Engineer Overseeing Dredging work on Hokarsar Wetland Suddenly Removed

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Posted January 1, 2019

The Jammu and Kashmir government has removed an expert engineer, Muhammad Aslam Zargar, from overseeing vital dredging work of the Hokarsar Wetland, work that will help Srinagar, Budgam and Pulwama districts guard against floods.

Aslam Zargar, Kashmir Reader has learnt, was sacked after he asked the Reach Dredging Limited – the company that is engaged for carrying out the dredging work – to remove the dredged out soil and muck which the company had just dumped beside the wetland.

The Kolkata-based dredging firm has earlier been asked by the irrigation department to wind up operations after it failed to meet the deadline of dredging work of Jhelum river. The company was given the work after the 2014 floods. The project of the Hokarsar wetland was later given to the company after it emerged as the lowest bidder. It won the Rs 31 crore tender at just Rs 21 crore.

The government now has given the job to another engineer who, according to sources, has less experience of handling such projects and has mostly overseen projects of Public Health Engineering department.

According to sources, Aslam is a key point man for the project which has envisioned that a channel in the wetland can increase the flood-carrying capacity of the city’s Flood Spill Channel from the present 6,000 cusses to 25,000 cusecs. The wetland is connected to the Flood Spill Channel that runs parallel to River Jhelum and carries additional flood water from Jhelum. This channel meets the Hokarsar wetland on the way which at present has been choked by debris brought by confluence of many nallas, reducing its absorption capacity by 22 percent.

Aslam has been instrumental in getting clearance from the National Green Tribunal, a body that considers cases pertaining to environmental issues, to allow the dredging of the wetland. The tribunal allowed the work only after assurance that no ecosystem will be altered by the dredging.

The Hokarsar wetland, besides acting as a detention basin, is home to scores of migratory birds.

The permission from the green tribunal was granted after a struggle of four years.

The project conceived by Aslam envisioned that the earth and debris/ muck from the wetland would be removed to make space. This muck, as per the tender document, has to be dumped at least 18kms away from the site.

On spot, however, the company has only piled the dredged material along the course of the canal, which has in turn created an alternate embankment inside the wetland.

Kashmir Reader has learnt that the state wildlife department, the custodian of wetlands, has written many times to the Irrigation and Flood Control department, which oversees the dredging project, to remove the extracted portions that have been piled up. The Irrigation department has shown willingness, but has not been able to remove the dredged soil.

Aslam, who was the officer from the Irrigation and Flood Control department to monitor the work, asked the dredging company to remove the muck.

Days later he was removed, and attached, a usual form of punishment handed out by the government.

Irrigation and Flood Control Department’s Chief Engineer Ashok Kumar told Kashmir Reader that Aslam is one of the few expert engineers in the department who knows his work. Kumar said he had recently taken over the department and had no knowledge of why Aslam was removed.

“He is a handy engineer. I discuss things with him about the project, but I have no knowledge about his removal. The earth has to be removed at any cost, and it will be,” he said.

Source: Kashmir Reader