July 2017 News

Jhelum Dredging In Troubled Waters

22 July 2017
Rising Kashmir
Faisul Yaseen

Srinagar: Encroachment of river banks, stone-pelting and legal hassles have hit the dredging of River Jhelum. Kolkotta-based Reach Dredging Limited, which the government hired to carry the first phase of dredging work on River Jhelum after the September 2014 devastating floods, is facing difficulties in completing the work on time due to these roadblocks. Kashmir was hit by devastating floods in September 2014 leaving over 300 people dead and property worth billions of rupees damaged. Due to excessive siltation, the floods also reduced the carrying capacity of River Jhelum drastically. Talking to Rising Kashmir, Head International Business Asia, Kinjal Desai said in certain areas, the company was facing difficulty in completing work on time due to these issues. She said from Noor Bagh to Panjinara belt, the encroachers were pelting stones at their teams to stop dredging work. 'From Bell Mouth to DC's office, the river beds are encroached and there is no space for setting up dykes or dumping grounds to keep the dredged out material,' she said stressing that this results in dredged out material going back into the river. Desai said the houseboat owners and locals also do not allow the company to work at night or even in the mornings before 7 am citing noise as an excuse. 'Then there are local disputes and local Munsiff Court gives people stay within a day when they claim that the dykes are on their land and by the time it is found that the dykes are not on their land, the project is already hit by delays,' she said. According to her, from Weir to Noor Bagh, there had been a delay due to the Irrigation and Flood Control department's failure in providing dykes as the entire area was encroached upon. 'If we carry more dredging here, the houses may fall,' she said and suggested that it would be feasible for the government to shift the quantity to be dredged from this area to downstream. So far, of the allocated work of dredging 1.48 lakh cubic metres from Bell Mouth, Shivpora to Deputy Commissioner's Office at Srinagar, only 1 lakh cubic metres have been dredged so far. And from Noor Bagh to Panjinara stretch, of the allocated 2.73 lakh cubic metres, a total of over 2.30 lakh cubic metres have been dredged. For Bell Mouth to Panjinara stretch, the deadline for completing the first phase of dredging was January 2017 but keeping last year's uprising in consideration, the government had extended the deadline to December 2017. And for Sopore to Baramulla stretch, the deadline for completing the first phase of dredging is September 2017 and the company seems to be on track to complete the dredging work on time. Desai said in Sopore, some locals involved in the construction business were threatening the company officials that they should get the dredged out material claiming that being inhabitants they had the first right on it. 'They sometimes block roads and prevent us from selling the material to the bigger contractors,' she said. 'However, the smaller contractors usually do not have the equipment or the resources to purchase this material.' Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir, Baseer Ahmad Khan who takes fortnight reviews of the dredging work, told Rising Kashmir that a few times in the past there had been complaints of encroachers pelting stones at workers carrying dredging work but it had been taken care of now. The government took six to seven months to allot the dredging work in River Jhelum to Reach, who started the work in January 2016. However, according to experts, the work was started at a wrong time as the time between January and April is not considered an ideal one for dredging due to the high water levels in Jhelum and harsh winters. At this time, River Jhelum remains volatile, the government uses most of its dredgers for removing landslides and acquiring raw material at this time is also difficult. The ideal time for dredging is between May and December, experts said. The dredging work on River Jhelum last year was also hit as Kashmir witnessed an uprising for six to seven months following the killing of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander, Burhan Muzaffar Wani. 'There was disturbance and commotion and our engineers could not move from one site to another,' Desai said. She said they tried to take up the issue with Jammu Kashmir Police and State administration but at that time, they too were helpless but since February 2017, with the help of Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, Deputy Commissioners and Senior Superintendents of Police, these issues had been put to rest. 'At many places, Masjid Committees also helped us by intervening,' she said. However, Desai said the houseboat owners continue to create hassles for them. Chief Engineer Irrigation and Flood Control, Imtiyaz Ahmad Dhar told Rising Kashmir that there had been some bottlenecks but they had been resolved. According to Desai, besides dredging the River Jhelum, the project is also helping some 5000 people earn livelihood. 'We try to hire locals are labour force and in technical works including mechanical and civil engineers,' she said. 'The sand that is dredged out is sold to locals and we are particularly engaging the youth groups.'