Amid Covid, big desilting ops underway to preserve Kashmir’s Wular lake
Wular Conservation & Management Authority (WUCMA) officials said that the dredging of the lake had started in May amid the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the union territory (UT).Updated: Oct 13, 2020, 22:22 IST
Wular Lake, the largest freshwater lake of the country that is spread across around 130 square (sq) kilometres (km) and located in Kashmir’s Bandipora district, is in the middle of massive desilting operation since May in a bid to conserve and preserve the water body, which is the lifeline of the Valley, officials said.
Wular Conservation & Management Authority (WUCMA) officials said that the dredging of the lake had started in May amid the raging coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in the union territory (UT).
The project was awarded to a Kolkata-based dredging company to increase the water-holding capacity of the lake, which is considered one of the biggest freshwater lakes in Asia.
“The dredging work is in progress. Of the three sq km area, which needed to be cleared in the first phase, up to 25% of the work has been completed in the past five months,” said Mudasir Mehmood Malik, project coordinator of the catchment area treatment, WUCMA.
“Earlier, this portion of the lake had turned into a solid mass of land, which has now become a vast expanse of water following the dredging operation,” he said.
Around 1.25 sq km of the lake was dredged in two stints between 2012 and 2018 ahead of the ongoing project work.
Around 27 sq km of the Wular lake, which is fed by Jhelum, Arin and Madhumati water bodies, had suffered massive siltation due to wanton encroachments and rampant willow plantations.
The lake is important in the hydrographic system of the Kashmir Valley, as it helps in flood mitigation, biodiversity conservation, supports the livelihood of local Kashmiris and is a natural habitat for lakhs of migratory birds. “There will be an increase in the water-holding capacity, and an uptick in fish production after three sq. km area of the lake is desilted. The lake can be opened up for tourism activities as well,” Malik said.
The project was awarded to Reach Dredging Limited, a division of the Kolkata-based Rashmi Group, which specialises in dredging and marine solutions. The work had started from May 7 and the project is estimated to be completed within 21 months.
The manual Joseph Cyril Bamford (JCB) machine was deployed between 2012 and 2018, but the pace of dredging was inordinately tardy. At present, hi-tech Cutter Suction Dredgers, Long Boom & Short Boom excavators,Multifunction Tug Boat, Cranes, Hydrographic equipment and dumpers have been pressed into service. Over 230 skilled and unskilled workers have been deployed for the desilting operation.
“Silting and other environmental changes have negatively impacted the water retention capacity of the lake and the massive area of the lake has turned into a land mass. This project is also a ray of hope for the revival of the lake and we are happy to be part of this environmental cause,” said Sunil Patwari, chief executive officer (CEO), Reach Dredging Limited, in a statement.
“This project will be beneficial for those impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, as it has enabled us to employ local talent and create job opportunities,” he added.
Malik said the lake has significance in Kashmir’s ecosystem. “If Wular dies, it will choke the Kashmir Valley. We are concerned about its conservation,” he said.
He expects the project to be completed ahead of the schedule. “Modern technology is being used for dredging. They are also taking the silt up to three km beyond the lake,” he added.
Earlier, the UT administration had sanctioned Rs 200 crore as part of the Wular Action Plan for the lake’s conservation and management.
The project seeks to remove 63 lakh cubic metres of silt from the lake. The estimated cost of the project is Rs 1,600 crore to clear the 27 sq km critically silted part of the lake.