Recently, Deputy Commissioner Baramulla through his official communication No: DCB/SQ/8042-8050 Dated 6.12. 2021 gave a written permission to Chief Project Manager NKC Pvt Ltd to excavate soil / clay from the Karewas of Pattan, for the construction of Srinagar Ring Road. I had apprehended this more than 4 years back when the notification for land acquisition for Srinagar Ring Road project was issued. A local activist from Pattan namely Hamid Rather held a protest in Srinagar against it. I had written a piece in 2017 asking the Govt to ensure Karewas are not touched during construction of the alternative highway around Srinagar city (Ring Road). In fact I had suggested that clay or soil be lifted from flood spill channel from Rambagh to the Narbal area. I had even suggested that it should be made part of the Ring Road DPR by the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI).Even the elected Govt didn’t give a serious thought to my suggestions. The large-scale destruction is now in offing. We will lose large tracts of Karewas (Woedders) in the next 2 to 3 years if some alternate sites, like Wullar embankments, or flood spill channel are not explored for clay excavation.
The valley of Kashmir is an oval-shaped basin with a plain area of 140 x 40 kms. The valley has large tracts of plateaus locally known as Woedder. This is like an intermountain fill that comprises unconsolidated gravel and mud. The geologists say that Karewas of Kashmir were formed during the Pleistocene period which is defined as the time period that began about 2.6 million years ago and lasted until about 11,700 years ago. This was the time when the entire valley of Kashmir was under water and resembled a massive lake. When the water of the valley got drained out through Khadanyar (Baramulla) , the huge mud deposits were left during this process which solidified and came to be known as Karewas, with the passage of time. Kashmir’s Karewas are thus massive plateaus which are dry but highly fertile.
Geological & Archeological treasures
Due to its 1 million year old history the Karewas are thus known as geological & archeological treasures which is an unnoticed heritage of Kashmiri people. The Karewas of Kashmir are so flat and massive that Srinagar international airport is located on one such plateau, in district Budgam, called Karewa Damodar. Due to massive urbanization the Karewas of Kashmir are under severe threat as they are being raised to ground and bulldozed. From the last 20 to 25 years almost 20 to 30 % of Karewas in Pulwama and Budgam have been raised to ground, which is a plunder of these geological formations. The Karewas could have been developed as a tourist attraction but authorities at the helm have never even thought of giving them legal protection by declaring them as heritage sites. Now by allowing excavation of soil and clay from Karewas, the Govt is itself causing a huge disaster to these heritage sites.
Elephant and Giraffe fossils in Karewas
Prof Khurshid Ahmad Parray in his research article published in Current Science Volume 100, number 6, dated March 25th 2011 says that geological research done in various parts of Kashmir valley by several geologists has revealed that several fossils were found in upper reaches of Budgam. As per the studies undertaken by Godwin Austen 1864 , it is reported that fish scales were found in Karewas of Gogjee Pathri and upper mountain areas of Liddermud and Yusmarg. As reported by Patterson (1940) an elephant species called Elephas hysudricus (now extinct) were found in Karewas of Pulwama and Budgam areas. The article further says that fossils of Sivatherium giganteum (extinct species of Giraffe) have been found in Samboora karewas near Pampore.
Noted geologist of Kashmir, Prof Abdul Majid Bhat who has done a great research work on Khonmoh fossil park which is said to be a 252 million year old fossil site also has been raising his concern on destruction of Karewas and he too has been demanding that Government should initiate necessary legal frameworks to declare Karewas as heritage sites.
The continuous soil excavation from the Karewas and felling of trees in forests led to extensive siltation of Jhelum river which then causes massive floods due to rise in the water level. The authorities seem to be least bothered to undertake a massive crackdown against the soil excavators who are operating in the broad daylight across several areas of Budgam, Pulwama and Pattan areas. The Karewas of central Kashmir’s Budgam district are under the threat of extinction as the soil excavation work at these sites is not at all coming to a halt since the last more than 2 decades now. An estimated 30 % of the Karewas in Khansahib, Budgam and Chadoora areas alone have been raised to ground after continuous plunder by huge soil excavating machines and JCBs. In Gundchal Arwani of South Kashmir the destruction of Karewas is massive.
Rail line in Kashmir
The destruction of Karewas began in the mid 1990’s after the Qazigund Baramulla railway project was started in Kashmir. Massive soil excavation work was taken up in Pattan, Pulwama and Budgam Karewa’s. Hundreds of trucks and other load carriers were pressed into work by the various construction firms who were given contracts for this Railway project to carry the clay for creating elevated railway tracks. The karewas of Pulwama and Budgam initially became the direct target. The huge excavators thus plundered the karewas by luring the farmers who owned land in these karewas. The muck which has been used for making elevated railway tracks from Qazigund to Baramulla has 90% of the material obtained from the Karewas. The Govt could have explored constructing railway tracks on pillars as was done in case of Delhi Metro. But instead Railway engineers chose to fill almost 170 kms of valley with huge muck and clay to create railway tracks. A beautiful hillock at village Khanda in Chadoora tehsil of Budgam was raised to ground within a year or so. Chadoora, Hyathpora and Nagam Karewa which used to be famous for best quality almond orchards have been vandalized as demand for clay is increasing day by day. This is not at all coming to a halt. The farmers are equally responsible for this mess as they welcomed construction firms to bulldoze their karewas for petty gains.
The saffron cultivation done on thousands of hectares of the Karewa land especially in Pampore, Samboora, Parigam, Wanpora, Kaisermulla, Sarai Khampora, Kuzweira, Kultreh and a number of other villages in Pulwama and Budgam has come down drastically. In Wadipora and Kultreh villages the Karewas were vandalized by brick kilns as well as dozens of such kilns were set up in these areas. Clay from these Karewas is used to make bricks thus defacing these beautiful plateaus. There is a great apprehension that Karewas of Budgam and Pulwama will further be destroyed as work on Srinagar Semi Ring Road has already been started. Lot of Karewa land around Ichgam, Ichkoot and Budibagh have been raised to the ground. Govt is not making the environmental impact assessment documents public so that people would know what kind of measures National Highway Authority of India (NHAI) will take to cause minimum environmental disaster.
We can’t afford to see our national heritage plundered and thus the Govt must immediately call upon NHAI to ensure no soil excavation is done around Karewas during Ring Road construction. Let the Govt explore soil excavation from flood spill channel and wullar embankets which is the need of the hour. These places need immediate desilting as the same will save us from floods as well. Even if the muck or silt is having moisture content in it , let the same be dumped at various locations so that it gets dry and can be used later on.
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has designated Srinagar as a part of UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN), it is the duty of the Govt to ensure every bit of heritage in and around Srinagar is protected. This includes Karewas as well. On one hand we celebrate International Mountain Day and on the other hand we bulldoze the same.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.