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, December 1, 2008

Remembering the International Wetland Day (December 2) by Highlighting Destruction of Kashmir's Pristine Waters

Two articles - one on the Wullar Lake and the other on the Nigeen Lake - paint a sad picture of Kashmir's fragile ecology

Lack of coordinated mechanism has led to overall degradation of the lake and its resources, and turned it into a cesspool, writes Taha Mubashir Husain.

(Mr. Taha Mubashir Husain, 36, was born and raised in Bandipore. He received his schooling and higher education all around the Wullar Lake in the Bandipore area. He has a post-graduate degree in Ecology and Environment. He is the spokesperson of the Kashmir Environmental Protection Coordination Organization (KEPCO), and on behalf of the KEPCO received an award on Wild Life Protection in Srinagar on October 2, 2007. Presently he is serving in the J&K Department of Education. Environmental protection is his motto and in his leisure time he promotes environmental education.)

Wullar - A Vanishing Lake

Kashmir, thousands of years ago was a vast lake called “Satisar”. According to a noted historian Hassan Khoihami in his chronicle Taareekh-e-Hassan, during ancient times water from Lake Prang flowed into the river Kishanganga. A huge snow avalanche from the Wagni Mountain blocked the passage of water and created a large reservoir called Satisar. Then due to an earthquake the waters of the Satisar gushed out and submerged the then Capital City Sindmatanagar and created a lake called Wullar. Earlier the Wullar Lake was called to be “Mahapadamsara” and later renamed as “Ullola”. The word Wullar means a stormy or turbulent water body, hence, during afternoons Wullar is full of the hurricanes which still flow over it with extra ordinary violence. Zainalank was a real Island in the Wullar Lake inhibited by the people which was raised and shaped by a King of Kashmir Zai-ul-Aabidin during his reign from 1420-1470 AD.

Wullar Lake is located in North Kashmir’s Bandipore District about 30 kilometers from the Summer Capital of Jammu & Kashmir, Srinagar. It lies at an altitude of 1555 M asl between 34020’ to 34028’N latitude and 740 34’ to 740 45’E longitude. It is elliptical in shape with a maximum length of 16 kms and breadth of 7.6 kms having depth of about 6 meters. The lake is surrounded by towering snow bound peaks of Himalayas in its Northeast which directly drain their runoff into the lake through various streams, Arin and Madhumati nallas being prominent. On the banks of the Wullar Lake lies a beautiful Township of Bandipore, under the foothills of Himalayan lush green forests and snowbound peaks of Harmukh (16900 feet), Razdani (11500 feet) and Tragbal (11000 feet).

Area (Past and present):
Hundred years ago, area of the Wullar Lake was 189 square kilometers, which in floods extended up to 273 square kilometers. In some chronicles, however, the area of the lake has been recorded as 210 square kilometers. Kalhan’s Rajtarangni shows the area of the lake in floods as 273 square kilometers and 189 sq. kms in normal times. Lawrence in his book Valley of Kashmir shows area of the lake as 189 sq. kms in normal times; Aurial Steins describes area of the lake as 202 sq. kms in normal times. The Directory of Wetlands, Ministry of Environment and Forests GoI, show the area of the lake as 189 sq. kms. As per the revenue records, it indicates the lake area to be 130 sq. kms., however, the satellite imagery of 1996 by the Department of Ecology & Environment J&K, area of the lake in floods extends up to 120 sq. kms. And in normal times it is 79 sq. kms. During the last six decades, however, due to political reasons, low lying areas of the lake from Sonawari were reclaimed for the agriculture and protection bunds were raised inside the lake still existing in the name of Bakhshi Bund and Sheikh Bund to protect the encroached settlements for the political reasons. Although the deterioration of the lake was assigned during the Dogra Rule in Kashmir either by pawing way for the irrigation of then united Punjab or with the Ningli Plantations in 1920 to meet the firewood requirements in the valley, which ultimately resulted not only in the deterioration of hydrologic and ecologic values of the wetland, but also squeezed the lake area. Due to land reclamation, population explosion, wanton deforestation, overgrazing, Ningli Plantations, unscientific sewage and sewerage disposal, excessive use of fertilizers, pesticides in the catchments and above all the miserable socio-economic plight of the people of the lakeshore and catchments, the lake body has been passing through very hard times. Tremendous rate of silt and sediment mainly through Jehlum River has reduced the extent of lake area to a bare 56 sq. kms at present. Thus, a vast aquatic ecosystem is transformed into a cesspool.

