“I only feel angry when I see waste. When I see people throwing away things we could use.” —Mother Teresa
Due to the rapid increase in population growth and urbanisation of Jammu and Kashmir in the last two decades, environmental pollution is increasing at a high pace. According to the census of 2011, the population of Jammu and Kashmir was about 12,548,926, up from 10,070,300 in the census of 2001. This increase in population requires more construction of residential and other buildings. Most of the construction happens on plain land and marshes or waste land is often reclaimed to create space for buildings. All this is responsible for the growing problem of unmanaged solid waste in J&K.
Solid waste is unwanted or useless solid or semi-solid material that is generated from human activities in residential, industrial, or commercial areas. It includes organic material, glass, metal, plastic, paper, etc. Though modern society considers itself as advanced and civilised, but it is destroying the natural environment ruthlessly for material benefits. Kashmir, which is known for its ethereal beauty, is also becoming the abode of large garbage and sewage heaps, seen in almost every nook and corner of cities and towns like Srinagar, Anantnag, and Ganderbal. According to a study by Rouf Ahmad Bhat et al, Srinagar generates the highest amount of waste with an average of 0.526 kg/person/day of MSW (Municipal Solid Waste) followed by Anantnag (0.479 kg/person/day) and Ganderbal (0.400 kg/capita/day). In the city of Srinagar, almost all the drainage pipes that carry sewage are directly drained into the Jhelum river, which affects the hydrochemistry of water and becomes a great threat to aquatic life. In addition to this, it also reduces the tourist attraction of shikaras and houseboats. Dal Lake, Nageen Lake, and Anchar lake, which lend such picturesque beauty to Srinagar, are now cesspools of pollution and garbage.
Nazir Ahmad, a shikara walla (houseboat man) in Srinagar who ferries tourists around the famous Dal lake, says that shikara wallahs keep tourists away from the most polluted parts of the lake. “If we go near those spots that look like garbage dumping sites, no one would ever want to visit the lake,” he says.
Increasing municipal solid waste in the Jhelum river also gives impetus to the occurrence of flood, because due to the deposition of garbage on the bed of the river, the water level rises much higher during the rainy season and water overflows the banks of the Jhelum river.
The piles of garbage along roadsides are the hotspots for bacteria, insects, and vermin breeding. Files that visit garbage dumps may increase the risk of salmonella, which causes typhoid fever, food poisoning, enteric fever, gastroenteritis, and other major illnesses if they come in contact with food or water which we use. Besides this, the awful smell directly affects the respiratory tract and causes throat infection and other respiratory diseases. Large garbage sites in urban areas are also the favourite haunts of stray dogs. Frequent dog bites have become a serious danger in cities like Anantnag and Srinagar. The statistical report presented by the health ministry of Jammu and Kashmir government revealed that about 5,060 dog-bite cases were reported at the anti-rabies clinic of Srinagar’s Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital in the year 2017.
Unplanned management of solid wastes is not only seen in the urban areas of the Kashmir division but has also become a problem in the rural areas. People in villages throw all the domestic waste along river banks and during the times of rainy season the run-off carries away all the waste and thus pollutes the water further. There are no municipal facilities in rural areas so the improper disposal of solid waste takes such proportions that it becomes hard to breathe due to the foul odour, especially during summer.
Solid waste that contains polythene is a menace for the cattle. In search of food, cows and other stray animals try to tear open the polythene bags and due to this they often get injured by broken glass, blades, pins, etc. At a national seminar on the protection and preservation of animals, it was reported that 60% of the stray cows die due to consumption of polythene bags. Besides, polythene bags and other plastic items are non-biodegradable materials that cannot be decomposed in soil like other inorganic and organic things. Thus, polythene and plastic reduce fertility and affect the chemistry of soil, which in turn decreases the production of various food crops.
To cope with this problem, the first and foremost step which the administration of Kashmir has to take is strict action against persons who illegally construct their houses or have planted horticultural trees on government lands. These government lands, especially those away from human habitation, should be used for the disposal of solid waste in a scientific method. Secondly, the solid waste should be segregated into two groups: biodegradable and non-biodegradable. Through biodegradable waste such as food waste, paper waste, manure, sewage, sewage sludge, and slaughterhouse waste, we can generate biogas and fertilisers which are eco-friendly. On the other hand, non-biodegradable waste like plastic bottles, plastic containers, grocery bags, glasses, metals, etc, should be used for recycling.
It is interesting to note here that the average family dustbin contains 10% glass, 9% metals, 3% textile, 4% plastics, 30% vegetable waste and other materials. As much as 60% of this can be recycled. It is believed that two trees are saved by every tonne of waste paper collected and recycled. Another responsibility is on the shoulders of the irrigation department. They must punish all those who directly drain their domestic and industrial waste into rivers or water bodies. The role of NGOs, religious organisations and of educated youth cannot also be neglected in this regard. They should hold awareness programmes at grassroots level and make the common masses understand the repercussions of unplanned disposal of solid waste. Municipal committees in urban areas should keep a close eye on the dumping of domestic or industrial waste along roadsides or in rivers. Green and blue dustbins, which are used for biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste, respectively, should be installed also in rural areas so that people do not throw their waste into rivers and other sites. Pits of suitable depth should be dug in rural areas for the same purpose. Municipal workers should regularly dump the waste of these dustbins at places that are far away from human settlements. In addition to this, the government should strictly ban the use of polythene and heavily fine those who sell them for their own selfish purposes.
Finally, it is the moral and social duty of every Kashmiri to keep their surroundings clean and hygienic, so that Kashmir’s beauty will remain eternal and enduring. If we destroy the scenic beauty of Kashmir for our own narrow individualistic purposes, then the valley will present a very sorry picture very soon.
The writer hails from Anantnag and is a student of Geography at Aligarh Muslim University