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.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Saving Kashmir's Lifeline

Majeed has seen the beautiful landscape transform into a nightmare and hopes that both citizens and authorities will hear his cry for a change

(Dr. A. Majeed Kak, 63, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He is presently engaged in promoting and strengthening local and regional museums, a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.)

River Jehlum – Approaching Nalla Mar, Can we Conserve it?

River Jehlum locally called Veth or Vatasta, originates from Verinag, a beautiful large spring at the foot hill of Pir Panchal range, 5 Km away from Banihall Jawahar tunnel. The crystal clear deep blue water is swift but calm bubbling up, without noise, coming out from an octagonal basin surrounded by brick wall with a number of attractive vaults, constructed by Jahangir, the Mughal emperor in 1620 A.D. River Jehlum passes through the major districts and towns of the Kashmir province viz; Anantnag, Srinagar and Baramulla, covering a distance of about 175 km and ultimately enters Pakistan occupied part of Kashmir where it is famous as Kashur Daraya. Presently Srinagar City from Pantha chowk to Shalateng (20 Km) is densely populated on the two banks of the river Jehlum that passes through it in a zigzag manner, indicating that the river was the life to the city dwellers. It was used for enormous navigation, community bathing, drinking and other domestic purposes and for aquatic sports (to a little extent). There was no water supply scheme in Srinagar a few decades before except Harwan water reservoir supplying water to some public posts in the city. So the Jehlum water was the only source for drinking purpose. Besides, the river was main source of navigation from one district to the other and to the different areas within the same district through artificial and natural channels. Now a days the water of Jehlum is so unhealthy that hardly anybody desires even to wash his hands and the feeding channels are either filled, dried or squeezed, that nobody can imagine of water transport. The present rate of pollution from inflowing drains, dropping of refuse of the shops of business centers and that of whole city from bridges connecting two flanks of the river. Insanitary conditions of houseboats etc. is increasing and becoming a source of environmental hazard.

A good population of the people living along the banks of the river Jehlum is engaged in house boat industries. Many of them are still living in their Khuch (small one storied boats), used to carry loads and sell many other commodities within the interior city, or in Doongas (an attractive large, double storied boats well decorated used for the tourists). Many of them still live in dingy rooms, unsanitary and unhealthy huts encroached on the little spaces available along the banks of the river Jehlum, dealing with scraps, wastes and thrown outs from the markets or houses; selling hay grass, fodders, lumber etc which is piled or dumped near the banks close to their huts, making water and the whole area around unhealthy. Stray animals move freely on the banks easing any where they like, which is washed down in to the water. At many places good population of the tourists living in house boats further supplement the pollution problem in the river.

Let us remind ourselves about the origin of this great river and the number of crystal clear mountain streams, springs in the form of Nallas and rivers joining it at various junctions. The prominent ones are Brangi nalla, Arpat, Kokarnag, Achabal and the most important one is the Lidder nalla which comes from tarsar, all these tributaries are joining the river Jehlum above Khanabal, (district Anantnag). Few streams from Tral area joining it at Pampore after irrigating a vast area. River Sind most important river from Sonamerg joins it at shadipur and the last tributary after it passes into Delta (Wular Lake) it receives Pohru stream which drains the lolab valley and enters Jehlum at Dubgam. Lake Manasbal also drains its water in Jehlum. All these sources are so natural when they are borne, but as they proceed, because of biotic interference these are turned ugly with the result these combine forming a giant hazard.

Unfortunate part is that it receives countless tributaries in the form of ephemerals, dirty water channels and thousands of drains that enter in it after passing the human settlement areas, discharge huge quantities of domestic and other wastes. The entire surface drains and effluents are being dumped into the river without any treatment. Filth, carcasses of dead animals, garbage and polythene collected by the sweepers from business markets, residential places is thrown directly in it. which is clearly seen floating on its surface while peeping into it from the bridges. This reflects the horrific story about the present condition of the river. Not only the effluents but also the solid wastes including other non-biodegradable items are also thrown into the river, thereby further contaminating it. The significant change is attributed to unabated inflow channels, drains and effluents from the settlements and hotels along the margins. By and large the whole sewerage of hotels and residential houses along the river and of other populations goes directly into it and this problem is securing higher proportion of health hazards in due course of time. Dumping of large heaps of cow dung on the banks that is also allowed to dry up on slanting bunds is washed down, which enriches the water with nutrients like Nitrates, Phosphates, Sulphates, chlorides etc. and results in the eutrophication of the river.

The nuisance of slaughter houses, wastage of tanning and sawmills on the banks find their way into the river and make it further polluted. Very recently the presence of obnoxious weed Azolla, a tropical plant, has infected river Jehlum. It prolifers so vigorously forming thick mats that are seen choking all the tributaries and water gates. It is a great threat to the river and its under water life (flora and fauna). It has also imparted a red colouration near stagnant places making the river ugly. The foul smell of the decayed Azolla has added to the health hazards. Pedestrians get suffocated while walking on the Bunds (the margins of the river) and the visitors hesitate to take a boat ride for visiting down town to see the old city.

No scientific work has been undertaken so far on the management and other aspects in order to find out the ways and means of its maintenance, beautification, drugging and to stop the sewerage of the whole population flanked on both of its sides which directly moves into it.

Strict orders should be implemented from SMC to sweepers of the city to be extra ordinarily careful and not to throw solid garbage directly into the river and should be penalized, if violated.

Fish market on the bridges connecting the two banks of the Jehlum should be banned as they throw all the residues and wastes directly into the river increasing its nutrition.

Dustbins with proper lids should be installed at the sensitive points on the bunds within easy reach of the pedestrians and the tourists.

Stray animals like dogs; cows should be totally restricted by raising bars to go close to the river water.

Over all scientific studies should be conducted that will reveal the extent of pollution studies in water, effects of unsanitary conditions of the boat populations, and reasons for retardation of aesthetic value of banks and over silting in the riverbed. The recommendations based on these studies will be fruitful for proper environmental planning of the river Jehlum and other water bodies in the valley.

Last year little effort was taken by the department of erosion where small stretch (only 3 km) of its marginal distance from Sonawar to Dubji ghat was renovated by constructing retaining walls. Surely it has helped in the removal of scrap stores on the banks by Hanjis which was blemish on the face of Srinagar city, but is not enough. Water Pollution is there, no attention is paid towards the grave problem. The river has been so much strangulated below dubji ghat to Chattabal that it is impossible to loosen the grip, if strong steps are not taken. Why should not the concerned department take firm actions to demolish the illegal residential and other business complexes from both the banks of the river? Gone are those spaces and ghats where we school children used to wait and wave our hands with flags, in coloured beautiful uniforms along with our teachers to the dignitaries that used to move down town as Daryave Jaloos (water parade) from Chattabal (vir) to Lal chowk. Thus there is impending need to investigate pollution aspects of the river Jehlum, the base line data that would be available would help us to devise ways to check pollution in the river and further strengthen recreation facilities and remove high silt loads.

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