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.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Jugular Vein of Srinagar

Can Srinagar survive without a vibrant Dal Lake? Ashraf doubts if either mainstrean politicians or separatists really care about Kashmir's future. In a post-script, Ashraf defends his commentary against comments provided by a seemingly proxy

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 67, 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.)

Saving the 'Frozen’ Dal Lake!

Recently the deputy chief minister accompanied by a large posse of his staff surveyed the Dal Lake to check its environmental conservation! One wonders how could the minister check the environmental status of a frozen lake? May be the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority in Kashmir has invented some latest technology to check the health of a frozen lake?

For some unknown reasons, most of the concerned authorities whether local or from outside judge the health of the lake on the Boulevard side.Ironically, the Lake is primarily taken as a tourist attraction and not as the living and throbbing heart of the 2,000 year old city of Srinagar. The Lake is not to be saved or restored for tourists only! The authorities as well as the people at large are yet to realise the extent of the deterioration in the health of this Lake and its connected water bodies. For last thirty years or so ‘efforts’ from all sides are on to save the dying Lake. Unfortunately, the process is too slow and has failed to keep pace with the speed of its deterioration. Even though there are many plans formulated by foreign as well as domestic consultants, agencies and other technical organisations, yet the implementation of the measures to arrest the rapid pollution of the Lake and restoration of its health to earlier times is abnormally slow. Things are proceeding in piecemeal fashion and there is no concerted and comprehensive time bound plan. We have been watching inauguration of weed cutters, excavators and so on. However, the number of these machines is miniscule compared to the enormity of the task. If the efforts to at least arrest the mushroom and uncontrolled growth of harmful weeds are to be realistically undertaken all over the Lake at one and the same time, it may require couple of dozen machines and a similar number of excavators. Moreover, one does not have to go for random and blind cutting of all weeds. The Lake has some useful weeds which are essential for the marine life. The cutting has to be on a selective basis. One hopes the concerned authorities are taking good care of that aspect?

The story of mismanagement of Dal Lake conservation has been told and retold umpteen times. It is a well known fact that the Comptroller General of India in their annual reports has pointed out the malaise of corruption involved in the conservation of this water body. Even there are some vigilance cases under trial in the relevant judicial forums. However, the worst enemy of the Lake has been the politicization of the conservation effort. Some years back the judiciary had become very active in speeding up the conservation efforts. One had thought that the re-activation of the judicial process would give a fillip to conservation measures but if some of our politicians have the final say, then the Lake is doomed. Political interference has always been there in almost all developmental or other projects in the state. One would have appreciated if a project like the restoration and conservation of the Lake had been kept above politics. It is the very heart of Kashmir and if it stops beating not only will Srinagar disappear but the ‘Paradise on Earth’ will also lose its very meaning for the rest of the world. Dal faces two major problems: first is the shrinkage of the water body due to encroachments and the other is the deterioration of quality of water because of silting and flow of raw untreated sewage into the Lake.

The problem of the quality of water can be managed by involving internationally renowned agencies with appropriate technical expertise and sufficient resources by way of equipment and machinery. It needs political will at the highest level to go in for a turnkey job to be assigned to a resourceful agency to undertake the project on a time bound basis. The technology and expertise is available and needs only to be harnessed by brushing aside all political or other considerations. For the first time all the top brass in the administrative department as well as in the field is fully prepared and eager to go for this alternative. They had even mooted the requisite proposals in this behalf. That proposal has been lost in the maze of Cabinet sub-committee! A decision at the highest political level both at the central and state level could have fructified the proposal.

The million dollar question is will someone have the urge and honesty to take such a momentous decision? On that depends the fate of the Lake, which is not only a national heritage but a world heritage! In fact, there was a move to get the Lake declared as a “World Heritage” but that proposal too has been lost in some administrative maze! The most important and decisive factor for restoration of the Lake to its ancient glory is the removal of encroachments. The water body has been reduced from more than 32 square miles to less than 11 square miles during last couple of decades or so. This is because of the land reclamation in the form of islands in the very heart of the Lake on which full fledged localities have come up. There are about 60,000 people living inside the Lake on islands. Government has been dithering with the removal and rehabilitation of these encroachers for last couple of decades. Now, something seems to have been worked out but the process is again quite slow.

In the meantime, fresh encroachers are having a field day! Apart from these encroachers within the Lake, its surroundings have an uncontrolled growth of hotels, guest houses, and private mansions. The new houses coming up around the Lake especially on the Boulevard-Nishat belt are truly mansions of the rich. Kral Sangri is a living example. A bureaucrat who raided these places and brought the violations to the notice of the authorities was very conveniently removed.
What annoys one is the total apathy of ‘Azadi’ leaders towards the health of this invaluable treasure of Kashmir. The valley without its living water bodies is a dead land. If they could move millions for marching to achieve ‘Azadi’, why not to save the Dal Lake, the very heart of Kashmir? Saving Dal is half way to getting ‘Azadi’! Recently some of the leaders had been talking about some pressing issues such as power which are affecting the daily lives of the people. The most pressing issue is the wanton degradation of the environment of which the Dal Lake is the starkest example!

The minister’s tour over the frozen Lake reminded me of my days at the Regional Engineering College which used to be located in Naseem Bagh. In December, 1964 when the Dal Lake froze, we walked over it right up to Dal Gate. The water was crystal clear and it had turned into a thick sheet of ice on the top. At a number of places we could see fish moving below the thick ice layer. I wonder whether the minister too was able to see the moving fish or the water is now too polluted to allow such a view?

Inform us About the Present Status of Lake

Dear Editor,

The counterpoint by Afti Azhar titled ‘Suffering from factual inaccuracies’ published in Rising Kashmir on Monday January 10, 2011 accuses me of generalisations and factual accuracies but does not itself enlighten the readers about the real facts and figures except giving the area of the Lake.

The language and personal details as well as attacks in the writing suggest that the counterpoint is more of a proxy response by some people in authority irritated by the article. I would not like to react to the comments of the author about my personal role in Tourism Department and would leave it to the captains of the Tourism Industry to react if they like to do so! It would have been better if the author had given water chemistry details before and now especially Ph value, nitrogen level and so on. The constant area mentioned does not indicate if it is the clear water body area or includes the encroachments in the form of islands housing 5,000 families comprising 60,000 people. This is apart from the large areas reclaimed for growing vegetables.

A large number of articles in different newspapers have been written about the precarious health of the Lake and connected water bodies. In fact, one local English daily carried a series of articles on the pollution of the Lake only last year. Even during the current year some articles have appeared on the subject. It would be very useful if Afti Azhar enlightens us with the present status of the Lake giving various parameters compared with those of three to four decades back. Many scientists and ecologists have been monitoring the Lake and checking the water chemistry of the Lake for decades. It would also be useful if they could comment on the present status of the Lake.

M Ashraf

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