Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Home to birds, useful for locals, this wetland is under threat due to flawed decisions

Syed Basharat describes how knee-jerk decisions by the State Government are about to destroy the only breeding habitat for Mallard ducks in Kashmir

(Mr. Syed Basharat, 28, was born in Kreeri, Baramulla, and did his schooling in Kreeri, and later in Uri and Sopore. He graduated from the Degree College in Baramulla and completed his Master's degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from the Kashmir University in 2005. He has been a reporter for Kashmir Images, a Srinagar based daily, London based website Gaashonline.Com, and a Srinagar based journal, Globe. Currently, he is working as a special correspondent with Jammu based daily newspaper, The Kashmir Times.)

SRINAGAR: As the department of Irrigation and flood control division of Anantnag has started digging and widening the drainage canal across the 70 hectare Marhama-Panchpora wetland, the only breeding habitat for Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) in India is under threat. Mallard-a duck with green head and yellow bill is listed under schedule 4, of wild life protection Act 1972 and Jammu and Kashmir wild life protection amendment Act 2002.

"Department of flood control has almost started desiccation of this wetland which will not only affect Mallard duck and other 25 species of birds but it will create a lot of problem for the human population as well," said a famous Zoologist of valley Dr Aijaz Masli who has presented various research papers in ornithology (study of birds).

Giving the socio-economic and ecological importance of this wetland, a section of ecologists and wild life biologists in valley have appealed to the chief minister and minister of environment and forest to take necessary steps for its restoration and maintenance. "If the deterioration of this wetland continued like it is undergoing, it will affect the entire population as this wetland would act as a sink for pesticides thus filtering water which a huger population of this area make use of," said another expert pleading anonymity.

The work executed by the department of flood control is actually being done on the dictates of some politicians who want to keep the vote bank in good humour, reliable sources said.

"This wetland is spread over 20,000 Kanals of land and once this wetland is dried up it will be utilised in various ways," sources added.This wetland with an area of about 70 hectares and a depth of about 1.5 meters is a permanent fresh water wetland which was originally a common pastureland, extending from Sangam Bridge up to Kaichuchkoot area. Besides Mallaard, few other waterfowl species like coot, dabchick and Moorhen breed in this wetland. Among summer migrants great Reed warbler whiskered terns, little bittern, and Northern Rudy crake utilize this wetland as nesting habitat.

"Twenty five species of birds utilise the resources of this wetland. Similarly forty species of Hydrophytes are found in this wetland. People from adjacent villages-Marhome, Panchpora, Halmulla, Sethar, used to harvest hydrophytes (vegetation within the fresh water) of this wetland regularly for at least five months worth 1.30 crore rupees annually," Dr Aijaz added.

He further observed that since this wetland is located amidst terraced paddy fields, it acts as a sink for fertilizers drained with run off water from nearby paddy fields. The nutrients and other chemicals from these waste waters used to be eliminated through growth of hydrophytes vegetation within the fresh water, Dr Aijaz added.

Since the wetland is being encroached upon, all these toxic chemicals will make their way into river Jehlum thereby endangering the lives of millions of people who utilize the water of river for domestic purposes. And since the wetland has now been fully drained the existence of a fairly large number of birds and plants is at stake, experts opine.

Mallards use to breed in Kashmir in late 1800 but it was not ascertained till in 1997 when reports about its breeding came into forefront. This beautiful duck migrates from Siberia, central Asia (Palaearctic region) in August-September along with many duck species. These migratory birds use Kashmir as a transit point where they take some rest.

It is a dabbling duck which breeds throughout the temperate and sub-tropical areas of North America, Europe, Asia, New Zealand (where it is currently the most common duck species), and Australia.

At a time when people talk about conservation of heritage and natural resources, some people at the behest of some politicians are utilising the state machinery for violating rules and regulations, said a local of Marhama pleading anonymity.

Recently, an estimated quarter of a million birds were spotted at Hokersar Wetland and if the situation persists like the one at the Marhama wetland, these birds will stop visiting wetlands in Kashmir in the near future, Dr Aijaz observed.

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