(Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 65, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He is presently engaged in promoting and strengthening local and regional museums, a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.)
Jhelum: Fatally Threatened
Our present generation barely knows that the river Jhelum passing serpentinely through three major districts of Kashmir province - Anantnag(Islamabad), Srinagar and Baramulla- is locally named as Veth. It covers a distance of about 180 Kms and ultimately enters Pakistan side of Kashmir, where it is famously known as Kashur Daraya. Srinagar city was based on both its sides from ancient times, indicating that Jehlum was life to the city dwellers. It was used for navigation, community bathing, drinking and for other domestic purposes and also for water sports. No water supply schemes existed in Srinagar at that time and Jehlum was the only source of potable water. Besides, the river was main source of navigation from one district to another and to different areas within the same district through artificial and natural channels.
Situation at presently is totally reverse. Water is highly contaminated; nobody even desires to wash hands in it. Its tributaries have either been filled up for roads, tracks or pathways or so squeezed that the present generation can never believe that once these were used for water transportation.
If we ponder for a while about the origin of this great river and the various crystal clear streams, and rivers joining at various junctions like Brangi nalla, Arpat, Kokarnag spring, Achabal and Lidder nalla which comes from Tarsar; All these tributaries join river Jehlum above Khanabal (Anantnag). A few streams coming from Tral area join it at Pampore after irrigating a vast area. River Sind from Sonamarg joins it at Shadipur. Manasbal lake also drains its water in Jehlum. Last tributary after it passes into Wular Lake is Pohru stream which drains the lolab valley and enters Jehlum at Dubgam. All these sources are so natural when they start, but as they proceed, because of biotic interference, they turn extremely polluted resulting in the formation of giant hazard.
In Srinagar district a huge population is living along its banks, many are engaged in houseboat industries, some still live in their Khuch (small one storied boats) or in Doongas. Few families still live in dingy rooms, or some in unsanitary and unhealthy huts encroached on little spaces available along the banks, dealing with scrap, wastes and thrown-outs from markets or selling hay, grass, fodder, lumber etc which is piled or dumped near the banks close to their huts, causing unhealthy situations, and the remnants directly drain into the river. Stray animals move freely on open banks, excrete anywhere they like, which is also washed down into water. At many places tourists living in houseboats further supplement pollution problem in the river.
Throughout its journey River Jehlum receives countless sewers in the form of ephemerals, dirty water channels and thousands of surface drains after passing through human settlements. They enter the river without pretreatment, discharging huge quantities of domestic and other wastes. Filth, carcasses, garbage and polythene collected by the sweepers from business markets, residential places are thrown directly in it. Not only effluents even solid wastes including other non-biodegradable items are also thrown in it, thereby further contaminating it. The significant change is attributed to unabated inflow channels, drains and effluents from hotels along its margins. By and large the whole sewerage of hotels and residential houses along the river and of other populations goes directly into it and this problem is securing higher proportion. Dumping of large heaps of cow dung to dry up on slanting bunds is washed down, which enriches the water with nutrients like Nitrates, Phosphates, Sulphates, Chlorides etc. resulting in eutrophication of the river. The nuisance of slaughter houses, wastage of tanning and sawmills and commercial washing of shawls and clothes on the banks, detergents and other chemicals go into the river and make it further polluted.
No scientific work till date has been undertaken on the management and other aspects in order to find out the ways and means for its maintenance, and to stop the sewerage of whole population directly flowing in it. Recently little effort was taken by the department of erosion where small stretch (only 3 km) from Sonawar to Dubji ghat (Maisuma) was renovated by constructing retaining walls. Surely it helped in the removal of scrap stores which was a smudge on the face of Srinagar city, but is not enough.
The river is so much strangulated below Dubji ghat to Chattabal that it is impossible to undo the damage unless strong steps are taken. Why should not the concerned department take firm actions to demolish illegal residential and other business complexes on both the banks of the river?
Strict orders should be implemented from SMC to sweepers of the city to be extraordinarily careful and not to throw solid garbage and other residual remains of fleshy animals directly into the river; they should be penalized, if they violate the directives. Fish markets on its bridges should be banned as they throw all residues and waste directly into the river increasing its nutrition. Dustbins with proper lids should be installed at the sensitive points on the bunds within easy reach of the pedestrians or tourists. Stray animals like dogs; cows, horses should be totally restricted by raising bars to go close to the river water. Overall scientific studies should be conducted both by PCB (pollution control board), cross checked by some reliable private agencies that will reveal the extent of pollution, effects of unsanitary conditions of boat populations, over silting in the riverbed, flow of drains and other effluents from hotels on its banks. Recommendations based on these studies will be fruitful for proper environmental planning of this magnificent river.
Gone are those ghats where we as school children used to wait and wave our flags, in coloured beautiful uniforms along with our teachers to the dignitaries who used to move downtown as Daryave Jaloos (water parade) from Chattabal (vir) to Lal chowk. Thus there is impending need to investigate pollution aspects of this river. The base line data that would be available would help us to devise ways to check pollution. The illegal encroachment of river banks should be immediately demolished and converted into recreation and aesthetic spots.