Mayor Junaid Mattu and IGP Basant Rath lock horns over ‘Wetlands’

An ugly turn of events has locked Inspector General of Police (IGP), Traffic Basant Rath and the newly-elected mayor of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC) Junaid Mattu in war of words.

The issue started between the duo over the remarks of newly elected Mayor of Srinagar Municipal Corporation regarding conversion of wet lands in Srinagar into commercial places. Junaid Azim Mattu while addressing to the questions of reporters in press conference said, “We have to create growth and jobs in the private sector,” adding, “What do we intend to do in wetlands, watch birds?” Further adding, “We are a poor state and we have to create employment, avenues and opportunities, Yes, we will strike a balance between development and ecology, but striking a balance doesn’t mean we have to tie a chastity belt around our city.”

Thus giving a clear signal that SMC will look into zoning laws for creating commercial spaces, however, this statement came under hammer from a vast majority of locals and outsiders considering the wetlands of the Kashmir Valley are rapidly shrinking due to the massive siltation and encroachment.

Inspector General of Police (IGP), Traffic Basant Rath, who is generally known for his out spoken nature and active on twitter using the tweet handle (@kangriCarrier) on 08 November expressed himself saying, “ Wetlands are precious and a vital part of our ecosystem. Only a cabbage will think otherwise.”

Junaid Mattu in while immediately retorting back through the same medium said, “That is fine. He is unwell. Don’t worry.”

Interestingly, IGP Traffic Basant Rath posted his tweet in morning hours of 08 November  and on the same day at 11.30 pm in night, Mayor Junaid Mattu takes the issue further seemingly trying to settle scores raised a finger of accusation on traffic department claiming, “”I have received numerous complaints about traffic mismanagement issues in the city. I have spoken to the SP Traffic (Urban) and sought a review of current traffic diversions and plans. The SMC has been directed to help with decongestion of alternate routes for some relief,”

Immediately on the next morning on 09 November IGP Traffic Basant Rath replied by hitting ‘under the belt’ tweet saying, “Not your domain. Traffic diversion at Jehangir Chowk is a compulsion. The vendors have created a mess on Amira Kadal – HSHS – Maharaja Bazar – LD Hospital stretch. SMC needs to clear the mess,” and added in another tweet directed to other tweet handle, who wrote to him that he had to follow orders, “No. I don’t. His mandate is limited. Pretty limited. Traffic doesn’t come under his domain,”

For last two days both the personalities have locked horns and the ball game of accusations and counter accusations has seemingly shrouded the basic issue which led to this skirmish.

Wetlands play a significant role in water security in the Kashmir valley by regulating the release of floodwaters from glaciers in the surrounding Himalayas. The lake with its associated wetlands is an important habitat for migratory water birds within the Central Asian Flyway and supports rich biodiversity.

Kashmir valley is known as the land of wetlands. Noted among the lakes of Kashmir valley are Sheeshnag, Manasbal, Wular lake , Dal lake, Hokersar, Nilnag, Gangbal, Vaishan sar, Kishan sar, Kausarnag, Khanpur and Waskur.

Wetlands defined as areas of land that are either temporarily or permanently covered by water exhibit enormous diversity according to their genesis, geographical location, water regime and chemistry. Wetlands are one of the most productive ecosystems and play crucial role in hydrological cycle. Utility wise, wetlands directly and indirectly support millions of people in providing services such as storm and flood control, clean water supply, food, fiber and raw materials, scenic beauty, educational and recreational benefits.

As per study data available from Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India, Srinagar district has a total area of 1865 sq.km out of which nearly 100 sq.km are is under wetlands.

In Srinagar district total 76 wetlands are mapped and 23 small wetland (< 2.25 ha) are identified and demarcated as point feature. The total area of wetlands is 10081ha or 100 sq.km area. The wetland types found are Lakes/Ponds, high altitude lakes, riverine wetlands, and rivers. The dominant type of wetland in the district is riverine wetlands, and it is these reverine wetlands which are supposed to act as a savior of Srinagar district. There are 14 Lake/pond contributing 21.76%.

Though the wetlands are important part of the whole eco system in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, however their significance increases man folds for Srinagar which falls under the jurisdiction of Srinagar Municipal Corporation (SMC).

Analysts claim that the devastating floods in 2014 inundating Srinagar are primarily due to encroachment of flood channels and wet lands especially reverine wetlands which were specifically created from time to time considering the water logging and past record of floods.

Encroachment is already rampant and telling, now even the thought of further encroachment of left over wetlands in the name of creating infrastructure for development and jobs in district is fraught with severe and grave consequences. Development must never happen at the cost of nature and connected eco system. The importance of protecting and maintaining a fragile eco system in valley must be the prime responsibility of the government. Playing with it will be a doom and an impending disaster for the valley considering its land locked geography.

Development and jobs indeed are a priority and the government must have a holistic look for creation of necessary infrastructure within its limited source. Though we donot wish to be hyper critical over the remarks of Mayor Junaid Mattu, but he must appreciate that a non state subject has made us realize the importance and fragile nature of our eco system.

These wetlands are not for “bird watching” alone, but they go deep into maintaining the existence of valley as a geographical entity and we are sure, a Mayor cannot even imagine of playing with it. We can cast off the “chastity belt” but not the “safety belt” of our wetlands.

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