Restoration of the Jhelum River: HC orders the government to file a report on the measures taken

Srinagar, May 21: TThe High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh on Saturday ordered the government to file an Actions Taken Report (ATR) regarding the use of funds for the restoration and preservation of the Jhelum River and for flood control. .

The court ordered the commissioner-secretary to appear personally before it on the next date with the file, in case the report on the measures taken is not filed within the said deadline.

A divisional bench of Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Moksha Khajuria Kazmi ordered the attorney, Asifa Padroo, representing the J&K government, to seek instructions from the Commissioner’s Secretary, Department of Irrigation and Flood Control and file a status report on the affidavit to be sworn by the commissioner. Secretary himself within four weeks.

The instructions came after India’s Deputy Solicitor General TM Shamsi said the central government had provided adequate funds for the restoration and preservation of the Jhelum River and for flood control.

In this regard, the government lawyer, Asifa Padroo, requested more time to submit an ATR regarding the development of any flood control and bank improvement program of the Jhelum River and to show how the funds approved by the central government are used for this purpose.

The tribunal was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) related to the restoration and preservation of the Jhelum River.

Previously, the court had ordered the Department of Chief Engineer, Irrigation and Flood Control (I&FC) to submit in tabular form the entire exercise his department undertook from the inception of this PIL to the date with reference to the original length and breadth of the river and the Padshahi Canal.

The court also ordered the Chief Engineer, I&FC to submit the current status regarding the number of encroachments removed and the actions that are being taken in this regard.

Respondents were also invited to submit a complete roadmap that they propose to implement for the cleanliness, preservation and enhancement of the river and canals.

The court had also constituted a committee headed by Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir, Chief Engineer of I&FC Department and Deputy Commissioners of Anantnag, Pulwama, Srinagar, Budgam and Baramulla Districts as members along with Chief Superintendents of the police of the said districts.

The Committee has been entrusted with the task of restoring the original width of the Jhelum River and removing any encroachments without compromise or laxity and ensuring the effective implementation of the J&K Water Resources (Regulation and Management Act), 2010.

The bench had called for specific reports from each of the Deputy District Commissioners, who are members of the Committee, regarding the situation of the existing river and canal in their respective district.

He had asked all respondents to ensure that no drainage water/wastewater or effluent or sewage or waste was discharged into the river or canals and to indicate the measures taken by them to stop this.

“In order to save aquatic life, it has been reported that a large number of fish have been found dead and floating in the Jehlum River. We request the Director of the Department of Fisheries to submit a report in this regard,” ordered the bench.

The court had noted that one of the fundamental factors contributing to the devastating September 2014 floods in the valley was the narrowing of the Jhelum River due to encroachment on its sides and non-siltation of the river.

In this regard, instructions have been given to the authorities to draw up a preservation plan for the Jhelum River and canals to avoid future calamities of the same nature.

The court observed that the engineers of the I&FC department are also responsible for the September 2014 floods and must be dealt with adequately for “negligence of duty/active connivance with the invaders”.

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