Wullar Lake has a significant role in the hydrology and ecology of Kashmir and the socio-economy of the area. The lake serves as a huge absorption basin for the entire valley and acts as a main storage tank for flood, irrigation and hydroelectricity generation. It acts as a big wetland reserve (ecosystem) with a quite diverse range of flora and fauna including micro flora, hydrophytes, epiphytes, fish’s, birds and other aquatic animals inhabiting it. The lake is a direct source of income to thousands of families living on its shoreline. Fishing in the Wullar Lake is carried to a great extent by the lakeshore community which contributes about 55% of fish yield of the Kashmir valley. The common species of fish in the lake are Schizothorax esocinus, S. curvifrons, and S. planifrons. Many people keep their heart and soul together by selling the rhizome of lotus Nelumbo nucifera commonly known as Nadru obtained from the lake, which are highly fibrous and rich in calcium, iron etc. Besides water chestnut or Singhara (Trapa natans) is also sold in bulk. Waterfowls, however, are seasonally sold by the locals for their livelihood. Many hydrophytes growing in the lake serve as very important fodder species like Nymphoides paltea, Nymphaea alba and other microphytic species from deeper water are the Cerataphyllum demersum, Myriophyllum spicatum Potamogeton sp., Phragmites communis and Typha augusta of which two main species are used on large scale for the cattle locally known as Nar and Khor, thus generating a substantial economy. These macrophytes play an important role in the functioning of the lake ecosystem as they provide a biological sink for nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium etc. Wullar, with its associated wetlands like Hokarsar, Hygam, Shalbug, Malgam, Mansbal and Dal, is an important habitat for migratory water birds and support a rich diversity. The direct catchment (Bandipore Himalayas) of the lake supports Coniferous forests occurring between 2100-3200m asl., being temperate, dominated by Deodar (Cedrus deodar ), Kail ( Pinus excelcia), Pinus roxburgy, Pinus welichiana, Silver fir (Abies webiana ), Fir ( Abies pindrow ), Kachhil (Picea morinda ) and Birch (Betula utilus ) species. Alpine pastures immediately follow the tree line in the catchment between 3200m-3600m asl. The tree growth ends with Birch, Junipers and Rhododendrons in between 3600-4100m asl. The terrestrial birds observed around the lake are Black eared kite, Sparrow hawk, Short toed eagle, Himalayan golden eagle, Monal, Chakur, Koklas, Blue rock pigeon, Cuckoo, Kashmir roller, Himalayan pied wood pecker, Hoopoe, Kashmir skylark, Common swallow, Golden oriole etc. Many migratory waterfowl species visit the lake like Pintail, Common teal, Gargey teal, Shoveled, Blue winged teal, common pochard, Mallard, Brahimini duck, Greleg goose, White breasted water hen, Lapwing, Indian moorhen, Coot etc.

In the past Wullar Lake was an important center of navigation as Bandipore served an important link between Kashmir-Kargil, Iskardu, Gilgit, and Common Wealth of Independent States. Besides the trade activities between Kashmir and the Central Asain Countries, the Hajj Pilgrims of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, etc. used the Gurez-Bandipore pony track (Silk Route) to reach the Karachi Seaport via Baramulla through Jehlum river, so Bandipore (Khoihama) was also called the “Port of Wullar”. Geological formation of the catchments of Wullar Lake represents the products of glacial and volcanic activity. On the hill slopes in Ajas near Bandipore, a 200m thick band of Lower and Middle Triassic limestone occurs with the trap formation, whereas at Bandipore, Upper Triassic beds occur in the eastern part of the Kashmir Himalayas between Manasbal and Bandipore. The highly mountainous terrain is marked with a series of high ridges and narrow deep valleys, which have a pronounced effect on the climate of the region. The salient climatic features are severe winters, considerable winter precipitation mostly in the form of snow besides the rains in lower elevations with moderate monsoon during the summer and winds mostly being light to moderate while stormy winds are also witnessed. This gives rise to various types of local winds which become very strong when blowing over snowfields and glaciers. Winds blowing through mountain gaps emerge out as strong currents. Wullar Lake is frequently subjected to these types of winds and stormy conditions in the lake which is a characteristic feature of the lake as compared to other lakes of the valley due to which during the afternoons Wullar Lake is full of hurricanes which sweep high even tides upto 5 feet with extra ordinary turbulence.

