Srinagar: The J&K High Court on Thursday warned the government authorities against any lapse in the dredging of river Jhelum and removal of encroachments along its course, saying it may “definitely give rise to a catastrophe” similar to the devastating floods in 2014.
“The concern shown by the Chief Engineer (Irrigation & Flood Control Department) can be appreciated only when it is translated into action. River Jhelum right from the place of its origin to its end point runs through the middle of the Valley. Any lapse in ensuring complete dredging and removal of encroachments may definitely give rise, at any time, to a catastrophe. God forbid, same may not happen as it happened in the year 2014,” said a division bench of Justices Mohammad Yaqoob Mir and BS Walia after perusal of a compliance report filed by the Chief Engineer.
The court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by Molvi Peer Noor-ul-Haq, who had sought directions from the court for removal of encroachments to restore Padshahi canal, an old irrigation passage from Nallah Sindh near Wayil Bridge in central Kashmir’s Ganderbal district. Later, the court expanded the purview of the PIL and issued directions for safeguarding the Jhelum.
“In case any type of indolence is shown in completing the dredging process coupled with the removal of encroachments, the authorities concerned shall have to be personally answerable,” the court said.
“The Chief Engineer shall file report as to show how the commitment is translated into action,” the court said and directed the Chief Engineer to file the requisite status report by next date of hearing on April 17. The report, the court said, shall also indicate as to how the agency engaged for dredging is progressing in its work.
In his compliance report to the court’s directive on June 10 last year, the Chief Engineer had stated that 886 Kacha/Pacca structures, 799 boundary walls and 7,70,857 trees had been removed by his department with the “active support of the administration”.
On allegations of illegal constructions along the Jhelum, the Chief Engineer had stated that the grant of building permission was within the domain of Srinagar Municipal Corporation and that the matter had been taken up with them to desist from granting any building permission without obtaining NOC from the Irrigation & Flood Control Department.
“All sort of encroachments are being removed where dredging is being carried out so as to retrieve the encroached water body. The concerned Executive Engineers have been asked to pursue the matter with respective revenue authorities so that demarcation process is expedited, which will help in removal of encroachments,” the Chief Engineer had stated.
The court on Thursday also directed Deputy Commissioner Kupwara to file a status report on removal of encroachments along water bodies in the north Kashmir district.
The direction by the court followed a report filed by the DC stating that all Tehsildars of the district had been instructed to provide assistance for demarcation and to support demolition teams as constituted by the I&FC Department. He had stated that removal of encroachments from July last year was not effected due to unrest in the Valley.
“It is to be noted that the unrest ended in the month of October, 2016. Nothing has been said about the period up to March, 2017. Deputy Commissioner, Kupwara, shall file fresh status report stating as to how the encroachments are being removed and the demarcation, wherever required, vis-à-vis water bodies within his jurisdiction is made,” the court said.
The bench also directed DC Budgam to file a fresh report, indicating the position of encroachments on water bodies including River Jhelum within his jurisdiction.
Similarly, the court directed DC Bandipora to file a new status report as to how the committee constituted for removal of encroachments is proceeding with its work.
In his report to the court, the DC Pulwama stated that no fresh violation had been reported and demarcation of River Jhelum within his jurisdiction had already been completed.
The DC Doda in his report stated that a message has been flashed to all the concerned revenue officers within his jurisdiction to keep strict vigil so as to ensure that no construction is raised on water bodies.