Nearly a year after a ministerial panel cleared an Indo-Sino company to dredge the Wular Lake, the Governor’s administration has cancelled the contract that had run into controversy over some financial issues.A source said one of the reasons that led to cancellation of the contract to a joint venture between Kolkata-based Reach Dredging Limited and China-based Hubei Hongyan Engineering Company Limited was the lack of a clear source of funding to undertake the Rs 389-crore project
This issue, according to the source, had become raised many an eyebrow after a seven-member ministerial panel had cleared the company for executing the project last year despite objections by a few members.The government had floated a “composite tender” under which the contractor had to fell an estimated 21 lakh trees inside the lake and carryout the dredging–key components of the lake’s massive conservation project. \The project was targeted for completion in two years and included retrieving encroached area of the water body and its catchment area, water management and recreation of its water holding capacity.
The source said while government of India had already released Rs 60 crore of the Rs 120 crore allotted for the project, it was assumed that felled trees would fetch Rs 200 crore, a clause which was agreed to by the company.
“The problem with this arrangement was that there was no clear source of funding and contract was based on assumption that the trees would compensate the required funding. There was a gap of around Rs 100 crore in total project cost which was a matter of concern,” said the source.
Nestled between mountains, the Wular acts as huge absorption basin for floodwaters and along with its associated wetlands, it is an important habitat for migratory water birds. In recognition of its immense ecological and socio-economic importance, the lake was designated as a wetland of international importance under Ramsar Convention in 1990.
But owing to years of encroachment, siltation and government neglect, Wular is today gasping for survival.
A study of the lake by Wetlands International found its original area was 217.8 sq kms, which included 58 sq kms of associated marshes. The total area was reduced from 157.74 sq kms in 1911 to 86.71 sq kms in 2007. Overall, there was reduction in the lake area by 45% mainly due to conversion of parts of the lake for agriculture and willow tree plantation.
The Wular Conservation and Management Authority (WUCMA), which is managing the lake, has now decided to float tenders afresh to start dredging of the lake at the earliest.
To begin with, the Authority will seek revalidation of Rs 16 crore of the Rs 60 crore lying unspent with it from the government.
The utlisation of Rs 16 crore would enable the state to seek the remaining Rs 60 crore from the Centre.
“The entire project can’t be completed with a funding of few hundred crores but the work has to be started at some stage. We can’t afford to lose more time,” said an official.