JK shelves Dal conservation, stops funds to LAWDA

Move forces suspension of de-weeding, dredging operations; STPs face closure

In a major jolt to restoration of Dal lake here, the Jammu and Kashmir Government has “stopped” funds for conservation of the world-famous water body under the state plan for this year.
Sources said the government move to stop the Operation and Maintenance funds has badly hit the lake’s conservation plans, forcing closure of dredging and de-weeding operations and pushing the five Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) around Dal and Nigeen lakes on the verge of closure.
Casting shadow on the future conservation plans of the lake, the Housing and Urban Development Department (H&UDD has categorically told the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) that it should generate financial resources on its own for the conservation plan.
The H&UDD headed by Nawang Rigzin Jora has gone on to direct the LAWDA to collect service charges from the Shikarawallas, Houseboat owners, tourists visiting the 
lake and other locals who derive their livelihood from the water body to generate Operation and Maintenance charges for Dal conservation.
“The Department (H&UDD) has told the LAWDA that it can’t bear the O&M charges for Dal conservation now onwards and the department should look for the ways to generate the resources,” sources said.
A senior official said the H&UDD had laid out the plan for the LAWDA—entrusted with Dal conservation—to generate Rs 6 crore annually to keep the conservation plan on track. However, the official said, the LAWDA could only generate few lakh rupees against the set targets.
“Under the conservation plan the government releases more than Rs 20-25 crore annually as O&M grant. How can LAWDA generate such huge resources? Some officials want to run Dal conservation as a commercial entity. In environmental projects, focus should be on conservation. We fear the conservation of the lake is in for bad days,” sources said. 
Under the National Lake Conservation Plan (NLCP), which was launched in 2005, an amount of Rs 298.76 crore has been sanctioned for conservation of Dal and Nigeen lakes. Officials said around Rs 250 crore has been spent so far on construction of STPs, pumping stations, laying of sewers and solid waste management, besides catchment, hydraulic, restoration and development works.
Till 2008, the Dal-Nigeen Lake Conservation and Management Plan including Operation and Maintenance was cent percent funded by the Government of India as Centage Charges under the National Lake Conservation Plan. However, after objection by the Government of India, the state government decided to include Operation and Maintenance of the lake and development of colony for its dwellers under the state plan.
Officials said government from this fiscal projected the funds for maintenance of Dal through Special Plan Assistance route. However, the Planning and Development department objected to the allocation on account of revenue component as Operation and Maintenance out of the state plan.
Sources said the LAWDA has from the past several months taken up the matter with the government, but to no avail. “Due to lack of funds for fuel and maintenance we have stopped operation of most of the machines including Water Masters. In view of massive growth of weeds in summers, there is need of sustained deweeding operations. Besides, the imported machines need constant and preventive maintenance. However, in absence of funds, the machines can neither be maintained nor operated,” they said.
“In absence of requisite funds by the state government, the Sewage Treatment Plants and intermediate pumping stations will stop functioning. This will be detrimental for the lake as untreated sewage will either flow directly into the lake or backflow to households,” officials, wishing anonymity, said.
The LAWDA also owes over Rs one crore as operation and maintenance cost of STPs and weed harvesters to various companies. Nearly 200 casual laborers working in LAWDA are without wages for the past four months. “We have been utilizing their services for sewer cleaning operation of pump stations and machines. We owe nearly Rs 70 lakh to Power Development Department as electricity charges for STPs, aerators and pump stations. Besides, we have an outstanding of Rs 20 lakhs as fuel charges for DG sets meant for STPs and de-weeding machines,” they said.
Commissioner/Secretary, Housing and Urban Development, Satish Nehru, said he will look into the matter. “Some funds were released for salary component of LAWDA, however I will look into the reasons for delay in release of funds for maintenance of the lake,” he said. 
Minister for Planning, Ajay Sadhotra did not respond to repeated calls from this newspaper. Principal Secretary to Government Finance department, BB Vyas, refused to comment on the matter.

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