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.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Jehlum, Dal, Nageen and Wular

Disturbing reports on the historical river and three prime (and formerly pristine) lakes in Kashmir. Report on Jehlum is followed by a report on the Dal Lake and the Nageen Lake, and a report on the Wular lake

Jehlum beautification?

River Jehlum, the life-line of Kashmir Valley, has always been vital to the socio-economic life as well as culture of the people. Needless to mention that Srinagar city and other major towns thrive on the banks of this river to comprise a unique human geography here, the importance of Jehlum to the Valley's physical geography too has been very profound. Little wonder that this river finds a place of pride in history as well as the Kashmir's folklore, sometimes as Jehlum while at other places as 'Vyeth' or 'Vitasta'. Masjids, shrines and temples on its banks only add to the reverence this river has attracted from the local population since times immemorial.

However, today the situation is quite different as the river is no longer what it has been or what it should have been. Instead, both the people as well as the governmental agencies have, owing to their criminal carelessness, relegated this river to a massive drain to accommodate all kinds of filth and dirt. The sewerage from Srinagar city as well as other towns empties into this river; and a major portion of garbage too is dumped into it. As if this was not enough, the people who erected new shopping malls and other commercial complexes in place of the old decrepit residential houses in parts of city along it banks used the river bosom as a landfill site to dump old construction material in it. And the irony has been that all this happened and is happening even today not only under the nose of, but also with the active connivance of the civic authorities.

Complicating the problems for the already ailing river has been the accumulation of silt in its bed. While until 1986, dredging the river to take out sand and silt was a regular feature from Khadanyar onwards in Baramulla district, the practice was stopped for some unknown reasons. Even though there is a full-fledged Flood Mechanical Division in Baramulla for the purpose, but both the men and machinery of the said division has been lying idle since. What sounds really intriguing is the fact that the dredging of river, despite being a self-financing venture in the sense that the sand and silt taken out not only met the cost of dredging but also earned some profits for the government, was stopped all of a sudden. No wonder the floods in the river have become almost a yearly feature now. Each time there are incessant rains, the water overflows river banks to inundate huge inhabited areas besides damaging crops and other physical infrastructure.

In such a situation, talking about the Jehlum beautification project fails to amuse anyone. Not only the experts, but the common people with a fair quantum of common sense too are hard at understanding how the cosmetic measures like beautifying Jehlum banks is going to help the river unless the basic ailments are taken care of.

A simple question seeking answer is: Will Jehlum beautification prevent floods in future? If yes, how? But the common sense has it that if such a project is not going to prevents floods, then obviously the government's priority should be countering and neutralizing the flood threats. If the floods are not prevented, any cosmetic treatment given to the river will simply not serve any purpose. And certainly the huge sums of money that are being pumped in for Jehlum beautification are going down the drain – the drain that's Jehlum!

Dal, Nageen infested with red algae

Srinagar: A recent survey conducted by the Pollution Control Board (PCB) on the condition of water bodies in Kashmir has revealed that world famous Dal and Nigeen lakes are infested with red algae.

The survey further reveals that waste is being dumped untreated in the Lake while constructions are going unnoticed.

The PCB’s survey has reported a wide-spread red algal bloom in Nishat-Hazratbal basin of the Lake. “A high concentration of the free carbon dioxide is present in the lake and it accelerates the red algal bloom. The availability for iron and phosphate further accelerates the growth of red algal,” the survey revealed.

PCB survey has disclosed that the lakes are facing large-scale invasion of obnoxious Azolla, the red water fern. “The weed has extensively encroached upon the lake waters, proliferating inlet and outlet water channels. Its thick layer has lead to decaying of underwater plants and death of animals below,” the survey reveals.

Regarding biotic interference, the PCB’s survey report states that the human settlements within and along the periphery of the Dal lake is one of the main contributing factors for the deterioration of its water quality. “It has affected the overall environment of the water body as well”.

PCB officials, pleading anonymity told Rising Kashmir that some encroachments have been witnessed in the Nageen lake. “The Tourism Department has constructed a hut on the shore of the lake adjacent to the Nigeen club”, they said.

The PCB report mentions that drains are being emptied into the Nageen Lake at Sadrabal. “The physical appearance of the lake water has changed as the organic and in-organic pollutants in the water are on higher side. The buffering capacity of the lake water has been lost,” it said, adding, “Construction material sneaks into the restricted areas through Ganderbal, New Theed and other areas”.

The report claimed that solid waste management in both the lakes is poor especially in and around Dal Lake. “The ban on the use of polythene bags has not been enforced by the LAWDA or the SMC. The waste is drained directly into Dal and Nageen without treating it,” the survey further reveals.

It further reveals that weeds have grown profusely at the Grand Palace ghat site and near Centaur hotel area. The phenomenon has been witnessed at Nishat Water supply area, making the water highly polluted.

“The dying business on the banks of Dal lake at Dhobi ghat continues unabated. The poisonous chemicals are being drained into the lake and it proves harmful for aquatic flora and fauna,” the survey reveals.

The PCB’s survey further discloses that a large drain from the Sadarbal area is being emptied into the lake. “Chunt kul, the vital link between the Dal lake and river Jehlum is littered with filth, garbage and polythene bags. The embankments are having a large number of open lavatories”, the report stated.

