Doodh Ganga valley heading for a disaster

When our guide told us that we would be returning back to Doodh Pathri from Bargah via Daan Neur, Kalnaag–Frasnag, I was very much excited as I had never trekked through this route. I also wanted to refresh my old memories as we used to go fishing around Frasnag more than a decade back from Branwar Chadoora or via Yusmarg. The area was known for its beauty especially the gushing waters of Doodh Ganga and adjoining Kail and Fir forests made this area look alluring during summer months. The cold and fresh water of Doodh Ganga around Frasnag had a large number of rainbow trout in it.

Manzoor, the Shepherd

We had trekked to Bargah on August 14th 2020 from Doodh Pathri and it took us 11 hours to reach there. In fact it is only 8 hour trek, or even less, but I, along with a group of 6 trekkers including my 9 year son were lost in the dense forests between Lidder Mud and Bargah. Our Poney-walas had taken another route from Lidder Mud and we failed to chase them. But finally just before sunset we found a shepherd Manzoor Ahmad Chopan from Payar Pulwama inside the forest near a Bakerwal tent. This shepherd was like a messiah for us. He guided us towards Bargah meadow and we pitched our tents just adjacent to his hut (kotha). Manzoor comes to Bargah every year with his flock of sheep, his family also accompanies him as this is their family job. His wife made rice for us as well and the family was so helpful indeed.

Towards Trusar

Next day we trekked Tru Sar (Three Alpine lakes) located at an altitude of 4200 meters (13779 feet). Trusar is located just adjacent to Tatakoti glacier and there is a mountain pass called Choti Galee which leads to Poonch district. It would have been easier for us to trek Trusar via Chas Kani Naad wherefrom Doodh Ganga passes, which was not more than 5 to 6 hour trek from Doodh Pathri. But anyway the long trek was also beautiful and made us know about the new trekking routes and topography of the area.

From Bargah it took us 9 ½ hours to reach Trusar and back the next day i.e. Aug 15th 2020. This was a very hectic trek, more hectic than 11 hour walk from Doodhpathri to Bargah. Trekking towards Trusar from Bargah was a great experience for all of us especially for my 9 year old son Ubaidullah who I believe is the youngest boy (other than Bakerwal or Shepherd kids) to climb Trusar. In July this year he undertook a maiden trek with me and friends to Ashtar valley near Tatakoti glacier. That very first trek fascinated him and he got ready once again for the Bargah-Trusar trek.

Destruction in Frasnag

On our return from Bargah to Doodh Pathri, on August 16th 2020, we had lunch at Frasnag meadow around 1pm. When we left the meadow, I was eager to hear the gushing voice of Doodh Ganga. When I reached the small valley, I found only huge rocks and nothing more. I had heard that Doodh Ganga has been diverted in upper area of Yusmarg around Metch Khanain meadow  for a 7.5 MW Hydropower project located at Branwar, but this time I witnessed the destruction very clearly. In fact, I had visited Metch Khanain few years back but during that trek I didn’t go around Frasnag and it was only after more than 10 years I had been to Frasnag. It was highly impossible to cross Doodh Ganga around Frasnag even in winters as there was tremendous flow of water in this area, but this time I crossed the “ex-river” without even taking my shoes off. Even my son crossed it jumping over the rocks. The river is completely dry from Mech Khanain, Frasnag to Branwar which is around 5 kms of distance. Trout fish in this entire 5 km patch have vanished and it looks like a desert with no flora and fauna. Irony is that even the forests around Frasnag have not been spared. The damage caused to Kail and Fir trees is immense and this has increased during the last one year post 370 abrogation. Several forest officials are working hand and glove with the timber mafia and those who are honest and upright prefer to remain silent fearing they might be harmed physically. Smugglers mostly from Kellar and Sangarwani areas are causing damage to forests around Frasnag, I was told. During my 3 day trek I hardly saw any Forest officials or Forest Protection Force (FPF) personnel in this vast area?

Destruction in Surasyar block

Forest officials and even the Forest Protection Force (FPF) say that due to lack of manpower and weapons they are not able to protect forests in the upper part of Yusmarg. This is almost like surrendering before these criminal elements. But can they justify the damage being caused around Surasyar forest block which is located much below Yusmarg and Frasnag as smugglers from Kellar and Sangarwani have no access in this area? Can the Forest Department explain how the damage has been caused in Daeren Batwodder, Laeng Naad, Yusmarg Top, Yusmarg Khann and Hapat Banjar areas which are located just around Surasyar? During the last one year dozens of Kail and Fir trees are said to have been axed in these areas but FIR has been registered for axing merely 7 to 8 trees? No recovery of axed trees has been made and it is alleged that on some occasions old fallen trees or even fresh trees are also axed to show the recovery. The horses of smugglers are hardly seized. During filing of FIRs only forest employees are shown as witnesses while there are no civilian witnesses and in this process many innocent people are also trapped and real culprits don’t get booked. I don’t blame all forest officials for being corrupt, this is a challenging job indeed, but having such a huge forest organisation, how can destruction of forests continue even in the 21st century when we have access to a lot of technology to prevent timber smuggling. Why can’t forest officials use horses for patrolling? I have never seen them patrolling on horses? If Sheep or Animal Husbandry Departments can have their camps in forests why not the Forest Department ? They have to be visible all the time.

Destruction by Power Project

When the 7.5 MW  Branwar Hydropower project was being constructed more than a decade back a lot of false promises were made with local villagers by political leaders and the Government. Villagers were told that they would get subsidized and 24 x 7 power supply, but that turned out to be only a hoax. Power position in Branwar, Batwodder, Surasyar, Bonen, Neegu, Kutbal and adjoining villages is still bad. No new conductors or iron pylons were erected. Soon after little rainfall power supply is cut in the entire area. The private company who got the project on a 40 year lease only caused destruction of the environment. They uprooted hundreds of forest trees and wrecked the Doodh Ganga river. The meadow around Metch Khanain was dug with huge JCB’s to create a canal for diverting Doodh Ganga waters and then huge Pipes were laid through Haijan meadow. Trucks and lorries went into deep jungle which was virgin until 2010 or 2011. The environmental impact is immense and it is a lesson for those people who say there is a lot of potential for creating new hydropower projects in J&K?

Conclusion

Doodh Ganga also called Chatch Kull originates from the glaciers of Pir Panjaal around mount Shankar Bul Bul located at an altitude4500 metres. The so-called development has destroyed this great river. By changing its historical course for a small Hydropower Project we have simply murdered Doodh Ganga. On the other hand constant axing of forest trees in Doodh Ganga forest range is causing threat to our ecology and environment. If the forest department doesn’t show any seriousness in protecting the forest and environment around Doodh Ganga valley, the future generations will always curse them and we will lose everything we had been bestowed by nature. …