Srinagar: The Wular Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA) is planning to award the contract for dredging the lake to a firm which has already been put on notice and was even blacklisted by the Irrigation and Flood Control (I&FC) department for failing to meet deadlines to complete dredging in the river Jhelum.
Reach Dredging Limited, part of the Kolkata-based Rashmi Group, has remained in the headlines for over a year for repeatedly missing deadlines for dredging the Jhelum river.
Officials within the administration told Kashmir Reader that the department was repeating the same mistakes it made during the Jhelum project by handing over the contract to a company whose track record in Kashmir has very little to recommend it.
“When the company has already given the I&FC officials headaches by taking them on a ride (not adhering to deadlines), we fail to understand why are the officials so interested in contracting out another project to the same company. Even when the officials had put the company on notice!” an official said.
He said that the new project, undertaken to conserve one of the largest lakes in the Indian subcontinent, might turn out to be a “deadly disaster” if the company continues with the same “lackadaisical” attitude that it has shown while dredging the river Jhelum.
In April this year, then Chief Engineer I&FC department Mohammad Hanief Lone had told a local daily in April that they have blacklisted Reach Dredging Limited for failing to complete dredging the Jhelum on time.
“The dredging process is still going on despite all rumours about a halt in work. The de-silting processes will intensify after we procure the machines. We have also blacklisted the firm for its incompetence,” he had said in April.
Located 34 km northwest of Srinagar, the Wular Lake, with a maximum length of 16 km and breadth of 7.6 km and surrounded by high mountainous ranges on the north-eastern and north-western sides, is dying a silent death as it has been flooded with diffused pollution by means of direct flow of harmful wastes and human excreta into it.
One of largest freshwater lakes in Asia, the Wular has shrunk to nearly half its original area in the last few decades due to continuous encroachment, siltation, wide-spread pollution and administrative apathy from the government most of all.
Global non-profit organisation Wetlands International has carried out a detailed survey of lake area and says that the original area of Wular Lake was 217.8 sq km, which included 58 sq km of associated marshes. However, in the century between 1911 and 2007, the area was reduced from 157.74 sq. km to 86.71 sq km, a 45 percent reduction in lake area mainly due to conversion of parts of the lake for agriculture and willow tree plantation.
Public outcry has forced the I&FC department to unveil the massive Wular Conservation project with objectives like increasing the lake’s size, sustainable irrigation, eco-tourism, easy navigation and fish and fodder production apart from improving the quality of the marshy lands surrounding the lake. But it is yet to take off.
Coordinator Water Management, WUCMA, Irfan Rasool told Kashmir Reader that the companies have not yet been finalised as the matter is being seen by the Cabinet Sub-Committee (CSC) which is to take a final call.
“We have selected two companies, of which one is a Chinese firm, and have submitted the proposal to the CSC for the final call. Besides, it is not the fact that one company (Reach Dredging Limited) was blacklisted by the department. It has been working with I& FC department for a good time now,” Rasool said.
He said that the total project cost is Rs 376 crores and the project is supposed to be completed within a period of two years.
The panel, which met in the first week of this month, had said it would look into a Chinese dredging firm, Hubei Hongyan Engineering Company Limited, a joint contender with Reach Dredging Limited to bag the Wular dredging project.
Former chief Engineer, I&FC, Mohammad Hanief Lone says that it would be a “grave mistake” to contact out another massive project to the company that took I&FC for a ride during his tenure.
“They (Reach Dredging Limited) are such an irresponsible company that I personally have to force them to get on with work. The contract (of dredging the Jhelum) was given to them due to lack of alternatives. But, given their terrible performance, giving them another project would be like self-invited disaster and should be opposed by every one of us,” Lone said.