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.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Medicine, Old Ailment

Ashraf wonders if the lake will ever recover its pristine condition

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 66, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Fran├žaise in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.)

New Machines but old Problem

Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah, recently announced the procurement of new machines for cleaning Dal Lake. Every step taken to save the Dal Lake is most welcome by one and all. However, the delicate eco-system of the Lake with its fragile bio-diversity requires careful evaluation before going full steam ahead with dredging or excavation. In fact, the chief minister himself has said that the machines alone cannot save the dying Lake. The Lakes and Waterways Development Authority has imported two Finnish machines at a cost of Rs 8 crores. The present Vice-Chairman of the authority appears to be fully involved in his job and is serious about initiating various steps for restoring this prestigious water body. He had earlier faced criticism for fencing the western foreshore road. That was a necessary practical step to prevent further encroachments and dumping of garbage into the lake. The fence which was claimed to be an eye sore could be easily beautified by a creeper of wild roses. It has been reported that some more machines would be imported by the authority. These machines act as excavators as well as weed removers. These can also dredge muck out of the lake. It has also been reported that an Italian Engineer is going to train the locals in the use of these machines.

It is hoped that before importing and operating the machines the concerned authorities have fully considered the implications of dredging and weed cutting by these machines? There have been some bad experiences with the earlier dredgers and harvesters. The Red Algae which had resulted after cutting of the weeds by the harvesters had to be removed by manual deweeding. The Lake has dozens of springs inside. In addition, all the weeds growing in the Lake are not harmful. More than engineers, the Lake conservation needs advice of bio-scientists. Hopefully, the concerned authority is proceeding ahead by co-ordinating efforts of bio-scientists and engineers? The most important aspect of Dal conservation is to take care of the quality of its water along with the marine life living therein. One would not like the Lake to be restored as a dead Lake without any marine or plant life. It would be then a huge pond of water and that too stinking awfully! There has also been some talk of beautifying the lake shores. There seems to be something wrong with the priorities. Beautification can be considered seriously once the patient has been restored to health. Otherwise it would amount to putting make up on a dying nude lady!

The most important task is to save the lake from further deterioration. The immediate concern is to stop the inflow of pollutants from certain localities of the city including hotels on its shores as well as house-boats and permanent houses on the islands inside the lake. The sewerage and night soil going into the Lake from the shores as well as house boats acts as fertiliser and accelerates the growth of dense weeds. This has to be taken care off. Already a number of sewage treatment plants have been built round the Lake and sewers have been constructed to carry the sewerage from various localities to these STPs. One has to be sure that the water going inside the Lake from these plants is safe for the health of the Lake? For house boats on board miniature treatment plants have to be installed. A number of technologies are available for the same. These are in use in Lake Kentucky in USA and in some parts of Australia. This issue has been pending for a long time. Even if the Government itself has to install these treatment plants, it should be done immediately without waiting for any voluntary effort by the owners of the boats. It is not going to cost hundreds of crores but the result would be worth hundreds of crores.

Simultaneously, the focus has to be on enlarging the open water area by removing the encroachments inside the lake. Along with this, there is urgent need for the improvement in the flow of water by opening the blocked channels. The stagnation of water with continuous influx of pollutants has virtually converted the lake into a gigantic septic tank. There is no point in beautifying the shores when the inside is like a stinking marsh. Unfortunately, we have always been thinking of the lake as a major tourist attraction and are concerned about its view from the Boulevard around it. No one is really going into the heart of the lake to check its health. It is really sick at the heart! Unless we are able to increase the open water area, improve the quality of water, and ensure its flow, we will not be able to halt further deterioration of the lake. For achieving all these goals we have to think not only in terms of larger numbers of machines and men at work continuously but have to undertake all ancillary works simultaneously. A ceremonial start of newly imported machines forgotten after few weeks is not going to save the lake.

The Lake’s greatest misfortune is general apathy of the public to the state of its health. There is general pinning without any productive work. There has been considerable voluntary effort in the Nageen area but much more needs to be done not only there but in other parts of the Lake. No one has so far been able to move the masses for saving the lake. We need a charismatic leader who can move the masses for saving the Dal Lake. Without the active involvement of common people, no plans are going to succeed. The problem with Dal restoration is that for last over three decades people have been watching various government initiatives to save Dal. Instead of saving and restoring it, one has been a witness to its fast deterioration. All have lost faith in government initiatives and the organisation supposed to do the job has become notorious because of numerous corruption cases. Even the State High Court which has taken over the lake has not been able to fully force the government to take various steps on an accelerated pace. The lake has been debated in the courts now for over three years or so. No doubt, the Court has been able to get some of the things done yet the government has not been keeping pace with the directions issued from time to time. The only solution is to wake up the peoples’ court and motivate the masses in general about the need of restoring the Lake not as a tourist attraction but as an essential living organ of Srinagar in particular and the entire Kashmir in general. Only when the common people feel concerned about it and participate fully in its restoration can one be hopeful of saving it for the posterity.

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