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, November 14, 2010

Ecological Desecration of Gulmarg

Prof. Dar wants an investigation why unplanned commercial exploitation of Gulmarg's pristine forests is allowed. His commentary is followed by a related story about Gulmarg region becoming a dumping wasteland

(Dr. Ghulam Hassan Dar, 60, was born in Srinagar. He did his schooling from M. L. Higher Secondary School in Shalimar, and received his bachelor's degree from the Sri Pratap College, Srinagar. Dr. Dar completed his M.Sc., M. Phil. and Ph.D. degress from the University of Kashmir. His academic and research interests are: Taxonomy, Floristics, Biodiversity, Ethnobotany, Ecology & Environment, etc. He retired as Professor and the Head of Department of Botany, University of Kashmir after a professional career spanning over three decades. Dr. Dar has published 6 books and more than 100 research papers in peer reviewed journals, and supervised more than 20 research scholars. He is a recepient of some prestigious fellowships, honors and awards, and a member of many Academic and Scientific Societies. He is a consultant for many development projects, and in his leisure time enjoys reading and writing.)

Gulmarg Vandalized

Gulmarg has been in news for the past few days, unfortunately not for anything good, but for the universally cursed ‘ecological vandalism’. Our recent visit to this world-famous meadow also revealed a vivid degradation of its forests at the hands of none other than our own people.

About a fortnight ago, we were on a botanical foray to Gulmarg and its adjacent areas. While examining the gymnosperm (conifer) trees in Gulmarg forests for making herbarium specimens, it was sadly noticed that these trees in general have been considerably deteriorated and dwindled, looking in a very bad shape as compared to our previous observations in these forests about a decade or two ago. Many a trees have been so badly deformed that it is not possible to identify them but from a close distance. “Posthul”/ Himalayan yew (Taxus wallichiana) trees, in particular, have been ruthlessly debarked, lopped and defoliated, as a result of which they are quite depleted, stunted and diseased. This may perhaps be due to the usefulness of this species in yielding ‘taxol’, an anti-cancer drug. Incidentally, this species is now critically endangered and included in Appendix II of CITES (Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). The ground cover in these forests shows little of the usual herbaceous flora but more of animal and human excreta, so that walking through them is no more lovable and soothing.

While getting into the forest just near Gandola, an uphill road has been constructed on which trucks were seen carrying construction materials. Following this road a little upwards, an enormous complex of concrete buildings has come up in the heart of forest. The structures in this complex are 2-3-storeyed and have been evidently erected after clearing of a large conifer stand. It greatly pained us to notice that many huge conifer trees (comprising fir - Abies pindrow and A. spectabilis, blue pine - Pinus wallichiana, spruce - Picea smithiana, and deodar - Cedrus deodara) around the complex have been irreparably damaged: debarked, lopped, burnt, and de-topped. On enquiring from some (local) people there, we were told that it is a HOTEL which is being constructed by some very rich private business establishment for the last several years, and that it would be the most modern and high-tech hotel in Gulmarg. After much disappointment, we took certain pictures, which depict the sad ultimate fate our forests may meet. I wonder how there can be some private land right amid a dense forest. This needs to be probed into!

Grubby Gulmarg Does Not Attract Anymore

Faheem Aslam

Gulmarg: Normally one does not expect a tourist destination, which is thronged by hundreds of domestic and foreign visitors throughout the year, to be dirty. But in Gulmarg, sanitation seems to be a disregarded concern.

A ride along the 16-kms-long Tangmarg-Gulmarg road indicates the level of negligence that the world famous resort is facing at the hands of the Gulmarg ‘Development’ Authority and its Municipality.

Heaps of garbage and polythene are seen all along the road, worrying visitors. “It (sanitation) is not the priority of the Municipality. The visitors, mostly foreigners, often express dismay about the cleanliness of the place, but there is nobody to address the issue,” said Javaid, who runs a restaurant in Tangmarg.

He said the Municipality officials neither assess the sanitation issues nor address the same for betterment of the place. “With regard to sanitation, the place certainly needs a substantial facelift. Something has to be done to ensure that garbage is not left scattered and use of polythene is completely banned in Gulmarg,” Javaid said.

Interestingly, it is the garbage and polythene that greet you as you enter the Gulmarg Bowl. At several places, the garbage hasn’t been lifted for days together, with foul smell emanating from it. At other places, polythene irks you. “Everywhere you will find hoardings mentioning that polythene is banned in Gulmarg. But I can say with surety that there is no ban on its usage here. It is all hoax,” said owner of a prominent hotel here, insisting not to be named. “If you go around, you can observe hoteliers, restaurant owners and people using polythene like anything.”

Another trouble, according to locals, is the absence of a proper sanitation system in Gulmarg. “There are a number of hoteliers who ensure dumping of garbage at the approved places. But there are those who dump the wastes wherever they like,” said Shafiq, a restaurant owner here. “Even in the Gulmarg vehicle stand area, there is no system for drainage and sewerage. This is telling upon the glory of the place. So the hoteliers and restaurant owners have to be asked to ensure proper disposal of wastes.”

There is yet another area of concern: the ponnywalas. “There are scores of horses roaming around Gulmarg every day. Earlier the ponnywalas would use bags for collecting of the waste from horses. But this time no such mechanism is there. This is one of the reasons why tourists have to move around Gulmarg with their nose covered,” Shafiq said. “It would have been better if the GDA or Muncipality provided the ponnywalas with the bags so that the Gulmarg Bowl doesn’t look like a dumping ground.”

There is also a need of putting in place the dust and garbage collection bins. “The GDA must conduct a check of the entire Gulmarg area and see what needs to be done to improve the sanitation of the area. This has to be a prime concern for the officials because it doesn’t go well with a tourist destination to appear shabby. Before going anywhere, people certainly inquire about the cleanliness of that place. This is mostly true with foreign tourists who never compromise on health and hygiene,” Javaid said.

Surprisingly, the minor fire in Gulmarg Bowl is adding to its mess. There seems to be nobody to look into the issue of people burning down wooden pieces amid dense trees. “The camp fire has to be allowed only in the areas where it is permissible. But here everyone burns down wooden pieces or leftover of rotten trees in the evening. This leads to apprehensions of forest fire,” Javaid added.

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