Two state-of-the-art dredgers manufactured in the United States have been successfully tested in the river Jhelum, clearing decks for launching conservation project of the valley’s lifeline which has been marred by extensive silt and pollution in last few decades.
Officials said the Jhelum Conservation Project will be launched by Chief Minister Omar Abdullah from north Kashmir’s Baramulla district later this month. The two dredgers have been manufactured by 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.
Originating from Verinag in south Kashmir, Jhelum is joined by four streams, Sundran, Brang, Arapath and Lidder in south Kashmir’s Islamabad (Anantnag) district. Besides, small streams like Veshara and Rambiara also feed the river with fresh waters.
Jhelum meanders in a serpentine way from South to North Kashmir and settles in Wullar, Asia’s largest freshwater lake, before pouring into Pakistan administered Kashmir through Baramulla. Experts said the devastating flood in 1959 caused backwater effects to Jhelum due to low outflows from Wullar Lake in north Kashmir which has been nearly chocked by heavy accumulation of silt and narrow outflow channel.
“For past nearly three decades, no dredging has been undertaken in Jhelum. This has resulted in losing of its carrying capacity due to heavy silt accumulation particularly in Baramulla. After hectic efforts, we have procured latest machines from US for dredging operation which is vital component of Jhelum conservation project,” Chief Engineer Irrigation and Flood Control, Muzaffar Ahmad Lanker told Greater Kashmir.
Procured at a cost of Rs 12 crores, the dredgers named as Soya II and Budshah II are designed to undertake deep dredging. “The machines have been successfully tested in Jhelum in north Kashmir and they will be flagged off by the CM later this month. We are utilizing every possible resource for conservation of Jhelum,” Lanker said.
He said cleaning of flood channels is going on at war-footing to minimize the threat of flood in summers. “However, the major hurdle in smooth flow of Jhelum is in outfall channel at Pohru Nallah in Baramulla. The dredgers are tailor made for undertaking the Herculean task. We plan to dredge out 36 lakh cubic meters of silt from the stretch to improve outflow of Jhelum,” Lanker said.
Officials said the then J&K Prime Minister Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad in late ’50s 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 the dredgers were purchased.“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 occurred 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 at present,” officials said.
The Irrigation and Flood Control Department had in 2009 sent Rs 2000 crore project to the Ministry of Water Resources for sanction. The project included many restoration works including improvement of Jhelum’s existing dredging of outfall channels, protection and anti-erosion works and increasing hydraulic efficiency.
However, the Ministry had 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.
“We hope to receive more funds soon. We have simultaneously started work to facilitate the inland water transport from Sonwar to Chattabal. In the second phase, similar operation will be launched from Khanabal to Pampore,” Lanker said.
Lankar said the reconstruction of the Chattabal Weir in old Srinagar will help to maintain a constant water level in the Jhelum from Islamabad to Srinagar and raise the flow of its spill channels including Sonar Kul and Kuta Kul.
He said all the data regarding intake and out-take water levels, flood gauge and Jhelum’s carrying capacity for the past 50 years has been digitalized. “We are committed to restore pristine glory of Jhelum. If all goes according to plan, in next few years there will be considerable improvement in Jhelum’s condition,”Lanker said.
Reprinted from Greater Kashmir