The overwhelming crisis of waste management in Kashmir
“Thousands have lived without love, not one without water.” – W.H. Auden
The overuse of local natural resources has, for the last two decades in rural village settings, contributed to environmental impacts like pollution, resource depletion, energy consumption, and waste. This has as much to do with changing lifestyles and population growth in villages as with failed policies and neglect at the state level.
The consumption of processed foods and packaged foods is also rising in villages, as a result, single-use plastic bags, plastics, polystyrene, polythene and other non-biodegradable materials find their way into the otherwise pristine streams and lakes.
During the past two decades, an unprecedented increase in the amount of solid waste and liquid waste was concomitant with the developing living patterns in villages. However, neither the government has announced any plans for waste management in villages nor are people ready to rise to the occasion. This negligence is unforgivable as it endangers the air, water, soil now and for future generations.
The streams, flowing through the agricultural landscapes of villages, which were once good and considered appropriate sources of drinking water, now are highly contaminated. The water of these streams nowadays is not even fit for irrigation, let alone for drinking as the solid waste generated by households is being dumped indiscriminately into water bodies.
Keeping in view these factors, the government is trying to make improvements in the tap water supply in rural areas of Kashmir to address drinking water needs at a larger scale and is also in the process of eliminating open defecation under the Swachh Bharat Mission. Nevertheless, these positive changes a) would bring disruptive shifts in the way municipal waste is generated b) call for necessary steps to ensure the health of sensitive non-potable water sources is not compromised.
As of now, the wastewater management system — a modern-day waste management practice — is not present in the majority of rural areas in Kashmir as a result the untreated wastewater or liquid waste is directly discharged into local water bodies.
Waste management in rural areas
It is to be noted that the successive elected central governments have passed several laws to regulate the management of solid and liquid waste in India. These laws govern the management of solid and liquid waste generated by households and apartments, commercial establishments, industries, and institutions. For instance, under the Water Prevention and Control of Pollution act 1974, it is prohibited to pollute water bodies through wastewater or solid waste generated from households, industries or any other institution. Its motive is to prevent, control and abatement of water pollution and the maintenance of water.
With an objective to dispose of waste properly without any impact on the ecology of villages, the solid and liquid waste management (SLWM) program has been launched by the government. The program is supposed to set up a system for the scientific disposal of waste in such a way that it has a tangible impact on the population. The states have the duty to identify suitable technologies or methods to manage the liquid and solid waste generated from villages.
The funds allocated for the implementation of SLWM are provided on the basis of the total number of households, Rs 7 lakh for a gram panchayat having 150 households and Rs 20 lakh for more than 500 households. The rural development bodies in Kashmir have failed to achieve any progress vis-à-vis the Solid Liquid Waste Management (SLWM) programme as the government is yet to undertake the programme in the rural areas at the panchayat level.
According to a report, in the 4291 gram Panchayats of Jammu and Kashmir not a single scientific waste management practice has been implemented. Around 80% of the population of Jammu and Kashmir is living in rural areas but if compared with urban areas, only Rs 4 crore has been allocated for the waste management in rural areas, while Rs 464 crore was allocated to 91 urban local bodies in the 2019-20 budget.
Moreover, the funds allocated for waste management through Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan (G) remain unspent. As per SBM (G) guidelines, every state should have at least one SLWM consultant at the state level and one District Water and Sanitation Mission (DWSM) for every district to guide preparation for SLWM projects. However, the Department of Rural Development, which controls the Mission Directorate of SBM(G) failed to appoint consultants at the state and district level, the report said.
In the absence of waste management facilities, the villages are turning into dumping sites. Worst of all, the waste is being dumped on the banks of water bodies. Take an example of Ohangam village of central Kashmir Budgam district, where heaps of garbage is being dumped into a stream (Son-i-Muin Kul) beside hazardous household liquids are directly disposed into the stream. Two decades ago, people would use the water of the stream for drinking purposes. Now, it is just a trash site.
Similarly, in Ramhuma village of the same district heaps of garbage could be sighted on the bank of the Karshan stream. The stream originates from the upper reaches of Tosamaidan areas where its water is pristine and clear. However, as it turns downwards it is being polluted with trash. It is pertinent to mention here that the Jal Shakti Department supplies drinking water from the same stream to different villages. In another village of Budgam called Brass where all waste including medical waste is being dumped in the famed Shukhnag stream.
The Jal Shakti department is supplying water from a stream without any treatment to Sangrama village in district Budgam. The stream carries all the liquid and solid waste of the villages it passes through. The spot where the pipeline is connected is the same place where waste is being dumped.
The situation is much the same in most other villages where the major water quality impact affecting waterbodies is the discharge of untreated waste. For example, the majority of domestic and medical waste goes into Laam Nallah in south Kashmir’s Tral village. It needs to be mentioned that medical waste makes the water more dangerous than the other waste that goes into the waterbodies.
A few recommendations regarding how to manage the untreated wastewater or liquid waste
The SBM(G) should be focused on ensuring a community waste management system in villages. There should be no further delay in implementing the SLWM plans in the villages as it will have a negative impact on the fragile ecology and the environment of the villages.
The government should raise awareness and hold campaigns to educate Panchayat representatives, villagers and Panchayat officials about the need and importance of Solid Liquid Waste Management.
Government should encourage the construction of soak pits (a covered up chamber with perforated walls that helps percolate the treated wastewater into the ground) in villages.
Modern sewage treatment plants or technology like Waste Stabilization Pond (WSP), Duck Based wastewater treatment, Phyto roid technology and Anaerobic decentralized wastewater treatment needs to be introduced in the villages as per the feasibility and need.
Government should enforce plastic related laws strictly. It is high time to ban plastic material and find alternatives for it. Also, strict restrictions should be imposed on the final disposal of liquid waste.
The government should constitute surveillance squads that can keep a check on illegal wastewater outlets and initiate action against violators disposing of solid and liquid waste into the water bodies.