the way shimmering white waters of the Verinag, Liddar and the Sind, having their genesis in the mighty Himalayas, get transformed on merging into a muddy and dirty river that flows through the Valley. Thousands of people living in doongas inside the river may be contributing to their own exposure to health risks in the absence of adequate measures to recycle the used water. Barring a year or two, the rains have also played hide and seek creating vast patches of a dry bed which has been used by children for playing cricket rather then for water games. It is unimaginable that a river so heavily dependent upon perennial natural springs and nallahs should be without its prized acquisition at any point of the year. There is need, therefore, to have a comprehensive look at the resources and the environs of the Jhelum. Any proposal to conserve it should take into account its beautification for the purpose of attracting tourists who have slowly and gradually returning to the State. Throughout the world the new techniques have been successfully employed to rebuild the riverbeds and banks and pave them with either bricks or concrete slabs. Admittedly, it will take a lot of effort and dedication both of which have been found wanting in our case for a variety of reasons, our own inertia not excluded. The Indira Gandhi Canal - formerly known as the Rajasthan Canal, it is nearly double the length of the Jhelum in the State - in the heart of the Thar desert in our country is a living testimony to the heights the human endeavour can attain. Once we surmount all difficulties on the way to revive the Jhelum, the Department of Tourism can then step in to make a meaningful contribution.