Castigating the UEED department, the survey report states that performance of the UEED administered sewerage treatment plant (STP) at Brari Nambal is below satisfaction. “The STP has become obsolete as it is too small to cater to the sewage load”, added the survey report.

Saving Dal is good but forgetting Wular is equally bad

Almost all the news papers of valley have tried their best to highlight the plight of Dal Lake but at the same time one fails to understand the treatment extended toward the world famous lake- Wular.

There is no doubt that Dal Lake has been important to Kashmir in more than one way. Indeed it has been very useful to the people of Kashmir, be it the economy of Kashmir, Eco-Tourism or water sports Dal Lake has remained at the heart of such activities. Whenever we think of fresh and green vegetables, and lots stem (Nadroo) we are reminded of Dal Lake. Vegetables that grow in Dal are preferred and are sold like hot cakes. The rates hardly matters for the customer, only the word Dal is enough for him to buy them. But intriguingly Dal dwellers have pollute it, destroyed it and have encroached it from all sides. However, other sections of the society are trying their level best to save Dal. Government is spending crores of rupees for its restoration, numerous NGOs and hundreds of the school children until now have done their bit to contribute towards saving this water body. But at the same time one fails to understand the insensitiveness of these sections towards one of the Asia’s largest lake -Wular.

The Wular lake is one of the finest aviary which exhibits its manifestation of biodiversity par excellence and merits due consideration. Rapid urbanization and contamination of this lake time and again results in further destruction and government hardily cares for its restoration. Just like Dal Lake, the Wular Lake is also fast squeezing. Ecologically Wular Lake is as important as the Dal. If it is developed and managed in a proper way it can boost the economy in many ways. It can take the ecotourism to new heights. But one is totally clueless as to why both government and people have completely forgotten this lake.

Nowadays, the entire attention is on Dal. The Dal dwellers, despite their wrongdoings are being convinced and compensated to leave their places in and around Dal that they have occupied illegally. For their rehabilitation funds are secured from the Central government and other agencies. No doubt thyat all this is being is being done to restore the pristine glory of Dal Lake. But even after doing all this one finds that they are still reluctant to leave the Dal because Dal has proved a gold mine for them.

LAWDA, Lakes and Waterways Development Authority has procured sophisticated drudging machines but ironically the organization remains in news for its mismanagement and embezzlement only. But at least much is being done in the name of saving Dal lake. Unfortunately there is no such concern getting exhibited in case of Wular lake.

There are several things common in these two Lakes; probably the only glaring digfference is that one gets too much of attention and the other has been forgotten completely. A journey from Bandipora to Srinagar via Garoora Sangri and Sadurkoot on one side and from Bandipora to Sopore traversing the areas of Watlab, Magnipora and other places make a conscious person shrivel to see the moors present everywhere while witnessing the Wular Lake. Eutraphication (converting of water bodies into marshy land) is already complete at many places and is going on at fast pace at other areas in Wular.

In the name of preservation the various government agencies are playing hide and seek with each other. The Forest Department shakes off its responsibilities by giving the statements which are hardily acceptable to common sense. Ecology and Remote Sensing Department has fixed a few hoardings but are absolutely non-existent at ground level. Though few years back government, after realizing its responsibility instituted Wular and Mansbal Development Authority but since its inception it remains in news only. They are yet to set foot on ground to procure the drudging machines; even they have failed to start the manual drudging at large scale, instead they are busy in constructing unproductive structures like bus stand and parks and that also far away from the Wular catchment area. For the last few decades our mindless actions have seriously affected the Wular lake which have exposed people to high risks. A time may come when such an approach will result in irreparable damage because the Wular is dying its silent death and in future the people of Kashmir may wake up with morning newspapers splashing advertisement on their pages like this: ‘Wular land on sale. Book your plots immediately’. Are we tehn waiting for the same day! That day we will hammer the last nail in the coffin of fragile ecosystem of Jammu and Kashmir.

There is urgent need to ecologically monitor this aquatic reserve which not only harbours rich flora and fauna but also supports some largest congregations of aquatic birds and migratory water fowls arriving from Himalayas, remote parts of Russia and elsewhere. Constant effluent input in the waters of Wular is the key contributory factor to the present mess that the lake is in. There is a correlation between the nutrient enrichment and algal biodiversity which now has enveloped the whole Wular lake. The presence of a number of algal species like Ephedra which has luxuriant growth in those water bodies where there is pollution is enough to tell its story.

There is a role for every one of us for the conservation, protection and restoration of water bodies of Kashmir in general and Dal and the Wular Lake in particular. Students can revolutionize the conserving efforts but the need is to aware of the amount of threat and for that the print media can play vital role. In fact our print is doing its bit, but seeing the enormity of the task more needs to be done.

We must set out on a missionary path to create a society of motivated citizens committed to conservation, preservation and protection of the water bodies of Kashmir and to strive towards a life perfectly in harmony with nature. To achieve this mission the young brigade of our society has to be made aware of their responsibilities towards nature. They need to unformed of problems and their immediate consequences. It is the need of hour to use the services of these young ones for the restoration and rejuvenation of water bodies for which many writers have been floating their ideas in the local media. We the people of Kashmir in general and those who live in the vicinity of this great water body must take it to themselves that this great gift of God is genuinely looked after. We will be extremely ungrateful to our Lord if we don’t do that; and being ungrateful deserves severe punishments from Almighty Allah.

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