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Environment: Jammu and Kashmir has a long road to traverse - II

12:00 AM Jun 11, 2024 IST | KHURSHID A GANAI
environment  jammu and kashmir has a long road to traverse   ii

In my last article titled ‘Environment- Jammu and Kashmir has a long road to traverse-I ’, Greater Kashmir of June 5, the World Environment Day, I sounded the alarm regarding deteriorating environmental situation in Jammu and Kashmir.


To substantiate my argument, I wrote that we need to look at the condition of our rivers, streams, springs, lakes, glaciers, wetlands, forests, pasture lands, karewas and flora and fauna and notice the state of decline of many of these natural assets.


The truth is that most of these are in a state of decline. I also pointed to the poor standards of urban municipal governance in our towns and cities and lack of proper arrangements for sanitation and waste disposal in the rural areas where the responsibility rests with Panchayats under the Panchayat Act.


I referred to high levels of air pollution caused by ever increasing number of vehicles on the roads, need for a new policy for tourism in J&K to make this economically vital industry environmentally sustainable, urgency of protection of forests and need to adopt a more cautious approach towards allowing use of forest land for non- forest purposes or in allowing felling of forest trees.


In this regard I mentioned about the Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2023 which allows in large parts of J&K's geographical territory exemption from prior permission for diversion of forest land for security and defence constructions and infrastructure.


The purpose of writing this second instalment of the same article is to invite the attention of the local UT government as also of the concerned ministries in the central government towards the important issues of our environmental situation in Jammu and Kashmir so that concrete steps are taken at all levels to reverse the decline and pull the situation back from the brink.


It was gratifying to hear our Hon. LG’s address in the NLCO’s World Environment Day function at Srinagar where he called for all round effort for protection of environment, natural resources and natural beauty of Jammu and Kashmir.


As far as water bodies are concerned, it is necessary to have a system for regular desilting and prevention of dumping of solid and other waste into water bodies, be it rivers or lakes. To illustrate this point, let us give a few examples:

Wular lake continues to be silted and encroached notwithstanding the existence of the Wular Authority for many years now, Aanchar lake is virtually filled up with little water surface left, Brarinambal in the heart of Srinagar city is shrinking in full public view and no agency of the UT government seems to be taking responsibility. Admittedly, some success stories are also there.

In rural areas, the condition of water bodies like streams and Kuls, nallahs and springs is pathetic and are not being desilted regularly or protected from encroachment which responsibility devolves on local Panchayats as per the Panchayat Act.

Solid waste including plastic waste has become a big nuisance all over Jammu and Kashmir. Although the municipal authorities in towns and cities have arrangements for collecting and dumping solid waste but large quantities remain uncollected and strewn here and there. There are no recycling plants within Jammu and Kashmir for the non-biodegradable waste nor a foolproof system to carry the solid waste outside J&K for sale to the recycling plants there.

Not sure whether any steps are being taken by the municipal bodies to dispose of biodegradable waste apart from carrying and dumping it at selected sites. Since the householders have neither been trained nor incentivized to treat biodegradable waste at the household level, large part of the biodegradable waste ultimately finds its way into the water bodies along with the non-biodegradable waste, notwithstanding the possibilities of converting biodegradable waste into animal feed, manure or   use in other gainful ways.

Another big worry in Jammu and Kashmir is the environmental impact of large infrastructure projects including roads, highways and tunnels passing through and involving geologically weak hillsides and forest areas.

These type of projects have caused serious damage in states like Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh in the form of subsidence of entire villages as in Joshimath, tunnel collapse and frequent mega land slides experienced in Himachal Pradesh. Similar problems, though not of same scale, have been witnessed around Ramban town and Ramban- Banihal sector of the remodelled Jammu-Srinagar National Highway.

Then there are Z- Morh and Zojilla tunnels and proposed Baltal-Amarnath motorable road in Kashmir division. It is imperative to start environmentally sensitive projects of these kinds only after preparation of Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) and hopefully that has been done and conditionalities thereof made part of the above projects. Anything done to short circuit the EIA process may result in dangerous and uncontrollable consequences during or after execution.

Another major cause of environmental degradation in Jammu and Kashmir is the large scale building construction activity, both in the public and private sector. House construction in J&K in general and Kashmir Valley in particular is environmentally unfriendly as most materials like stone, sand and clay are mined locally, bricks are baked using rich alluvial soil obtained from agricultural lands and Karewas and timber from forests.

There is therefore need for new designs, smaller sized homes and use of environment friendly or green materials in construction. It is now high time that the UT government wakes up to this serious problem and comes up with a housing policy that addresses all these issues. There is also need to substantially restrict use of limited agriculture land for construction of residential houses and place complete ban on its use for raising commercial and industrial structures. Real Estates Regulatory Authority (RERA) needs to be operationalized to regulate constructions in urban areas.

Next in priority is shift to new and renewable sources of energy. That is presently slow in Jammu and Kashmir and we are possibly lagging behind other states. The country has a target of 500 GWs from new and renewable sources and hydro is also categorised as renewable apart from solar, wind and biomass.

Use of hydrogen as fuel is also one of the major objectives of the new energy policy. The UT government needs to reveal to the public its plans and achievements under new and renewable sources of energy and popularize use of renewables at the household level and have local grids for sharing and transmission of this energy. Shift to EVs as part of the national policy should also be part of immediate planning as that will partly address air pollution.

India has committed in a big way in COP meetings to the effort against global warming by way of commitment to reduction in the use of fossil fuels, increase in tree and forest cover to create additional carbon sink of about 2.5 to 3 billion tonnes by 2030, adoption of LIFE (life style for environment) and climate action plan for mitigation and adaptation against global warming.

The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MOEFCC), Government of India may have updated its National Action Plan for Climate Action after updating its NDCs (Nationally Determined Contribution) with United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2022 and so should the UT government do. Jammu and Kashmir state used to have a State Action Plan some years back and quite obviously that would also require updating followed by implementation.

With global warming seen this year at its worst in all parts of the world including India, it is high time this country comes out of its singular obsession with economic growth and substitutes it with sustainable economic growth to balance economic development and environmental protection. This is also the only way to achieve targets under 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Otherwise, India will go the China way who are now pulling back and pulling all stops to reduce the suffering of its citizens due to hazardous environmental effects of unbridled economic and industrial activities of the last three decades.

It is no wisdom to get wise after the event. So, let us do now what we will be forced to do later for the safety and well being of our own citizens. Sunita Narain, DG, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), New Delhi, one of the pioneers of environment movement in this country has the same message for the ‘new- old government’ at the centre, that is to embark on the path of environmentally sustainable development and not environmentally unsustainable development and this message she conveyed on the World Environment Day. The Jammu and Kashmir government also has no option but to follow and enforce the environmentally sustainable model of development.

However, the most telling warning has come from the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres himself. He said, “ our planet is trying to tell us something but we are not listening. We need an exit ramp to get off the highway to climate hell.” He and the experts with UN see a bad future for the human race and other life forms on planet earth if warnings are not heeded. They have called for an immediate 30 % cut in fossil fuel production and use by 2030.

(Khurshid Ahmed Ganai is a retired IAS officer of the erstwhile J&K cadre and a former Advisor to Governor, J&K)