Before we go green |Kashmir University needs to have a comprehensive policy to make a carbon-free, green campus

At the onset of May University of Kashmir was all set to receive the NAAC peer team for its reaccreditation after a period of almost eight years. Previous accreditation was undertaken in the year 2011. Few days prior to the arrival of NAAC peer team administrative orders were issued imposing restrictions on all sorts of vehicular traffic inside the campus barring a few ones engaged with the NAAC visit. This was presumably to facilitate hassle-free movement of the Peer Team within campus who had to visit almost each and every department and research centre of the University for the sake of their performance assessment.

Once the orders were translated into action all of a sudden, teachers, employees, scholars and students of the university could feel a fresh lease of life in the campus. Suddenly irritating honking of horns turned silent, zooming bikes disappeared, dust and noise got vanished and amidst all this soothing silence, serenity, tranquility and pollution free ambience of the campus that left an indelible impression upon one and all, people witnessed new beauty of their campus which is flanked by the world-famous Dal Lake on one side and towering Zabarwan mountain range on the other. Lush green Naseembagh reincarnated in its glory and the whole campus presented altogether a new look in its landscape. These three days provided an all new experience to the residents as well as non-residents of the campus.

However once the NAAC visit got over, majority of teachers, employees and students wanted to enjoy this newly found beauty and serenity of the campus for all times to come. They offered their full support to the administration in continuing with the restrictions even though no alternative means of eco-friendly transport within campus were immediately available nor other modalities required for regulation of parking slots and management of exigencies were in place. Decision that was taken hastily was supposed to be a temporary and transitional one at the first place but all stakeholders pinned their hopes upon the university administration to make it a long-lasting one in their quest to see their campus getting gradually transformed into a vehicle-free, plastic-free, carbon-free, eco-friendly, sustainable, green campus in view of its sensitive and fragile ecology and surroundings. This was just a very humble and modest beginning towards that lofty goal and nobody wanted to lose it just like that.

Many teachers as well as other employees having health-related and other genuine concerns faced many difficulties on this account and therefore were not happy with this decision. In absence of adequate alternative arrangements they demanded removal of restrictions and were well within their rights to do so. However this demand posed a big challenge to the administration in balancing the move in a manner that simultaneously addresses the aspirations of pro-ban people as well as the grievances of anti-ban employees. Though all the three associations of teachers, officers and non-teaching staff offered full support to the administration in this initiative, they recommended issuance of vehicle entry passes on need-basis to the desirous employees till adequate alternative arrangements are made, subject to the condition that they will park their vehicles only at the parking slots to be designated for this purpose. This very provision was supposed to be revisited and reviewed once all modalities for an effective and hassle-free implementation of the provision are kept in place by the administration. This relaxation however was necessitated by the fact that all visitors to the campus have their inherent rights that cannot be violated or compromised for the sake of others. Fundamental rights of proponents as well as opponents of the restrictions need to be respected and safeguarded for a successful and long-lasting implementation of this initiative.

Sustainable green campus initiative is actually a long-term project that in addition to vehicle-free campus includes many other components like paperless work culture; waste segregation, disposal and management; installation and use of solar energy and other renewable resources; water and electricity conservation; non-use of plastics; organic floriculture practices; no use of coal bukharis and electric heaters during winters and its replacement with central heating systems; no burning of chinar leaves during winters; no use of diesel generators; rain-water harvesting etc. University needs to have a comprehensive green campus policy with crystal clear objectives, plans and provisions besides an enforcement committee in place to work out all modalities for their effective implementation. Services of some experienced environmental consultant could also be availed for this purpose or the Dept. of Earth Sciences could provide the lead in collaboration with the Dept. of Environmental Sciences of our University.

If the University starts working now on a vehicle-free, plastic free, carbon-free, green campus it is not impossible to achieve that goal before the next NAAC inspection which is scheduled after every five years. We can submit a prospective project to UGC or other national/international environmental agencies for funding on the basis of fragile ecology and lush green surroundings of our campus. Kashmir University campus best qualifies to be among the first green campus of the country and there will be good number of agencies ready to fund this initiative. We could be the role model for many other universities and institutions of the state wherein our model could be emulated by them. We need not always look upon others to copy their best practices. We can provide lead in this respect to others. There are numerous such university campuses from which we can draw enough inspiration for such an initiative like the Simon Fraser University of Canada, University of Alcala, Spain, Universities of Oxford, Nottingham and Sussex, UK, Universities of Connecticut, California, USA, Brown University, Colorado State University, University of North Carolina, Stanford University, Georgetown University, Cornell University, USA etc. Even within India Symbiosis Institute, Lovely Professional University, Pondicherry University, Indian Institute of Science, Punjab University and RNB University, Rajasthan have made considerable progress in this direction so far. There are separate rankings under QS-World Ranking for Green Universities.

Nowadays more and more educational institutions across the world have started paying attention to the importance of incorporating sustainability as a part of their organization, culture and even their architecture, so that students, scholars and teachers live sustainable actions as part of their daily practices. We have been teaching and preaching environmental sustainability and ecological conservation in our university since decades now. It is high time that we start practicing those values ourselves. Some people argue that our university ecosystem is a minute one having little bearing upon the larger ecosystem outside the University. May be this is true but somewhere we need to set an example by our actions that we care for our ecology and environment and are ready to sacrifice our little comforts and convenience for the sake of this large public and environmental good.

In order to make this initiative a successful one, adequate measures need to be taken by the administration to ensure smooth and effective implementation of this move that inter-alia include making eco-friendly transit facilities available to the University staff within a lag time of maximum five minutes at any location within the campus; procuring adequate number of  battery-operated vehicles and bicycles for staff and students within the shortest possible time frame; regulation of existing parking slots using token system; establishing a helpline and control room for making instant transit facility available to teachers particularly in times of some emergency; constructing a multi-storey parking and issuing entry-passes to those having genuine health-related or other issues. Students can also be offered subsidies on loans for purchasing battery-driven two-wheelers. J&K Bank has already donated three battery-driven vehicles and some 100 bicycles under its CSR initiative to the University. They can also be approached for more such help now that the University has got more serious about it. In nutshell this initiative has its own starting trouble but can be turned into a reality by the constant support, cooperation and sustained voluntary efforts of all stakeholders including teachers, employees, scholars and students. 

(The author is General Secretary, Kashmir University Teachers Association)