Srinagar, June 25: After years of inordinate delay, the Jammu and Kashmir Government on Saturday signed an agreement for procuring state-of-the-art dredgers with renowned US-based Ellicott Dredges—one of the oldest manufacturers of dredging equipments.
Incidentally, Ellicott Dredges had supplied the first dredger for conservation of Jhelum in 1960. The dredger was commissioned by the then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru.
The agreement was signed between the president Ellicott Dredges, Peter Bowe, and Chief Engineer Irrigation and Flood Control, MR Shola, here. By virtue of the agreement, Ellicott Dredges will supply two dredgers for Jhelum conservation at an estimated cost of Rs 12 crores.
“It is an emotional and a special day for me as I have renewed my family’s association with J&K after 51 years. My father Richard Bowe signed an agreement with J&K Government in 1960. We are in the business of making dredgers for over a century and I assure that our machines will definitely help to salvage the Jhelum,” Peter Bowe told Greater Kashmir after signing the agreement.
MR Shola sounded optimistic that the dredgers will speed up the conservation of Jhelum.
“Hopefully the dredgers would reach the Valley in next few months. The dredgers would help to increase the carrying capacity of Jhelum and speed up conservation measures. Due to heavy influx of silt over the decades, the river bed has been raised extensively. Once the dredgers reach here, our priority would be improve the water circulation and clean the flood spill channels,” Shola said.
Officials said the devastating flood in 1959 caused backwater effects to Jhelum due to low outflows from Wullar Lake in north Kashmir which had been nearly chocked by heavy accumulation of silt and narrow outflow channel.
The then J&K Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad had approached the Government of India to seek expert advise and engineering solution to the problem. Under the guidance of Central Water Commission experts, a Master Plan for dredging works of Jhelum from Wullar to Khadanyar was formulated.
The project envisaged deepening and widening of Jhelum from Ningli to Sheeri by Mechanical Dredgers. However at that time, the dredgers were not manufactured or readily available in India.
Officials said it was due to personal intervention of the then Prime Minister Jawahar Lal Nehru that several dredgers were purchased.
“The dredgers were procured by Ministry of Water Transport through Port Authority ofIndia Vishakatpatnam out of which four dredgers were allocated to J&K for dredging of outflow channel. To look after this gigantic task, four mechanical divisions were created. Four suction dredges alongwith allied equipment like tugs, tippers and dumpers were deployed to achieve the results,” the Chief Engineer said.
However, the dredging operation continued only up to 1986. “It was suspended due to lack of adequate resources and backup facilities. Since then tons of silt deposition has taken place in Jhelum due to rapid degradation of its catchments. This has reduced the flood routing efficacy of Jhelum’s outflow channel and its charge carrying capacity from 35000 cusecs in 1975 to 20000 cusecs now,” he said.
He maintained that to prevent submergence of low lying areas and floods in the Valley, dredging of Jhelum’s outflow channel is the only viable solution.
Pertinently, the Irrigation and Flood Control Department in 2009 had submitted Rs 2000 crore project to the Ministry of Water Resources for conservation of Jhelum. The project included many restoration works including dredging of outflow channels, protection and anti-erosion works and increasing hydraulic efficiency.
However, the Ministry approved only a part of the project costing Rs 97 crores to facilitate immediate interventions including procurement of machines and dredging in Jhelum particularly of its flood spill channels in Srinagar and outflow stream at Daubgah and Ningli in Baramulla.
Jhelum is considered to be the lifeline of Kashmir owing to its immense social-ecological role as major source of irrigation. Originating from Verinag in South Kashmir, Jhelum is joined by four streams, Sundran, Brang, Arapath and Lidder in south Kashmir’s Islamabad district.
Besides these, small streams like Veshara and Rambiara also feed the river with fresh waters.
The Jhelum meanders in a serpentine way from South to North Kashmir and finally settles in Wullar, Asia’s largest freshwater lake, before pouring into Pakistan through Baramulla.
However, during the past over three decades, Jhelum’s glory has been marred due to inflow of sewage, dumping of garbage and, importantly, absence of conservation measures.
Reprinted from Greater Kashmir