Govt axe falls on Kashmir’s heritage chestnut garden

PDD to construct grid station in century-old garden at Harwan; locals oppose move

Environmental activists and people are aghast after the government cleared a proposal to pave way for construction of a grid station in the Valley's heritage chestnut garden in Harwan, on Srinagar outskirts.

Environmentalists said some trees in the garden dates back over 120 years. Nadeem Qadri, an environment lawyer said the move was a gross violation of Srinagar Master Plan and has led to loss of the century-old only sweet chestnut garden in J&K.

"One fails to understand how the administration allowed the extermination of the rare heritage garden. It is an irreparable loss. Among more than 50 heritage and protected tree including Chestnut trees, there are many walnut trees in the garden which come under protected tree category and were ruthlessly chopped down," said Qadri.

He said the garden was barely few hundred meters from Dachigam Nation Park, a protected eco-sensitive zone.

After the power department started grid construction, the locals of New Theed area have filed a PIL in the High Court opposing the move.

"The PIL was filed on various grounds – the grid is coming up adjacent to Dachigam Park and a heritage garden has been uprooted to construct the grid. The transmission lines are coming around densely populated area which locals say is health hazard to them," said advocate Shafqat Nazir. "As per the Environment Protection Act, there has to be an environmental impact assessment and only after the clearance, constructing can come up. But nothing of the sort happened."

An official said the grid was initially approved in Khimber area of Srinagar and later in Tailbal, but finally the site was shifted to New Theed.

Chief Engineer Transmission, Hashmat Qazi said there was land acquisition issue at Khimber area.

"After written permission from district administration, we started the process of constructing grid (at New Theed)," said Qazi.

Greater Kashmir accessed several official communications and orders and as per the documents, locals and Horticulture department had at first opposed the construction.

The department had written to the higher authorities about the issue but later district administration gave permission for the construction.

As per the official record, over 50 trees including, 24 chestnut trees, 27 walnut trees and seven peach trees have been axed in the process.

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