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, April 11, 2010

Living Without Discipline

Firdous believes tourism is destroying Kashmir. Tourism is also a basic employment generator in Kashmir. World wide, tourism has not caused the sort of havoc that is being attributed to tourists in Kashmir. The reality is that in Kashmir, the life style of its own citizens are the root cause of its environmental destruction.

(Mr. Firdous Syed, 44, was born in Bhaderwah, Doda, and had his schooling in Jammu. He is currently the Chairman of the "Kashmir Foundation for Peace and Development Studies," and associated with the J&K National Conference. Between 1989 and 1991, he led the Moslem Janbaaz Force, a militant group, and was jailed from 1991 through 1994. In 1996, he publicly renounced the gun culture, and is an active member of the Kashmir civil society.)

Living Beyond Means

Undeniably, we are living beyond our means. In the name of tourism promotion natural resources have been over-exploited. Eventually, bounties of nature this land is blessed with may fade away. Prospect of lush green valley turning into a desert, may force a staunch environmentalist to demand-- stop promoting tourism. Apparently, this may sound harsh. Demand of discouraging tourism, only source of income for thousands in a state with limited resources, seems to be an extremist idea. But by the same token of argument, in a state wherein ecology is economy, can the indiscriminate exploitation of natural recourses be allowed in the name of tourism promotion.

Kashmir is not an oil producing nation, mineral rich economy or for that matter an industrialized society. Our mainstay is horticulture, handicrafts and tourism, all dependent upon nature. The USP (unique selling proposition) of Kashmir is water and its scenic beauty, if it is lost why a visitor will like to visit Kashmir? Oil producing nations have a limit, how much they can produce in a day. Does Kashmir have a plan in place, how much it can exploit the nature? Arrival of ten of thousands for pilgrimage and sight seeing is turning out to be ecological disaster. Is tourism sector as it is managed presently in a hotchpotch manner, sustainable in the long run? Has not the time come to find out fine balance between ecology and economy; limiting the arrivals without disturbing the scale of economy?

It is not an alarmist view, in Kashmir receding of glaciers; erratic climatic change is a scientifically well established fact. Global warming might be a factor; local conditions are also to be blamed for the environmental degradation. Massive deforestation and human intervention are the reasons for the shrinking of glaciers. Dr. Shakil Romshoo of Department of Geology and Geophysics, University of Kashmir has carried an in-depth study of Lidder watershed, points out--- “the glaciated area of Kolhai has undergone drastic changes in the recent past. The glacier area has shrunk from 13.87 sq. km in 1976 to 11.24 sq. km in 2006. In 1999, it was spread over an area of 12.98 sq. km and shrunk to 11.79 sq. km in 2001. “Eighteen percent of the glacier was lost during the last 30 years…Lidder and Sind rivers are showing increased discharge trends due to increase in glacier melt runoff, and the snow cover has progressively declined in both the basins.”

According to some glaciologists busy in conducting studies of Kolhai, “If you have more water going out than you have coming in, you have a negative mass balance, and the glacier is shrinking…That's exactly what's happening to Kolhai” (National Geographic News, March 24, 2010). For the locals, scientific research, is secondary, they share the facts from their experience---“My father tells me the tip of the glacier used to be there… pointing to a dried-up river bed visible several kilometers down the mountain. “Now the glacier ends up here.”

According to latest findings the Kolhai glacier is “receding at a rate of nearly 10 feet (3 meters) a year.” This glacier feeds the Lidder the main tributary of River Jehlum. River Jehlum literally is the lifeline of Kashmir, if it dry-up valley for sure will “turn into a desert.”

