Beyond observing the day

The way we have damaged our environment, it needs a sustained effort to rescue our natural assets
Beyond observing the day
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Abdul Rashid Khan

Just some days back World Environment Day was observed in J&K with great fervour. Statements of political leaders and members of civil societies were issued in print and electronic media, stressing on meeting human development goals in unification with environmental ethics. They called upon the people to protect the environment, ecology and biodiversity in Jammu and Kashmir. I agree with the statement issued by one of the prominent and vibrant civil society groups, namely ‘Group of Concerned Citizens’ (GCC) that although Government is taking many steps to usher in socio economic development in the U.T but it is primarily the responsibility of the local people to take care of environment, ecology and biodiversity which have already suffered damages over the last many decades and needs to protect it from becoming more fragile and deterioration, if not taken care of it now.

The haphazard and unplanned urbanisation has undoubtedly taken the toll of our environment and ecology both in towns and cities of U.T. As Jahangir, the Moghul emperor had rightly said that if there is any paradise on earth, it is Kashmir and Kashmir only. He was so much influenced by the natural beauty of Kashmir that he would often visit Kashmir and spent summers there. The Moghuls have contributed lot in maintaining the environment and biodiversity of the area by building many gardens in the Srinagar city. The great Kashmiri saint Shiekh Noor-ud-Wali who is known as Alamdar-i-Kashmir has also said that “ann poshi teli ellie wan poshe” meaning food will last till there are forests.

The reckless human activity in the form of deforestation, water and air pollution, and over use of our natural resources endangered the natural balance in the global environment and J&K has also not escaped this global effect causing extinction of various species by wanton adulteration of our lakes, rivers, streams and springs with plastic and other waste.

It is not only the air pollution but also the water pollution which has badly affected the health of people in valley particularly in Srinagar city. Last year the NGT (National Green Tribunal) had taken serious view of the present status of Doodh Gangha which provides drinking water to almost ¼ of the population of Srinagar city. They imposed fine on concerned departments for their negligence and asked them to improve the quality of drinking water by keeping Doodh Ganga clean from plastic and human and other waste. But it seems that there is hardly any improvement in the quality of drinking water and the maintenance of the river Doodh Ganga. Though Dal lake, the centre of tourist hub seems to be clean as compared to previous years due to the efforts of the present government.

After a long time I had a chance to visit Shalimar Bagh on 7th of June this year but what I found, on way from Nishat garden to my destination, was really shocking. I saw many high rise concrete buildings raised on green patches on both sides of road in the form of hotels and commercial buildings. The worst I observed was the coming up of number of residential houses in a haphazard and unplanned way along the boundary wall of the Heritage Shalimar Moghul garden. This has choked the flow of fresh air and presents an ugly view in and around the garden. The garden has almost lost the grandeur and glory of the past. The people who have constructed their house around this garden, have not only blocked the beautiful back ground view of Zabarvan hills but have also damaged the ecology of its surroundings. The authority concerned is also responsible for this as they might have granted permission for the construction of these houses. In the past the surroundings of this area were free from any construction which used to add to its beauty and environment. The intervention of the government is warranted to look into the matter and make delinquent officials accountable who are found responsible for this act.

We should thank Dogra rulers who had great concern for maintaining the environment and biodiversity in J&K particularly in the valley of Kashmir during their regime. It is also said that they would allow only few house boats to station in the Dal lake during the day time. And would make them to exit from the Dal in the evening and allow them to park in nearby Tchiount Kul. Even the construction was not allowed in Nishat and Shalimar areas excepting for those who were the original residents of these areas. It was only after 1947 that the construction of hotels and residential houses started gaining momentum from Dalgate to Nehru park on the Boulevard road.

The filling of a portion of Dal lake for SKICC, construction of road from Kohnakhan around Dal lake paved the way for encroachers. Conversion of Nalamar water channel into a road, construction of residential houses and commercial units on the wetland of Bemina and Rawalpora have not only destroyed the ecology and biodiversity but turned these places into flood prone areas. The Achar lake, Nala Amir Khan and Tchiont Kull are at the verge of extinction. However the revival of Khushal Sar was made possible only due to the untiring efforts of some dedicated people. The serenity, calmness and flow of streams at the foothill of Zabarvan hill is thing of past and have made us to believe that Kashmir once known as paradise has lost its glory.

The message of Dr. Farooq Abdullah, issued on the ‘World Environment Day’ is worth reading. I may quote his message here: “we as individuals should not wait for the government to take action: good parenting and schooling, edification of community and religious leaders comes into play. People in their individual capacity can contribute in protecting the local fragile and land locked environment by stopping improper waste disposal, abandonment of plastic usage, using water and electricity judiciously. The government on their part have a bigger responsibility to strike between development and protection of ecosystem.”

To observe this day in real spirit, we should lay stress on eco-friendly structures while designing and constructing the residential houses and commercial buildings particularly at tourist places so that our environment and biodiversity are not disturbed. Instead of going for construction of motor ways in and around the forests, we must develop tracks for tourists which boost our trekking tourism to maintain our fragile ecosystem. We must observe this day by not only issuing statements through press notes but practically do something tangible so to restore our lost paradise.

Abdul Rashid Khan (IPS) is former IGP

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.

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