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, May 8, 2011

Dismal State of Environment

If you enjoy your mutton dish then reach for the J&K's State of Environment Report (SOER) to know what happens when you leave the mutton shop

Official Survey Paints Dismal Picture of JK’s Environment

Arif Shafi Wani (Greater Kashmir)

Srinagar: Unbridled vandalisation of forests and water bodies coupled with haphazard planning and developmental activities is gradually pushing the eco-fragile Jammu and Kashmir to the verge of an eco-disaster, a fresh official survey has revealed. The baseline survey was conducted by the Department of Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing, the nodal agency for preparation of state’s maiden State of Environment Report (SOER), an annual countrywide study mandatory for release of funds under a centrally sponsored scheme ‘Green India’ which finances the eco-friendly projects.

The survey has pointed out massive damage to the State’s environment mainly due to improper planning and recommended measures to prevent further damage to its fragile eco-system.

“Scrutiny of the data proved by various line departments has revealed dismal condition of J&K’s environment and points out that State is gradually heading towards an eco-disaster. In absence of proper planning and conservation measures, the condition of the State’s eco-system particularly forests and water bodies has extensively deteriorated,” the State Coordinator for SOER, Mutahirra Abida Wahid Deva told Greater Kashmir.

“An alarming indicator is the erratic climatic conditions particularly in the Valley during past few years which has resulted in fast melting of glaciers. This will ultimately cause soil erosion, floods and lead to paucity of drinking water,” she added.

The preparation of SOER was approved by the Ministry of Environment and Forests in the 10th Five Year Plan and the process was launched in 2002. While most of the states and union territories have prepared the SOER, however the process faced inordinate delay for past 8 years in JK mainly due to lack of expertise and infrastructure.

However, following an advisory by the Planning Commission, the State Government in November last year kick-started the preparation of SOER. For preparing the baseline SOER report, the nodal agency had on priority sought information from all the line departments of the State to assess condition of the environment.

The survey states that most of the developmental activities in the State are being undertaken without the mandatory Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) which helps to assess possible positive or negative impact that a proposed project may have on the environment.

“The State has been turned into a concrete jungle. Concrete constructions have been undertaken even in fragile zones across the State in violation of all environmental norms and, importantly, carrying capacity of respective areas. Despite the fact that Kashmir is placed in seismic zone five, making it highly vulnerable to earthquakes, high rise buildings are being allowed to come up. In case of earthquakes, these very buildings will prove to be major risk to human life,” Deva, quoting the survey, said.

The survey has recommended construction of Green buildings which are eco-friendly and safe and designed to have a longer life-cycle, and help conserve natural resources like water, while consuming minimal power and energy.

The terms of reference of the SOER is to gather information on various human activities including impact of demographic shifts, changes in trends of industrial, commercial and transport character, urban economic activities on air, water and land.
The survey has also pointed that State’s agriculture land, karewas and wetlands face tremendous pressure mainly due to haphazard developmental activities. “The agricultural land is being used for non-agriculture purposes across the State. Major parts of the wetlands and karewas which help to maintain eco-system have been vandalized and encroached upon.”

It states that the cement factories, brick-kilns, and tar plants have come up in eco-fragile zone and are drastically affecting the environment. “The problem is coupled with high emissions from the Army vehicles operating in the State. Studies have revealed that besides eight lakh vehicles in the State, thousands of second hand vehicles registered in other states are operating in J&K adding to the pollution and traffic mess. We have recommended various measures including regulation of new vehicles, strengthening pollution control mechanism to check the menace,” Deva said.

The survey states that the lack of proper mechanism to prevent influx of sewage and other pollutants into the water bodies was taking a heavy toll on the environment. “The problem is more severe in Jammu and Srinagar cities as their sewage directly pours into the water bodies. Ironically, the concerned departments have failed to construct STPs which can fully cater to the sewage load. River Jehlum which is considered to be lifeline of Kashmir, has been turned into a septic tanks as the concerned Government departments directly pump sewage into it,” she said.

The survey states that despite being major consumers of mutton, the State is without scientific abattoirs. “Most of the mutton sellers throw the internal organs and other residue directly into the drains which subsequently empty into the water bodies. In Shalteng area, chemicals and other harmful elements which are used to make leather from hides also pour in river Jehlum affecting its eco-system.”

The survey recommends construction of STPs across the State and micro water treatment facilities around Jehlum have been incorporated in the report. “The objective of the survey is to assess the Government’s current and proposed policy as a response to check further deterioration and build a baseline date to integrate environmental dimensions in the social, economic and sustainable development planning. We will be updating the data every year to maintain a balance between development and environment,” Deva said

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