Indo-Sino companies to get 376-crore project
Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir government’s ministerial panel to select a company/ies to dredge the Wular, one of Asia’s largest freshwater lakes, has given its nod to two companies earlier proposed by the Wular Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA).
The WUCMA-recommended companies finalised by the panel are China-based Hubei Hongyan Engineering Company Limited and the controversial Kolkata-based Reach Dredging Limited which was put on notice by the Irrigation and Flood Control (I&FC) department for failing to complete dredging in the river Jhelum.
Minister for Cooperative and Ladakh Affairs Cheering Dorjey told Kashmir Reader that the panel decided, after deliberations, to contract out the 376-crore project to both companies in a joint venture.
“We have unanimously decided to approve the selection of both companies for the joint venture after we had comprehensive deliberations and expert views on the issue. Education minster Altaf Bukhari, who was closely monitoring the Jhelum dredging, also voted in favour of these companies, besides all other members that were part of the panel,” Dorjey said.
He said that during the meeting held a few weeks ago, it was stated that it was “very difficult” to work in the Jhelum due to flowing water that also forced Reach Dredging to extend deadlines. Compared to that, working in the Wular, whose water is static, would be better.
“We believe that working in the Wular would be far easier than the Jhelum and hope that both [companies] would jointly finish work in the stipulated time,” Dorjey said. “Moreover, we didn’t have many alternatives to look for, so we decided to go for it.”
Besides Dorjey and Bukhari, other ministers on the panel include Forest minister Lal Singh, Finance minister Haseeb Drabu, minister for Social Welfare, ARI and Trainings and Science and Technology Sajjad Gani Lone, Youth Services and Sports minister Imran Raza Ansari and minster for PHE, Irrigation and Flood Control Sham Lal Choudhary.
Surprisingly, Reach Dredging Limited, part of the Kolkata-based Rashmi Group, has remained in the headlines for over a year and was even put on notice by the I&FC department for failing to meet deadlines to complete dredging in the river Jhelum.
Moreover, former Chief Engineer I&FC Mohammad Hanief Lone had told a local daily in April this year that Reach Dredging Limited had been blacklisted for failing to dredge 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.
Talking to Kashmir Reader, Lone said that contracting out the Wular dredging project would be a blunder that will create a mess of this project at a whopping amount of investment.
“I am astonished that when the river Jhelum dredging crisis, created by the same company’s inefficiency, is in front of us, why are we proving space for another blunder? The company was supposed to finish the deadline (of dredging the Jhelum) in January 2016 but failed and has been stretching the deadline ever since,” Lone said.
While the two companies had in a joint venture put a bid of Rs 376 crore for dredging the lake, they have, however, agreed to pay Rs 201 crore for the willow trees they will extract from the lake. The project, as per Irfan Rasool, Coordinator Water Management, WUCMA, is supposed to be completed within the span of two years.
With a maximum length of 16 km and breadth of 7.6 km, the Wular has shrunk to nearly half its original area in the last few decades due to continuous encroachment, siltation and wide-spread pollution. Administrative apathy has also left the lake gasping for survival.