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.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Tragedy Called Jhelum

Zeenat's commentary on Jhelum is a sad reflection of the present

(Ms. Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil, 27, was born in Srinagar, Kashmir. She did her schooling from King George (Mumbai) and later Cambridge (New Delhi), and received her Masters degree in English Literature from the University of Kashmir in 2008. Presently, she is also pursuing her second Masters degree in Mass Communications through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). In 1998, she began her career as a freelance journalist with leading national newspapers and simultaneously joined ‘Fazil Kashmiri Publications’ as Editor and Publisher, and is also an editor of the ‘Focus’. Ms. Fazil has written a book on Mass Media and Linguistics (2006), and ‘Falcons of Paradise'(2009), a reference book contains 100 Eminent Personalities of J&K starting from 14th century till date. After working for ‘Daily Etaalat’- a Srinagar based Newspaper in 2007-2008; she joined ‘Daily Kashmir Images’ as a Senior Correspondent by the end of 2008. She is also currently associated with ‘Charkha’, a foundation that highlights the developmental concerns of marginalized section of Kashmiri society particularly in rural areas and to draw out perspectives on women through their writings. Ms. Fazil is also associated with ‘Interchurch Peace Council Netherlands’ which is intensely involved in several conflict areas such as in Kashmir. In 2009, she joined the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA). She has received numerous awards for her meritorious contribution in the field of literature. Her interests are reading, writing, poetry, music, travel,and gender related topics.)

The Putrid Waters of the Once-Pure Jhelum

One of the rivers collectively referred to as ‘Sapta-Sandhu’, the river Jhelum is part of our natural and historical heritage flowing through Kashmir. Reference to it goes back to the period of the Rig-Veda where it finds mention as ‘Vitasta’. Down the ages, this has been a river, giving life-giving waters to the region. There is a story about the Mogul Emperor Jahangir who was drawn to its clear blue waters and called it 'Bebat'. 

Today sadly there are no ‘clear blue waters’ that enraptured Jahangir but filthy, sluggish opaque waters, which flow. Jhelum originates in Pakistan and the name itself is derived from the city with the same name in our neighbouring country. The pollution begins even before it enters Kashmir. “ Most of the drains from Islamabad to Baramullah flow directly into the river Jhelum severely affecting its flora and fauna” laments a source in Flood & Irrigation Department. The tragedy begins at these crucial entry points, marked by an absence of effective sewerage system.

Today, the sight that greets you on the riverbank is huge piles of garbage from Khawaja Bhag to Khanpore and from Azad Gunj to Khadneyar, areas in North Kashmir. A large population resides on the banks of the river, which leads to piles of garbage. The tendency of even sweepers of Municipal Corporation has been to dump the collected trash along the riverbanks. There is massive construction happening all across Kashmir, gobbling up its pristine countryside at a frenetic pace. This is threatening the banks and even the water quality of rivers like the Jhelum. The river passes Srinagar and major towns like Baramullah and the signs of this frenzied construction is apparent all the way on its meandering route.

This is apparent in Khanabal Bridge, Bijbehara, Sangam, Halmula, Kakpora, Samboora, Guru, and Padhgampura, in district Anantnag in South Kashmir. The construction industry is chomping its way through Cement Bridge, Chattabal, Habba Kadal, Drab-Yaar, all areas in Srinagar city. Chief Engineer, M.R. Showla of the Flood and Irrigation department is quick to comment “from Sonawar Ghat –Dubgi Ghat some 495 illegal structures have come up, of which 458 have been removed and rehabilitated”

Despite the existence of the Water Resources (Management and Regulation) Act 2010 that provides executive powers to the concerned authorities to act against the wrongdoers, pollution and massive illegal construction on the banks of Jhelum across North and South Kashmir is continuing unabated. A few years ago, the authorities had started a beautification drive of Jhelum banks at several places, but no effort was made to improve the water quality of this famed river.

The change in the flow, the colour, the purity of the waters is palpable as it moves from the countryside to the urban areas. It becomes sluggish, shallow and devoid of the gush and sparkle of its original waters. Apart from the garbage, there is also silt, which makes its way into the river. Silting is a common enough phenomenon particularly in the low hills where it gets accumulated due to erosion in catchments.

In a sense the river is under threat, not from one area or activity but from a mindless approach smacking of an uncaring attitude, negligence. For sustaining and nurturing our environment, our natural resources is inexorably tied to the human condition. By turning a Nelson’s eye to the degradation, the authorities and indeed civil society is responsible for the waters turning noxious.

And this is happening. All these wanton activities are in effect killing the once pristine, pure waters of the famed Jhelum, reducing it to little more than a polluted drain. According to experts, the waters of the river have turned ‘Eutrophic’. This means that the oxygen content dissolved in the water stands dangerously reduced, a direct consequence of the effluents and other matter. This then leads to a proliferation of life forms like algae and eventually to the extinction of other organisms in the waters. In technical terms it is referred to as high Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD), which robs the waters of its life-sustaining capacity.

There is an underlying threat to the balance and harmony in the environment in Kashmir. The pollution in River Jhelum is thus not an isolated phenomenon but reflects a lacunae in policy, its implementation, community participation in preserving what is referred to the ‘commons’. Everything is inter-related. For instance the overgrazing of the pastures, the massive deforestation caused by construction activity leads to soil erosion. Today 80 percent of the catchments area of this river is affected by this. It is reaching crises proportions today.

According to a recent survey conducted by State Pollution Control Board (SPCB), the waters show a high concentration of phosphorus and nitrogen, a result of the huge amounts of waste including faeces and urine; biomedical wastes being released on a daily basis into the Jhelum. Environmentalist, Dr Mubashir Jeelani is concerned about the presence of heavy metal in the water content, being spewed out by commercial establishments and hospitals along the course of the river.

There are other threats as well; sand mining, a highly lucrative business which runs in an unregulated way. There is a system in place which grants permission to individuals and organizations to extract sand but the number of illegal establishments probably equal those with the required permissions.

According to Showla of the Irrigation and Flood Control Department, in South Kashmir, some 453 illegal sand mining outfits were in operation. The department has taken action and between December 2010 and the present, several offenders have been bought to book with a recovery of Rs 2 lakh as compounded challan in court.

Houseboat owners too are involved in manual sand extraction, again with only few being registered to carry on this activity. They too continue extracting this natural resource to the detriment of the rivers and take shelter in the fact that the system for keeping vigil and bringing offenders to book is slack.

The picture is dismal. And unless the authorities take concerted action to preserve the environment, not only the Jhelum but the natural heritage of the beautiful valley of Kashmir will continue to be under threat. (Charkha Features)

1 comment:

shahishaharyar said...

Jhelum is the jugular vein of Kashmir Valley and when this vital artery gets infected, what will happen to the body is understood. Visualizing the magnitude of the problem, it would be prudent to create a separate department / Authority for the total development of the Jhelum river right from Khannabal to Baramulla.Otherwise it is not going to recieve the desired attention for its speedy restoration/ beautification etc.