Pollute no more

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Pollute no more

THE disposal of solid waste and proper sanitation by the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) stands lacking when it comes to the eco-sensitive areas of the famous tourist resort Gulmarg.

Gulmarg is an eco-sensitive resort, yet there is no rubbish disposal system. Thus tons of hotel and restaurant waste, polythene, plastic bottles, and other garbage are dumped into the forest.

Despite purchasing a solid waste disposal unit for crores of rupees several years ago, the authorities continue to dump rubbish in the forest. And as for the Solid Waste Disposal Unit is concerned, it is simply not functioning. The Gulmarg Development Authority has failed to come up with innovative ideas to improve the gorgeous town’s appeal, despite its popularity with domestic and international tourists.

The prominent environmental lawyer and activist Nadeem Qadri and his Centre for Environmental Law, have been receiving complaints through his official contact that the Solid Waste Management Plant is defunct due to the mismanagement of the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) and that the untreated garbage is being dumped into the forest and eco-sensitive zone area.

Responding to complaints, the Centre for Environmental Learning has served a legal notice under the Environmental Protection Act, 1986 read with Indian Forest Act, 1927 and Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 for the violation of the order that was issued by the Hon’ble High Court J&K and Ladakh in Public Interest Litigation suits related to the implementation of the Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2016 across the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir and The Protection, Preservation and Conservation of Gulmarg.

The Division Bench of the High Court of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh passed an order dated 07.07.2017 in Public Interest Litigation No. 14 of 2012 and directed the respondents that; “we make it clear at this stage that in case orders of this court are not complied with, in letter and spirit, by the various authorities and officials, we would be compelled to pass clear directions with regard to the inefficiency and disobedience on their part and same being recorded in their Annual Confidential Reports which may affect the progress in their future careers. This direction has been made because we have noticed that various orders/ directions given by us have been taken lightly by the officers concerned. Of course, some of the officers/officials have complied with the directions in letter and spirit and they have been commended. But those who did not comply have to be punished”.

The order of the court is very clear that if GDA fails to comply with the order issued, the authority concerned and the officials will be punished and deemed inefficient. And yet, the GDA has failed to comply. The images received by the Centre for Environmental Learning showing heaps of garbage being dumped in the Forest Compartment No. 47-B at Gulmarg is proof enough that the GDA has failed miserably to follow through the order.

Environmentalists have brought up the matter and claimed that although the Government of J&K spent millions of dollars preparing for the G-20 summit in and around Gulmarg, including preserving and enhancing the region’s ecology, to their utter shock, the area’s virgin forest has been converted into a garbage dump in flagrant violation of the rules established by the High Court of J&K and Ladakh and the Solid Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2016. The garbage dumping site poses a serious threat to tourists visiting Gulmarg because it emits an offensive odour and attracts a large number of stray dogs and wild animals, including black bears and leopards that pose a threat to both the tourists’ and the locals’ lives and raise issues of the human-wildlife conflict.

An earlier legal notice was served by Regional Director upon the Chief Executive Officer, Gulmarg Development Authority, dated 17.05.2022 bearing number PCC/ROK/LS/2022/859-60 wherein a report of inspection submitted by the DO, PCC, Baramulla indicates that the Solid Waste Treatment Plant established by the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) at Gulmarg, Baramulla has been found defunct, and is neither functioning nor treatment of waste is done as per the norms and standards prescribed for the waste treatment plants under the Municipal Solid Waste (Management & Handling) Rules, 2016. As such, the said solid waste treatment plant is generating substantial quantity of untreated waste and this waste is indiscriminately and unscientifically disposed off by the Gulmarg Development Authority (GDA) in the Forest Area/ Compartment No. 47-B, Special Forest Division, Tangmarg, which causes nuisance and odour problem in the area and poses a serious threat to the environment, forests and wildlife, causing high risk of human wildlife conflict and health of the human life in particular. If the GDA still fails to abide by the notice and the order of the High Court, it can be held liable for contempt of the court order.

Talking about this issue, Ajaz Rasool, Hydraulic Engineering expert and environmentalist says: “Gulmarg is an eco fragile tourist resort that has a development authority in place to conserve its natural ecology and guard against anything that may result in destroying the natural pristine environment of the resort. This resort, besides having huts for lodging and boarding of tourists, has many good hotels, clubs, etc. as part of its tourist infrastructure which charge very handsome tariffs. This resort being a famous international ski resort, is open even in the winter. We have, off and on, seen solid waste generated in this area being thrown in the forest area despite a mechanism in place for its collection and transmission and disposal to a solid waste treatment bio digester near Babareshi area. This mechanism is outsourced on a contractual basis by the Gulmarg Development Authority which is duty-bound to ensure that the scheme is run efficiently and no solid waste is disposed off or allowed to be littered in any other place of the resort. We have sadly been witnessing time and again that GDA is neglecting its legitimate duty and the generated solid waste, instead of being carried to the treatment plant at Babareshi, is thrown in the fragile forest area. There is no follow-up of GDA to show if the conditions of the contract are duly complied with by the contractual agency to whom the work has been outsourced. The solid waste treatment plant operation schematics at Babareshi hardly receive the collected solid waste. This has been continuing for years now and has been highlighted on social media periodically, but sadly, no deterrent could restrict it. The outsourced SWM is on contract by GDA and is not followed up to see that the obligations of the contract are duly complied with. Negligence of legitimate duty by GDA staff amounts to corruption as much as not fulfilling the conditions of the contract by the agency to whom it has been entrusted and is liable for filing a case with investigating agency such as ACB. Even some hoteliers have been reported at times to have disposed off the solid waste in forest areas at Gulmarg. Social media has been periodically raising this issue but no deterrent action has been seen against the polluters, who under the rules, are supposed to be inflicted with heavy fines for littering and causing pollution in the area It is hoped that the government would take a serious view and take urgent appropriate measures to set things right and ensure that the infrastructure of SWM put by it is operational and functional in letter and spirit”.

A clean environment is the need of the hour. No one wants to live in a polluted mess. So the authorities responsible for cleaning up the areas should do their duties with due diligence. It is a moral and legal obligation of the authority concerned to check that there is no damage to the environment caused by human activities; but unfortunately, in case of GDA, instead of doing its duty with due diligence, it is the one polluting the environment.

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