Experts criticize move, accuse government of treating wetlands as wastelands
After turning Rakh-i-Arth, a wetland into a settlement colony, the State government is planning to construct a residential colony spread over 4200 kanals of wetland in Bemina outskirts, officials said.
A senior official at Srinagar Development Authority (SDA), wishing anonymity said the government has allocated them around 4200 kanals of land for construction of Satellite Township at Rakhi Gundakshah.
“The housing colony (Rakhi Gundakshah) would be named as Satellite Township and will be having all facilities. At present, the government is reviewing the project. The DPR for the project might be prepared by the end of this year,” the official said.
The land where the new housing colony would be constructed belongs to the State government and it is under the jurisdiction of Rakhs and Forms - a wing of the Agriculture Department. The land was transferred in 2002 to SDA for this township, the official said.
Till last year, the land was under the control of local farmers who would pay rent to the government and they were given enhancement of 40,000 per kanal, but now farmers demand market rate.
According to officials, the upcoming colony will comprise of plots and would be developed with all modern facilities.
“If the township will be high-rise, it can accommodate more than 40,000 people. It will end 90% of the need of housing in summer capital Srinagar,” they said adding if authorities leave land unused people might occupy the same.
About the government move, environmental experts in Kashmir have expressed serious concern over the deteriorating condition of wetlands.
Head Department of Earth Sciences, University of Kashmir, Prof Shakil Ahmad Romshoo, said, “It is unfortunate that the state government is treating wetlands as wastelands.”
“Wetlands are store basins for flood water and state government wants to destroy them,” he said.
Romshoo said the government has not learnt any lesson from the devastating floods of 2014.
“South part of Srinagar is more vulnerable to floods and earthquakes as compared to the northern part but nothing seems to be done on the ground to save people during disasters.”
According to him all the main government buildings in Bemina area including SDA, State Hajj House, Board of School Education, JVC Hospital, Urban and Local Bodies are prone to damages during natural calamities.
Romshoo demanded that the government should consult environment experts to review the project.
Another environmental expert, Irfan Rashid termed the upcoming township proposal a serious threat to both environment and ecology.
“If people at the helm of affairs have any proposal of construction they must revoke it in the initial stage, otherwise, it will have serious consequences on the environment,” he said.
Rashid said converting wetland will make Srinagar more prone to floods as this proposed colony will block all the water in the area.
“I think authorities have not learnt any lessons from Rakhi Arth settlement project where houses constructed on marshy land later developed cracks,” he said.
Hitting at the government Rashid said the government is always in a hurry before they come up with such projects.
“They did so in Rakhi Arth and Central University of Kashmir projects as proper land testing was not followed,” he said.
Quoting National Centre for Seismology (NCS) 2017 report Rashid said soil in wetlands is weak as per geographical standards and entire Srinagar is highly vulnerable to earthquakes.
Vice Chairman, SDA, Sajad Hussain Ganaie said the project is in pipeline and hoped to get it implemented soon.
“It is satellite township proposal and till now it is conceptual. We hope it will be implemented soon. The government will decide which department will take care of the project,” he said.
Ganaie said people need such houses, flats with modern facilities. “Before its foundation is laid we will get ‘No Objection Certificate’ from every concerned department,” he said.
Chief Town Planner Kashmir, Fayaz Ahmad Khan said it will be a first-ever mega project in Kashmir. “It will be having all the modern facilities including recreational, open space. It will be self-sustainable,” he said.
He stated that the project would be slightly safe as compared to Rakhi-Arth project adding the colony would be open to all, unlike Rakhi-Arth colony.
“The draft will be completed on which the concerned agencies are working. They may take our suggestions for layout,” the VC added.
When asked whether the project area is a wetland, Khan said they are concerned about the environment. “We have to maintain ecological balance so that the environment is not affected. It will be a new direction to the art of development in Kashmir. I hope people will see this project from that perspective,” Khan said.