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Save eco-fragile Karewas from destruction

Unabated clay mining in Karewas will spell doom on eco-system; NGT's intervention timely
12:07 AM Jun 04, 2024 IST | ARIF SHAFI WANI
save eco fragile karewas from destruction

Unabated excavation of clay from eco-fragile Karewas in various areas of Kashmir especially central Kashmir’s Budgam district is taking a heavy toll on the valley's fragile eco-system.


Karewas were formed due to tectonic events, which occurred at different intervals during the uplift of the Pir Panjal Range due to Himalayan orogeny. In absence of regulation by the government, unscrupulous persons and even construction agencies are having a free hand to destroy Karewas by wantonly excavating clay.


Forming an important part of Kashmir’s eco-system. Karewas known as Wuder are a flat-topped tableland. Karewas are glacio-fluvial in nature and consist of conglomerate, silt, clay, sands and lignite beds.


However, unabated excavation of Karewas in the past over a decade especially for infrastructure development projects related to Railways and Highways, has led to enhanced soil erosion from Karewas and extensive siltation of the waterways and water bodies in Kashmir.


Remnants of flattened and vandalised karewas are visible in Budgam besides Pulwama district in south Kashmir and Baramulla district in north Kashmir. We have to understand that Karewas are not just raised mounds of earth but are repositories of geological and archeological treasures.


The climatic and tectonic record during the last 1.6 million years is well preserved in the sediments of Karewas of Kashmir valley. Tectonic, climatic, glacial and interglacial records for the quaternary period are preserved in Karewas of Kashmir.


Due to massive urbanisation Karewas of Kashmir are under severe threat as they are being raised to ground and bulldozed. From the last 20 to 25 years almost 20 to 30 % of Karewas in Pulwama and Budgam have been raised to ground, which is a plunder of these geological formations. Karewas help to retain rain water preventing flash floods and sudden rise in water levels in water bodies in its downstream areas.


Now the situation due to vandalisation of karewas has reached an alarming stage in Budgam district. The residents of Wathoora area of Budgam have been forced to knock on the doors of the National Green Tribunal (NGT) against the haphazard clay mining of Karewas.

Acting on the petition, the NGT has taken strong note of illegal clay mining in Karewas in Budgam and issued notice to the J&K Government through the Chief Secretary, National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) and a private construction company.

The notice was issued by the three member Principal Bench of the NGT headed by Justice Prakash Shrivastava, Chairperson of the tribunal. The application was moved by local residents of Wathoora Budgam, Bashir Ahmad Bhat and others through their counsels.

The petition states that due to construction of Srinagar Ring Road passing through Village Wathoora, Tehsil Chadoora in Budgam, there has been flooding of three acres of apple orchards due to blocking of a water channel.

The petitioners have complained to the NGT that construction of the new highway has been causing dust pollution adversely affecting orchards at Khanda Suthsoo, Gowherpora, Wathora Bugam, Lalgam, Ganjibagh,  Lal Gund, Gudsathoo, Wulnu, Ichgam and Dharmunad villages in Budgam. Besides the apple orchards, fruit plant nurseries and crops like oats , peas and mustard have been impacted.

NGT in its order states the grievance of the applicant is that during the construction process, reckless excavation of clay from Karewas, a unique geological formation in Kashmir, has impacted the ecology.
“The original application raises substantial issues relating to compliance of environmental norms. Issue notice to the respondents for filing their response at least one week before the next date of hearing,” the NGT order states.

The locals of Wathoora and other villages of Chadoora Budgam have expressed happiness over the NGTs intervention. “We hope to get justice from this court as the local administration has failed to address our grievance,” they state.

“We had approached many Government officers and the construction company but they didn’t act at all. Even Chairman DDC Budgam has written an official letter to Chairman NHAI, but there was no action at all and we were forced to seek judicial intervention from NGT,” said Dr Raja Muzaffar, a noted environmental activist who has been fighting a long legal battle to safeguard Kashmir’s fragile environment.

We have to understand that the loss of Karewas is irreparable and cannot be compensated by any means. Geologists have found several fossils in the upper reaches of Budgam. Fish scales were found in Karewas of Gogjee Pathri and upper mountain areas of Liddermud and Yusmarg.

Elephant species called Elephas hysudricus were found in Karewas of Pulwama and Budgam areas. Moreover fossils of Sivatherium giganteum (extinct species of Giraffe) have been found in Samboora karewas near Pampore.

These Karewas can be a global focus of multidisciplinary scientific research.
We cannot afford to further destroy Karewas in the name of so-called development and construction of roads! It is high time to declare Karewas as heritage sites. These karewas can also be one of the major tourist attractions in Kashmir.

We have to treat Karewas and other natural creations in J&K as global assets. It is our religious, moral and social responsibility to safeguard natural assets like mountains, Karewas and water bodies. We have to ensure that our future generations shouldn’t curse us for vandalising the environment!

Author in Executive Editor, Greater Kashmir