Recognizing the importance of Wullar Lake for its biodiversity, socio-economic, hydraulic and ecologic values the lake was designated as the wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Site in 1990. Lack of understanding of the values and functioning of Wullar and its associated wetlands and mainly due to political reasons led to conversion of its large area into agriculture land, settlements, plantation nurseries and other developmental activities. All along the Wullar periphery particularly in Sonawari the wetlands were drained through government sponsored schemes for irrigation. Bunds were built up at various lake contour levels for the protection of the crops and the settlements against the floods thereby fragmenting the lake ecosystem and changing its ecological character. Flood protection measures without considering the role of lake in hydraulic regimes, have led to quick draining out and interruption in holding moderate flow of water particularly in the lean season.

Wullar Lake is seriously threatened due to exploitation of the lake resources and degradation of the lake catchments mostly due to population explosion, hence the consequent growing demands for land, food and fuel. The free flow of untreated sewage and sewerage, large quantities of fertilizers, insecticides, pesticides used in the catchment orchards and animal wastes find their way into the lake due to river Jehlum passing through highly urbanized areas bringing along with heavy load of silt and hazardous hospital wastes including Srinagar city, Sonawari, Bandipore and its adjoining areas from Watlab to Ningli. The rich biodiversity of the lake is deteriorating rapidly on account of unsustainable economic development. Sectoral development activities, however, failed to recognize the immense role of the Wullar Lake leading to its degradation including the revenue centric approaches followed by the state government aimed at the short term economic benefits without realizing their long term implications on the sustainability of the lake ecology. Measures were undertaken during early twentieth century by the then government (Dogra Rulers) to provide the firewood to Kashmir valley by initiating the willow plantations in 1916 in the marshy areas. Hence, Ningli Plantations were established in 1924 under the control of Sindh Forest Division and then remained under the Plantations Division of Forest Department. Ningli Plantation is now under Bandipore Forest Division after its creation in 1982. Local communities, however, at that time protested against the conversion of these marshes into plantations as they were economically more useful to them. Besides the forest department, many other government departments like Social Forestry, Revenue, Rural Development Rakhs and Farms are also responsible for bringing the silted areas, fringes, and peripheries under the wetland plantations which accounts for 87% of total encroachment, which itself depicts the criminal negligence and callous attitude of these agencies. The rest 13% of encroachment is due to the locals. Land reclamation by the Rakhs and Farms for the agriculture purpose and plantations have certainly altered the hydrology of the wetland which acts as barriers to silt laden waters of the river Jehlum, forcing it to discharge the sediment load into the lake besides Arin (Erin) and Madhumati feeding canals, thereby inducing loss of water holding capacity. Thus once Asia’s largest fresh water wetland WULLAR has been practically turned into a “WOODLAND” and reducing the overall lake area by more than 60%. Due to the invasion of many weeds, the marshy and shallow zones of the lake are infested by silt and sediment while due to extraordinary increase in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium level the water quality of the lake is fast deteriorating and the physico-chemical composition of the lake water is also changing considerably. The chlorine content of the wetland is much higher in comparison to other wetlands, which is an indicative of organic pollution of animal origin. The depth of the lake is lost considerably as obnoxious weeds and innumerable phytoplankton and zooplanktons have invaded the lake while the extent of the marshes around the lake has drastically increased. Red bloom is indicative of eutrophication of the wetland. Due to untreated sewage and sewerage being directly or indirectly flows into the lake, most of the effluents from almost whole of the Kashmir valley including Dal, Anchar, and Nigeen are drained into the lake along with the different non degradable components like plastic, polythene and the carcasses through Jehlum river. Today, if a fisherman drops his net to catch fish, the net traps polythene, plastic and other effluents.

