Jammu: With flash floods in River Tawi washing away nearly 400 buildings, roads and bridges and inundating 70 colonies and hamlets, activists feel it is a wake up call for government agencies to act against rampant exploitation of the river choked by dozens of illegal colonies.
As per a survey by State's Revenue Ministry, as many as 12 illegal colonies and hamlets besides scores of commercial buildings have come up on the banks of the River in total violation of the Jammu Master plan.
"We have brought impending havoc by encroaching upon its banks and allowing thousand of constructions along banks. It is partially man-made", Save Tawi-Save Paryavaran Andolan chief advocate Chander Mohan Sharma said.
Sharma along with Save Tawi Samiti headed by Brigadier (Retd) Suchet Singh had recently launched a major campaign in Jammu schools against encroachments on river Tawi.
"We have been warning state authorities in the past. It did not wake up at all. There has been largescale encroachments on both the banks of the Tawi besides cutting of trees and encroachments within the forests on adjoining slopes of Tawi", Sharma said.
Social activist Ram Pal alleged that "In order to garner votes, politicians in connivance with officials and land mafia allowed mushrooming of illegal colonies and constructions along Tawi River".
Many hamlets on the Tawi River bank were devastated by the floods including Darda hamlet which is close to Sidhra golf course in Jammu city.
Labourers from Rajouri and Poonch have also encroached land and set up their houses on the river bed. "We have settled here for the past 10 to 15 years", Tasfeer Din, who lost everything in the floods, said.
Bashir Colony is another settlement on the banks of the river that has been washed away. "We had purchased land four years ago and constructed a house, which was totally damaged in floods", Gulan Mohmmad said.
"Even Jammu Development Authority (JDA) has declared us illegal and asked us to vacate by giving notices to us few months back", he said.
Falie Mandal and Beli Charan colonies, which faced the flood fury, have been encroached by migrants from Doda and other places who have built houses on the banks close to the river.
Colonies set up in Barsati Nallah, Gurkha Nagar, Rajiv Colony, Qasim Nagar have been constructed on seasonal flood channels in Jammu city.
"We have been living here for the past four years and our MLA and Minister had promised to divert this nallah and regularise this illegal colony soon", Ram Saran, whose house was damaged in the floods, said.
Gujjar Nagar with a population of over 3000 is another colony which was set up on the dry river bed.
"The government has to take a policy decision on this issue. People have already encroached land and constructed their houses. But we don't allow any construction on nallahs and river beds now", Jammu Municipal Corporation Commissioner Kiran Watal said while acknowledging the presence of illegal constructions on the river bansl.
Brigadier Singh rued that once a river considered as pious as Ganga, Tawi River today has been reduced to a rivulet of slush.
"The land along the fourth bridge on the Tawi, a portion of which got washed away, had become a haven for unauthorized colonisers, courtesy a few politicians, who had taken over land illegally, hoping to reap benefits," he said.
People have even living on islands created by the river Tawi during past two decade and a huge number of people are settled in these Tawi Islands, which had now 45 hamlets.
Activists said this has been facilitated by the government by providing them roads, bridges, power and water supply.
Land created by converting dry river beds in these hamlets of Parwali, Sohajna, Rampur, Khanpur, Alora, Bagatpur has been washed away in the flash floods.
"1000 acres of agriculture land has been washed away. Hundreds houses damaged", Sarpanch of village Sohajana Kulbushan Khajuria said.