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Mechanical Dredgers Fail to Achieve Desilting Target in River Jhelum

Posted on September 8, 2016

The ambitious Rs 399 crore Jhelum dredging project to increase the flow of the river has been moving at snails pace as the mechanical dredgers have been able to dredge only 1.4 lakh cubic metres (cum) of silt as against the overall target of 16 lakh cum.

The devastating floods of September 2014 had caused extensive siltation in river Jhelum as huge amount of silt from mountainous catchments settled in the river, thus drastically affecting its carrying capacity and hydrological system.

Post floods the Government of India had approved Rs 399 crore flood management plan for Jhelum to increase carrying capacity of the river and its flood spill channel. The project also envisaged acquisition of land at Shariefabad on city outskirts to make the existing flood spill channel fully functional. Right from the beginning the project was delayed and it was only in November 2015 that the Government of India approved it. Mechanical dredging comes under “Priority Works-Comprehensive Plan for Flood Management Works on Jhelum-Phase-1” of the project.

“This dredging project is part of the comprehensive flood management plan to increase the flow of the river,” said Mir Javed Jaffar Chief Engineer, Irrigation and Flood Control (I&FC). “Since the floods in 2014, our department has removed over 9.5 lakh cubic metres of silt from Jhelum. What this Rs 399 crore project did was to make room for hi-tech mechanical dredgers and increase the pace and quality of dredging. Our aim is to dredge 16 lakh cubic metres of silt and river bed material.”

According to officials four dredgers are working in river Jhelum at Shivpora, Panzinara, Sopore, Noorbagh and two more in Baramulla. “One more dredger is on way at Udhampur and once all become functional we hope to achieve most of the target in this winter,” said Jaffar.

However despite the claims the progress on account of mechanical dredgers has been slow as they have been able to take out only 1.4 lakh cum of silt.

Kolkatta based Reach Dredgers that bagged the Rs 46 crore tender were tasked with mechanical dredging of 16.15 cum silt and riverbed material (7,00,000 cum in the Srinagar stretch and 9,15,000 cum in Baramulla stretch). Out of this government will get Rs 12 crore back in lieu of sale of desilted material.

The officials attribute the reason due to delay in the implementation of overall project.

“It was only in March 2016 that the Rs 399 crore got financial concurrence so you can see the limited amount of time we have since then,” said Jaffer.

Ever since their operation the machines and their operating company has been in the news for all the bad reasons. Frequent breakdown of machines, selection dredging spots according to their ease and non-availability of desired results have been plaguing the dredging project.

There has also been dispute on the required amount of silt to be dredged. Even as the officials estimate that 16 lakh cubic metres of silt has to be removed but independent experts say than figure is much more.

”One key reason for Jhelum’s relentless rise during floods was negligible desilting. An estimated 36 lakh cubic metres of silt has accumulated in the riverbed. The last dredging was done in 1986. In 25 years, the meandering Jhelum got silted leaving little space in it to take excess water,” said Muhammad Ashraf Fazili during an interview with Greater Kashmir.

With the current pace of work the dredging target according to officials is difficult to estimate. “At Shivpora the dredger is not working and the staff has already fled,” said a local resident. “They had earlier said that the entire stretch will be desilted and water will flow with increased speed, but that in no way is happening.”

The Chief Engineer denied shutting down of the machine, however saying that the machine shuts down its operation when it has to move from one place to another. “Half of their staff has fled due to the current situation but other half is working tirelessly at the dredging work,” said Jaffer. “And these machines are not the only ones to do the dredging. Our department too is involved in dredging and has till date dredged 9.5 lakh riverbed material.”

Funding has been one of the biggest hindrances in the smooth progress of the project. Against the total project cost of Rs 399 crores, Government of India has released only Rs 20 crores. In comparison the state has been more generous and released Rs 42 crores.

“Lack of adequate finance has been a major challenge for us,” admitted Jaffer. “If we would have received money on time, the dredging project would have been in advanced stages of completion.”

Even as there has been some progress on dredging the ground work on land component is yet to start. Of the Rs 399 crore project Rs 140 crore were meant for land and structure acquisition to restore the width of Flood Spill Channel especially at Shariefabad and Naidkhai. “We have done the evaluation part now as the money comes we will start acquisition of structures and land to increasing the width of flood spill channels,””said Jaffer. “No money for this component has come from GOI whereas the state has released Rs 42 crore.”

Environmentalists have been stressing on the need to afforest the catchment area of Jhelum to decrease silt load in the water as river water is carrying more silt than the normal. “Though the level of silt in river is not alarming but yes there is urgent need of afforestation in catchment areas to decrease erosion,” said Jaffer. “But the afforestation is under Forest department and we have no idea how much they have done.”

Originating from Verinag in South Kashmir, Jhelum spans over 175 sq.kms from south to north Kashmir. It is joined by four streams, Sundran, Brang, Arapath and Lidder in Islamabad (Anantnag) district. Besides, small streams like Veshara and Rambiara also feed the river with fresh waters. The river settles in Wullarlake before flowing to Pakistan administered Kashmir through Baramulla district.

After the completion of the dredging project the department estimates that the water carrying capacity of Jhelum and its flood channel would increase from present 32 cusecs to 45 cusecs. One cusec is the flow of one cubic feet water in one second at any given point. In September 2014 Jhelum received a record 120,000 cusecs of water thus flooding areas from South to North. The dredging project wouldn’t completely eliminate the risk of floods but it would go a long way in managing the flood waters to ease the suffering of people in the event of a catastrophe like 2014.

The officials put the target of completion of dredging in Srinagar to be March 2016 and for Baramulla December 2017 but given the problems silently admit that the project is likely to be completed by 2018.

Source: Greater Kashmir

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