There is a strong expertise opinion, that the river Jehlum, biggest source of pollution to Wullar lake, needs to be partially diverted from its entry point (Banyari) to its outlet (Ningli) through an alternate water channel via Shahgund with adequate gauges at both the places to regulate the water flow in to the lake. There is a dire need to revive the natural springs of the Himalayan Range, which earlier used to feed it with clean and sweet waters ooze out within the lake or the water flow from Madhumati Nalla and expected back-up from Kishanganga (power project in Bandipore) , Arin and other streams are sufficient to feed the lake.

Lack of coordinated and regulatory mechanism for the integrated management has led to cross-sectoral conflicts and overall degradation of the lake and its resources. Department of Wildlife Protection being nodal agency for the management of Ramsar Site Wetlands, including the Wullar Lake, there has been lack of coordination among various departments and is ultimately proving disastrous for the survival of lake. Seeing the plight of Wullar lake, KEPCO (Kashmir Environmental Protection Coordination Organization), a group of the postgraduate students from Bandipore working for the environment, forests, wildlife and wetlands conservation voluntarily started the “Save Wullar” campaign in early 2000 to generate and regenerate mass awareness for the conservation of the lake. In the ‘Regional Conference (Northern States) Ramsarsite Wetlands-2005’ at SKICC Srinagar, inaugurated by then Chief Minister of J&K, a presentation by KEPCO on “Wullar- a Vanishing Lake” was given and various international dignitaries and other participants were briefed on deterioration of the lake. In 2006 KEPCO filed a litigation in the Hon’ble High Court of J&K, seeking its legal intervention into the matter. The litigation was treated as public interest litigation (PIL) under OWP/ PIL No. 345/2006, KEPCO versus State. Then Chief Justice of the Hon’ble High Court Justice B. A. Khan was pleased to look into the matter seriously and after many hearings over the deterioration of Wullar and Manasbal Lakes, the J&K Government was directed in the matter OWP/PIL No.345/2006 dated 16- Oct.-2006 to demarcate both the wetlands and formulate an action plan on Wullar Lake through an international wetland consultancy. Hence the Government of Jammu & Kashmir engaged a reputed global wetland consultancy Wetlands International South Asia (WISA) to formulate a Comprehensive Management Action Plan on Wullar Lake. During the formulation of the comprehensive management action plan KEPCO, being member of the Management Planning Team provided every assistance and expertise to WISA. The report was submitted to the State Government in June-2007 with various recommendations and proposals covering an overall budget of Rs. 386.39 Crore (for initial five years 2007-2011) in which the water management, critical to lake rejuvenation, has been allocated 72%, catchments conservation 10%, sustainable resources development and livelihood improvement 7%, biodiversity conservation 4%, institutional development 4% and eco-tourism development 3%. Ironically no beginning has been made so far.

The Comprehensive Management Action Plan envisaged establishment of the Wullar Development Authority (WDA), in the Department of Wildlife Protection under overall control of the Forest Department, Govt. of Jammu and Kashmir located in the Civil Secretariat. The Wullar Development Authority - the Governing Body would serve as Executive Board chaired by the Chief Minister/ Chief Secretary responsible for overall policy directions and performance. Wullar Development Authority will have a Wullar Steering Committee, a high level empowered committee responsible for the inter-departmental coordination and overall achievement of the project. Project Implementation Committee, Scientific & Community Advisory Groups, Project Management Unit are proposed within WDA, for the implementation of Comprehensive Management Action Plan. The Conveyer of these Committees will be the Chief Executive of Wullar Development Authority. Not establishing the Wullar Development Authority (WDA) by the state government for the implementation of the Comprehensive Management Action Plan as an expedient gauge is a clear violation of the High Court orders. The major thrust so far has been on the Dal Lake ignoring the Wullar. Although the former Chief Minister, G. N. Azad in his visit to Bandipore last year and in the District Development Board Meeting of District Bandipore this year reiterated that the state government is looking for an international funding option, as the State Government cannot afford such a huge funding. As a face saving measure, the State Government, created the Wullar Mansbal Development Authority (WMDA) under the aegis of Tourism Department for the eco-tourism development, which is no way competent for Wullar Lake conservation, management and planning issues. This has created confusion which needs to be dispelled, among the general public and government agencies as well.

