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, February 7, 2009

Kashmir's Wetlands are Drying Out

Wetlands are disappearing due to encroachments, pollution, constructions and official apathy

Valley’s wetlands face grave threat

Srinagar: World Wetland Day celebrated on February 2 is the right occasion to think over the causes that have brought most wetlands in the Valley to the brink of extinction, say environmentalists. While lakhs of rupees would be spent on debates, awareness programs, and seminars, rightly so, it is the time to draw radical conservation plans for saving the wetlands so important to ecosystems.

Environmentalists have raised concern over the encroachment, pollution, and heavy deposition of silt in famous wetlands like Hokersar, Haigam, Shallabugh and Mirgund, which are the satellite wetlands of Wullar Lake and host to thousands of migratory birds every year.

Haigam Wetland Conservation Reserve, an important refuge for migratory waterfowls, shorebirds and trans-Himalayan species in winters has shrunk considerably as people of adjoining villages have encroached on the land and started paddy cultivation. Environmentalists blame government for it, as there are no conservation measures and monitoring mechanism in place. In fact, the authorities constructed a road on the wetland’s boundary at Asthanpoora in 2007, throwing to winds the norms and the warnings of the environmentalist that the vehicular traffic on the road will affect habitat of the birds.

Owing to its location at the western extremity of Himalayas, Wullar has been an important flyway and staging ground for migratory birds including shorebirds, gadwall, cranes, ducks, geese, pintails which migrate to Valley to ward off the extreme cold in their summer homes in Siberia and Central Asia.

Due to its rich bio-diversity and capacity to host the avian visitors, Wullar has been included under the Ramsar Convention making its conservation mandatory for the Government. The lake and its satellites wetlands have been included in the network of important Bird Areas.

The migratory birds have been using the Wullar lake for feeding during the night when there is no disturbance from fisherman or hunters. During March-June large areas of Wullar and with floating vegetation, trees, bushes and reed beds serve as breeding and nesting sites for some of the birds. And during daytime they seek refuge in the Hokersar and its surrounding wetlands. Hokersar, which in an important wetland for resident and migratory waterfowls is facing threats of extinction due to silt and encroachment.

Former chief wildlife warden, Abdur Rashid Wani, said due massive urbanization around the Hokersar and other wetlands, many species of migratory birds like Bar-Headed geese and Siberian Crane have stopped to visit the Valley.

“The authorities have failed to maintain buffer zone around the wetlands, particularly Hokersar. Huge concrete constructions are coming up on fringes of Hokersar. This practice has to be stopped if we want the play host to migratory birds,” Wani said.

The wetland within Jhelum including Wullar used to receive seven out of 53 globally threatened and near threatened water birds and wetland birds. None of these species have been observed in the Valley for past a few years.

The Wetland International South Asia in its studies on Wullar and its associated wetlands has blamed loss and modification of habitats as major threat to the birds. Some of the birds visiting the Valley are listed under appendices of Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (Bonn 1982) to which India is a contracting party and others are covered under the Central Asian Flyway Action Plan. The Convention makes it mandatory for the states, including Jammu and Kashmir to protect and maintain the wetlands.

Aijaz Rasool, an expert with the Wetland International-South Asia said the remains of dead aquatic flora and plants have largely affected the water holding capacity of the wetlands. “This has not only affected the water quality but plants and seeds which form important feed to the migratory birds,” he said.

He recommended immediate measures to check the encroachments, deweeding and water management for revival of Wetlands.

Chief Wildlife Warden, AK Shrivastava said proposals for conservation plans of Hokersar and Haigam wetlands have been submitted to the Central Government. “As soon as we get the approval, we will start the conservation measures. We are committed to restore glory of the wetlands,” Srivastava said.

In his official message on the World Wetland Day, the Minister of Forests and Environment, Mian Altaf, acknowledges deterioration of the Wetlands. “Many wetlands in the Valley are under threat due to reclamation for agriculture, developmental activities and contamination by sewage, agricultural run-off and siltation. Most of the wetlands in the lower Himalayan region are infested with aquatic weeds. The Trans-Himalayan wetlands are becoming fragile due to anthropogenic activities, growing tourism and faulty land management,” he said.

(Greater Kashmir)

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