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Conservation of Wular Lake: HC annoyed over wasting of central funds

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By: Kunal Shrivatsa

JAMMU: A Division Bench (DB) of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh High Court, Srinagar Wing, comprising Chief Justice Pankaj Mithal and Justice Moksha Khajuria Kazmi has expressed its annoyance over wasting of central funds for the conservation of Wular Lake.

DB made this observation while hearing a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) with regard to the conservation of Wular Lake vis-a-vis the removal of all hutments and encroachment within the catchment area in and around the water body.

Court observed that it is pained to notice that the government has created the Wular Lake Conservation and Management Authority for a specific purpose but the said Authority is not able to come up to the mark, rather, it appears to have been wasting the money sanctioned and provided by the Union of India.

The Division Bench observed that the last order of the Court clearly indicates that 380 Kanals and 11 Marlas of the Wular Lake is still under encroachment and efforts are being taken to retrieve the encroached land and none of the authorities is coming forward with any specific time limit within which they propose to retrieve the encroached land.

“It is also recorded that Rs 200 crores more have been provided by the Union of India for conservation and management of wetland while as under the Wular Action Plan, about Rs. 125 crores have already been spent,” DB observed.

It observed that residents of about 33 villages around the Wular Lake dump garbage into the Lake area and none of the authorities are able to check the dumping or to provide any alternative site.

During the last hearing, DB had directed the Senior Additional Advocate General, to indicate the strength of the staff of Wular Conservation and Management Authority; the number of persons employed and the effective steps taken by the Authority for conservation and preservation of the Lake.

In response, the Additional PCCF/Chief Executive Director, Wular Conservation and Management Authority, Kashmir, filed an Action Taken Report on November 11, 2021 simply stating that the Authority is making sincere efforts for conservation and preservation of the Lake. It has staff strength of 43 employees only which are all drawn on deputation and that there is no separate sanctioned staff in the Authority.

After going through the ATR filed, DB directed that the Chief Executive Director owns an explanation as to what action he has taken to get the staff for the Authority sanctioned and for its appointment, as also how the amount of Rs. 125 crores provided by the Union of India has been spent with complete details of the heads under which the expenses have been incurred. DB also directed to report about the steps taken for retrieving the remaining land of the Wular Lake.

DB further observed that apart from the above Authority, there is another Authority with the name of Manasbal and Wular Development Authority that is entrusted with the work of tourism development.

“The Court is not aware as to what action or steps the Authority has taken for development of tourism around the Wular Lake,” DB observed.

DB directed to include the said Authority as Respondent No. 10 through its Chief Executive Officer.

The DB asked the Amicus Curiae appointed in this case to visit and take a round of the Wular Lake and to submit his own assessment with regard to the conservation and management/development of tourism around the Lake.

DB also asked Advocate General, DC Raina, to coordinate between the various departments and to place before this Court the precise stand of the respondents with regard to the conservation and preservation of Wular Lake as also regarding the utilization of money sanctioned by the Union of India for the purpose.

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