WMDA in fact is a subsidiary agency within Wullar Development Authority for eco-tourism development. So, the creation of proposed Wullar Development Authority (WDA) without more delay, only, would ensure the management planning of the wetland. The vanishing Wullar Lake needs conservation rather than depleting it in the name of tourism promotion. We are already paying the prize of so-called tourism promotion in case of Dal Lake. The traditional tourism needs to be replaced with eco-tourism promotion with educational and interpretation services at latter stage. Other recommendations like demarcation, removal of Ningli and other plantations to enhance the water holding capacity, water quality improvement, environmental assessment, catchment conservation to avoid the soil erosion in degraded forests, alternative sources of energy to reduce the dependence on forests for firewood and charcoal, biodiversity conservation to ensure the habitat restoration and rehabilitation of threatened and endangered species, wildlife conservation through the establishment of wildlife and bird sanctuaries in the catchments of Bandipore at Arin and Harmukh, awareness among the local communities and general public about the importance of Wullar Lake ecology, hydrology and socio-economy be followed in full spirit and order of the action plan. Livelihood improvement and community participation of the lakeshore communities (the stake holders), to overcome their socio-economic plight through enhancement of fish and Nelumbo yield and diversity would be critical one with improved technology of landing, storage and marketing facilities at the specific locations to abolish the middleman system. The local communities and the common people along with the government have to play their role in Wullar Lake conservation without jeopardizing the Nature’s special gifts of the wetland.

Wullar Lake is an inseparable component of socio-economical, hydrological and ecological heritage of Kashmir - let’s SAVE WULLAR.

Hi! I am Nigeen lake


You humans, you are doing a lot of violence to me, I have a request. Save me. Save me for posterity, comments Fida Hussain Lanker

The word Nigeen is derived from NIGEENA (gem)”. During sunrise and sunset the streaks of sun falling on my body gave a charming and glittering appearance resembling the precious stones. It is a fresh water lake due to presence of about 25 springs. In comparison to Dal Lake it is surrounded by Nigeen Bagh, Mirza Bagh, Ashaie Bagh on the east and Nawa Bagh, Khujyarbal on the West. In its north there is a vast land called Bota Bagh. Houseboats located on both eastern and western sides made me more beautiful and attractive. In absence of these Houseboats I would have felt aloofness. Tourists staying in these houseboats used to praise my beauty. They felt excited which appeased me. When boatmen used to row I felt refreshed and the waves produced by rowing made me elated. People used to come to relieve their tiredness and worries. I thanked my destiny for being born in this Vale. My water was so pure that people of all walks used me for every purpose. My surplus water used to flow to Khushalsar and Anchar Lakes. These lakes were dependent on me.

Fish and Nelumbo (Nadru) produced by me were of best quality and taste. Fish of all varieties were tasty and delicious. I had the potential to shelter the various birds like Dub chick, White Kingfisher and other species. I brought the economic uplift of the people as well. I provided best aesthetic beauty. I felt nature had produced a best gift to this valley. My past was glorious but my future seems to be disdainful. Over a decade and half I felt changes. My water contents began to get polluted and organs felt aching and could not breathe properly. My sources (springs) began to vanish and sister lakes to whom I used to feed became cesspools. These water bodies began bubbling. Khushalsar and Anchar lakes are almost dead. This gave me a pain and made me cry but in vain. I turned my eyes towards all sides and observed that solid wastes and refuses being thrown towards me. Inhabitants filled me with all sorts of waste coming out from their houses especially on the occasion of marriage parties.

This clearly indicates their disinterest, carelessness and lack of aesthetic sense. I never thought that whom I love and treated them as my “ Messiah” that one day they will throw me towards death. I am furious about the birds like Dud chicks are being hunted illegally. I had thought that I was born for the welfare of the people and they are born for my survival but I was wrong.

Measures and steps have not been taken as yet to save me from becoming a cesspool. It is the moral responsibility of the people in general and concerned authorities in particular to come forward for my survival. If early attention is not heed towards me then the day is not far away when my position will be same as that of Dal Lake. Therefore I request all my well-wishers to share my feelings and take necessary steps to save me.

Preserve me preserve your progeny.

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