(The way we have been deliberately and knowingly destroying various components of Nature in Kashmir makes it look like an Environmental “Suicide”!)
Recently there has been news about some dredging scam in the Wular Lake area where the contract given to a firm has been cancelled. The need for dredging of the second largest sweet water lake in Asia is a tragedy in itself! Kashmir has witnessed some of the worst episodes in its long history both in terms of human suffering and material destruction. However, the wanton destruction of its Environment during last few decades has no parallel in its entire 5,000 year old history. The destruction has been deliberate and intentional purely for material greed which has surpassed all limits. One does not know where to begin this tragic story as every facet of nature has suffered from this inhuman onslaught. Let us start from the water bodies as these have come into sharp focus due to the intervention of the State High Court. Dal Lake is virtually at the point of extinction. A massive water body has been reduced to a wide river but without any flow! If the flow had been there, one could have waited to get the original size of the lake back by removing encroachments by various means. Unfortunately the first action of our brilliant modern engineers was to stop the flow of water by filling up the centuries old canals which has transformed the lake into an oversized pond of stagnant water. The inflow of tons of raw sewage and untreated waste from over 2,000 house-boats and dozens of hotels on its banks has converted it into an oversized septic tank.
While taking care of the pollution of water bodies we must not forget the Wular, Manasbal, and the River Jehlum. All are threatened and are facing worst kind of pollution, most of it manmade. During the time of Maharaja the River Jehlum used to be dredged periodically and the silt was taken out of it. Dredging was done downstream to ensure good flow of water. In fact, one dredger was permanently stationed in Baramulla. No such operation has been undertaken for decades now. On the contrary we are dumping the entire muck from the City and other habitations on its banks straight into it without any treatment whatsoever. Vyeth or Vitasta as it was known in ancient Kashmir deserved a better treatment.
After water bodies, let us study the condition of our Mountains. The fate of these is starkly evident right from the first entry into Srinagar. The stone quarries of Pandh Chok show the great love and regard we have for our Mountains. These have been virtually “raped”. There is no other stronger word in English language which can depict the state to which these lovely and beautiful Mountains at the entrance of Srinagar have been brutally subjected to. It is like a lustful savage assaulting a beautiful lady by forcibly lifting her dress right from her feet!Right from this spot to Dara along the Zabarwan Range there are many quarry sites where the same story is being repeated. In addition, a road has been taken up the Mountain at the back of the cantonment and a number of buildings constructed on the ridge. It has completely disfigured this beautiful Mountain which gives a back drop to the city of Srinagar. It is not known whether the Forest and Environment Departments had cleared the construction of this road? The people who have done it should have at least had the decency of covering up these scars with fast growing shrubs and trees as was done in the case of the road going up the Shankaracharya hill for TV transmitter. Similar degradation has been done to karewas (sedimentary clay formations) by taking clay for constructing railway track and filling some water bodies for constructing colonies!
All our Mountains used to be covered with lush green and dense forests. In the earlier times these forests were so dense and near to the city that wild animals would be seen roaming in the lanes of old town especially in winter. Hundreds of migratory birds would fall into the backyards of the people during a heavy snowfall. Gone are those days! We have massacred our forests in a joint venture. During the peak of militancy the security forces and timber smugglers had joined hands for a very profitable enterprise. Truckloads of furniture were sent to different parts of the country. The felling in the forests especially next to the road heads was so indiscriminate that even very young trees were not spared. Some of the top forest lessees enjoyed official patronage and some are even now holding important offices in the Government of the day.
Kashmir used to be famous for wild life. The Dachigam National Park boasted of over 800 Hangul or Kashmir Stag. During the turmoil most of these got butchered by the conflicting parties as well as by the people living in villages at the periphery of the sanctuary. According to some reports the number had gone down to 150 or so. Hopefully, it may have started going up again in last couple of years or so? On the contrary, the vermin like Black bear have considerably increased in number and are a menace to the people living at the edges of the forests. The wetlands which provided home to hundreds of thousands of migratory birds seem to have gone out of focus and dried up!
The drastic climatic changes in Kashmir cannot be solely blamed on global warming. About 30 years back one could not even think of ceiling fans in Kashmir. Now some people have started using coolers and air conditioners. The famous short story writer Krishan Chander in one of his stories had shown Kashmiri farmers growing dates and coconuts! With the present climate change, it may soon come true!
Is there a solution to this problem? Can we stem this rot? Yes, we can. But it would need a multi-pronged approach. We have to begin with our children. Most important is the elementary level. Children have to be given lessons in Environment both theoretical as well as practical during their formative years. In addition, the leaders of all shades and hues have to unite to ensure mass support. All political “streams” have to join together to save the Environment. Surely they can at least unite on this important issue if they claim to be true leaders of the people?Finally, all efforts to safeguard and conserve our Environment can only be a real success if the Media, both electronic and print take it as a challenge and rising above commercial considerations, starts a dedicated and concerted campaign to make people aware about it and continuously laud efforts to save it.
Mohammad Ashraf, I.A.S. (Retired) Former Director General Tourism, Jammu & Kashmir