For the best experience, open
on your mobile browser.

Environment: Jammu and Kashmir has a long road to traverse

12:00 AM Jun 05, 2024 IST | KHURSHID A GANAI
environment  jammu and kashmir has a long road to traverse

Today, 5th June, is the world environment day. This day is observe


d year after year in educational institutions and by governmental and non-governmental organizations all over the country to spread the message of need for environmental protection which has assumed great urgency in these times of global warming.


High fossil fuel emissions, air and water pollution, encroachment and contamination of water bodies, deforestation, soil degradation, solid waste production and mismanagement in disposal and rapid depletion of natural resources are the main challenges. I have myself attended in the past many of these functions but honestly speaking I am not sure about the effectiveness of the messaging.


The messages do reach a very large number of people but it appears these do not make any material difference to their life style to make any ameliorative contribution to the cause of conservation and environmental protection.


In all this the elephant in the room is poor regulation and implementation by the government authorities and not so much policy formulation. Nevertheless, messaging has to continue and doing has to substitute for talking, as much as possible and this applies both to the people as well as the governments.


State of Environment in J&K


To make an assessment of the state of environment in Jammu and Kashmir, we need to look at the rivers, streams, springs, lakes, glaciers, wetlands, forests, pasture lands, karewas and flora and fauna that Jammu and Kashmir has been endowed with in plenty. Unfortunately, many of these natural assets are in a state of decline.


Rivers are silted and encroached, streams  and springs have either disappeared or shrunk, lakes are dying and wetlands silted and encroached, forests suffering degradation and glaciers fast depleting. Urban governance of cities and towns is abysmally poor. Rural areas which are to be looked after by Panchayats are not being looked after well, either.

It is a story of gradual decline of Jammu and Kashmir’s famed natural beauty compounded by the indifference of the local people themselves and grossly inadequate intervention by the successive governments who have always found themselves unequal to the onerous task. Jammu and Kashmir is now on the precipice, perched on the brink of an environmental disaster if we the people and governments (UT and Central Governments) do less.

Kashmir on the Brink

Environmental situation in Kashmir, the paradise on earth, should be a matter of grave concern both for the people of Kashmir and the governments, local as well as the central governments. Kashmir is not only a national asset as the top tourist destination but also ranks high on the international tourism map.

We need to be grateful to the tourists including the film actors who in their interviews with the media while singing paeans about the beauty of Kashmir, also emphasize on the need to preserve Kashmir’s natural beauty, culture and uniqueness. Even in decline they find Kashmir beautiful and best.

But this may not last long as a rapidly increasing population, growing urbanization, rush of yatris and tourists is putting excessive pressure on the available resources, land, water bodies and infrastructure. The world  famous hill stations namely Gulmarg, Pahalgam and Sonamarg are bursting at the seams, unable to provide requisite sanitation and other facilities in full measure or handle solid and liquid waste disposal satisfactorily.

These three and other potential hill stations in Kashmir may need fresh master plans for environmentally sustainable development. Till that happens, the existing master plans need to be implemented with strictness.

It was surprising to learn from the media a week or so back about the sudden attachment of CEO, Sonamarg Development Authority after he took adverse notice of a building permission accorded by the local BDO.  One is not informed about the merit or demerit of the building permission, but the sudden attachment of the CEO was rather intriguing.

Tourist rush is adding to traffic snarls on the roads and air pollution due to emissions. Both these issues appear to be receiving less than adequate attention as no improvements are visible. The response is often more of the same and not innovative. If no solutions are found, even tourist arrivals will get adversely affected in the not too distant future.

Environmentally Sustainable Tourism Policy

With a view to formulate a new Tourism Policy for sustainable tourism with focus on conservation and preservation, the UT government will be well advised to reconstitute the Tourism Development Advisory Board with representatives of local stakeholder groups and domain experts including a few who have  experience of Europe as Kashmir geography and climate are similar to Europe. A recent order which points to the possible use of forest land for construction of five star hotels in Jammu and Kashmir was bit of a disappointment as forest land should ideally be continued undisturbed as forest.

Jammu and Kashmir’s Forests are its Carbon Sink and essential for Kashmir’s Salubrious Climate

Higher latitude and high altitudes in the hills and mountains have given Jammu and Kashmir plenty of forests. But like other Himalayan states in India, Jammu and Kashmir has, over the years, also lost substantial part of forest cover. After green felling came to an end, thanks to Supreme Courts’s ban on green felling, forests started regrowing naturally. Ban on felling continues but now the forests are coming under another pressure, the pressure of infrastructure projects including highways, railways and tunnels in the entire Himalayan belt.

Apparently, Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is not always considered seriously and permissions for conversion of forest land for non- forest purposes accorded rather hastily to facilitate construction.

The new Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2023 has already exempted large tracts of forests in Jammu and Kashmir from prior permission when forest land is required for security and defense purposes which is understandable, but if exemptions are extended to other categories also or permissions accorded liberally, forests will deplete faster than we might think, with adverse consequences for weather and climate, apart from fauna and flora so vital for ecological balance.

Compensatory afforestation in lieu of forests diverted for non-forest purposes has been found to be slow and slack. The department of social forestry, once active with many centrally and state sponsored schemes, has also gone out of focus and perhaps out of action too. In the meantime, new orchards in Kashmir coming up on agriculture land and fruit tree plantation in various districts of both divisions have compensated for loss of forest tree cover.

While numbers may have been replenished, fruit trees and orchards cannot compensate for the ecological impact of high altitude forests. Government of Jammu and Kashmir needs to prioritize forests and try and restore these to their original glory. New technologies and techniques in forestry are now making it possible to regrow denuded and degraded forests quickly.

People’s passion and action for environment not enough in Jammu and Kashmir – Need to learn from Ladakh

People of Jammu and Kashmir have over the years developed this habit of over dependence on government. Self help and voluntary action is not a popular doctrine in Jammu and Kashmir. In this regard, Jammu and Kashmir needs to learn from Ladakh, about the power of people’s action.

The recent non-violent and peaceful protest of the local population led by well known environmentalist Mr. Sonam Wangchuk in Ladakh was essentially aimed at protection of Ladakh’s ecology and environment, land and natural resources, more out of love for their land rather than fear of outsiders.

Love of the people of Ladakh for the bounties of nature for their land is worthy of appreciation, respect and emulation. In this regard, the people of Jammu and Kashmir need to take a leaf out of the Ladakh copy book.

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