As per Shakil Romshoo, “pollution and the reckless destruction of the natural resources in the Lidder valley, together with the heavy rush of tourists, have resulted in degradation of the Lidder watershed system.” Last year approximately one million visitors including four hundred thousands Amarnath pilgrims visited valley. Seventy to eighty percent of these visitors either stayed or passed through the Lidder valley. Locals also in huge number visit Phalgam. In 2009 two to three hundred thousand swarmed the small valley on a single weekend, precisely 14/15 August. Sixty percent of the tourist visiting Phalgam are locals; they remain confined in and around the tourist resort. In the absence of proper sanitation and waste management, heavy rush of people along with huge vehicular traffic is bound to cause soil, air and water pollution. Besides tourists, annual Amar Nath Yatra has also wreak havoc with the fragile echo systems of the Lidder valley. Tourists pollute inhabitated areas, heavy deployment of forces and lakhs of yatris, have caused immense damage to the forests, snow capped mountains and the glaciers. Flowing water of Lidder below Phalgam is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. Due to heavy industrialization and human intervention Ganga and Yamna have turned into cesspools. If corrective measures are not adopted in time, soon Jehlum is going to become, a garbage filled sewer.

Evidently, tourism is proving to be an environmental hazard; over-exploitation of nature has proved disastrous. However tourism promotion has become fashionable, it is lucrative business also. Politicians sell it as arrival of peace; bureaucrats make money in so called infrastructure development. Furthermore in the name of Yatra, religious passions are invoked to promote the cause of (misconceived notion) national integration. While rulers are busy in exploiting the tourism promotion to serve their vested interests, no body has bothered to carry out a study to gauge the impact of excessive tourist activity on the environment. Lo and behold, unconcerned with the looming disaster, tourism department believes; Kashmir has potential for ten million tourists a year. Do we really need such a huge mass of people arriving each year? Can one calculate the amount of environmental footprint of one crore visitors on our already disturbed echo system? And where is the infrastructure to house one crore arrivals in a tourist season? Above all, are these half-baked tourism experts aware of the carrying capacity of the valley-- how many visitors can be accommodated without disturbing the ecology as well as social environment?

In valley peak tourist season mainly consists of four five months; May to September.
One crore tourist in 120-150 days means more than 70 to 90 thousand arrivals per day. Entire Kashmir valley has the bed capacity of 35 thousands, Srinagar alone having 25 thousands. To cater such a huge rush of tourists coming per day, bed capacity has to be increased by at least two and a half-time. For this more hotels, guest houses and Houseboats needs to be constructed. Gulmarg (2000), Phalgam (8000), and Sonamarg (400) all combined has approximately ten thousand bed capacity. But these prime tourist destinations are already choking, no vacant space exists there. For new constructions green trees have to be felled. Will it not be disastrous to destroy green forest. Dull is dying slowly, hundreds of crores have been spent, yet it is becoming difficult to save the Dull. Thousands of Houseboats are the biggest polluters, tons of human excreta and other solid and liquid waste is being directly dumped into the Lakes. No amount of effort can save Dull and Nagin, till the time all human habitation be it residential or for tourist purposes is not completely removed from these water bodies. In such circumstances is it possible to add more Houseboats in dying Dull? Srinagar with population of million plus, is in shambles due to poor civic amenities and inefficient waste management. To have 25000 more beds means construction of 12 to 15 thousand hotel rooms. Where is the land available to construct hundreds of new hotels and lodges in the congested capital city? Now-a-days it takes hours to cover small destinations due to ever growing traffic and shrinking of roads. Is it difficult to anticipate, madness on the roads due to thousands of tourist vehicles playing on the choked arteries of Srinagr city? People may argue in favour of exploring new tourist destinations. Is it advisable to open new forest areas and virgin mountain valleys for building of new roads, hotels and resorts, particularly when ecology is weighed down with environment pollution and global warming is a harsh reality?

Perhaps, it is not advisable to stop tourism completely; it needs to be regulated properly. Government ought to concentrate on quality instead of quantity; Kashmir cannot endure endless inflow of hundreds of thousands of budget tourists. If environment has to be saved and scale of economy also to be maintained rather increased, concerned authorities should focus on high-end quality tourism. Environment footprint will be the same of a person spending 200 dollars a day and that of 2000 Rupees a day. Moreover scale of the economy will remain same in case of 5, 00,000 tourists spending RS10, 000 per head per day and 50, 00,000 spending Rs1, 000 per head per day. Why government is fascinated with huge numbers, is tourism promotion part of anti insurgency campaign? Ecology and environment is too serious an issue; it is critical for the survival of very human civilization. Posterity demands no politics with nature; collective interest is in its protection, not in its destruction.

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