J&K: Ecologically sensitive place in India

Unfolding environmental crisis in Jammu & Kashmir and the need for a master plan
"There is a need to nudge the behavior of the people by making them center of policymaking." [Representational Image]
"There is a need to nudge the behavior of the people by making them center of policymaking." [Representational Image]File/GK


The erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir has mostly been in the spotlight for the political turmoil, affecting lives of common Kashmiris in multiple ways. While the political conflict ‘in’ and ‘over’ the territory of Kashmir ostensibly consuming hundreds of lives has garnered significant attention, there, however, exists a ‘silent force’ which at times becomes more potent than the former causing massive death and devastation. Ironically, with respect to the latter phenomenon, not much effective policy draft seems to have been carried out.

In 2006, the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) came up with the National Environment Policy (NEP)  as a response to the commitment made in the Constitution (Article 48A and 51A) and with an aim to mainstream environmental concerns into all developmental activities.

The policy also argued that environmental degradation often leads to poverty and poor health outcomes among populations. From the same year, the Government of Jammu and Kashmir (JK) due to its then special position in Constitution also started working on drafting its State Environmental Policy (SEP).

However, it was only in 2011, the state government decided to draft the SEP. But till 2018, there was no much progress. One of the reasons for delay in drafting SEP was destruction of crucial records related to policy getting  by 2014 devastating floods.

The policy notes that “being eco-fragile zone, J&K is confronted with environmental challenges due to global warming, unplanned urbanization, deforestation and encroachment of water bodies”. As rightly mentioned in the SEP, the J&K is one of the most ecological sensitive places in India.

Due to security and development related activities, it also is facing the problem of environmental degradation at a rapid pace. Being heavily agrarian and rural in nature, its economy depends upon the natural resources for its survival.

The problem was magnified in the urban areas and cities because of unwanted migration to urban areas. Human activities result in the emission of anthropogenic waste heat causing environmental issues. The lenient environmental regulations also to some extent is responsible for the loss of wetlands in the UT.

Also, the encroachment on shallow portions of wetlands has led to the shrinking of such areas. The problem is further aggravated by the dumping of solid non-biodegradable wastes on the banks of Dal Lake and other water bodies causing further reduction in the size of wetlands.

J&K is counted as the third largest state that owns highest number of cars. Nearly a quarter of its population owns a car. This is due to abysmal performance of public transport in the UT.

The increased usage of private transport not only adds to the menace of air pollution but also the unending traffic jams. To address the concern of traffic jams, the government comes up with widening of roads resulting in further degradation of environment.

The development of infrastructure and industry in Kashmir has benefited the economy but also resulted in air pollution. During the harvesting season, burning stubble affects air quality, and discarding garbage in open locations pollutes the air much more.

Many districts in J&K have brick kilns, which contribute to air pollution. According to the study “Winter Burst of Pristine Kashmir Valley Air” by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune and the University of Kashmir, the burning of coal was responsible for around 156 tonnes of the 163.62 tonnes of Particulate Matter 2.5 that were emitted overall. The study discovered that on certain days during the winter, air quality in Srinagar was worse than in Delhi, one of the most polluted cities in the world.

The use of polythene bags in the UT adds its share to the continuous degradation of the environment. Outside of the capital city, the use of polythene bags is still prevalent, and no initiatives have been made to discourage people from buying or using them.

Ironically, non-biodegradable items continue to pose a threat to the delicate ecosystems of health resorts like Gulmarg, Sonamarg, Dodpathri, Yousmarg, and other locations.

The anti-polythene campaign, which the government frequently touts as a big success, might have accomplished something in Srinagar. 

However, the prohibition has not yet been effectively implemented in the other parts of Valley, leaving this crucial duty unfinished. Due to its delicate environment, and JK urgently needs to put the ban on polythene into effect.

Recent initiatives by Civil Society and Administration

Environment being a public good faces the problem of over-ridding; where people overuse it without even paying for it. However, it is the duty of every stakeholder to preserve it and prevent it from further degradation. Initiatives are being taken by the government and people side by side to curb environmental degradation in the UT.

In “J&K environmental policy 2018”, the government laid various regulations to ensure the protection of environment. Few of many other initiatives include the following: Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha initiated “Green J&K Drive- 2021’ to ensure plantation of trees on denuded and degraded lands of the UT. Programs to manage and conserve water have been created for the lakes in J&K, where the water quality is examined and corrective actions such as weed removal are carried out.

To reduce air pollution in JK, the state administration is implementing initiatives such as vehicle emissions monitoring, traffic control, and the use of cleaner fuels, among others. Local self-government has also taken measures to ensure the safety. Citing an example, a sarpanch in a remote village Sadiwara of Anantnag district took an initiative to offer a gold coin to the people who bring 20 quintals of plastic.

The initiative although proved to be successful but the question is whether such initiatives are sustainable, and for how long we need to pay people for keeping their own surroundings clean?  There is a need to nudge the behavior of the people by making them center of policymaking. In this case lessons from national and international experience needs to be taken.


It appears that both state and local governments to an extent are taking steps to reduce the further degradation of the environment. However, what is lacking is the concrete policy and proper implementation of such policies which can ensure the long-run protection of the environment.

In its 2018 environmental policy draft although the government defined some ways in which it will thrive to reduce degradation but at the ground level much work is yet to be done. The possible solutions given in the policy draft need to be brought into action.

The rules set by the government for environmental protection must be implemented. Proper legal framework should be established with clauses of fine and rewards for people who violate regulations and those who work under them respectively.

The major policy suggestion is to start work at the grassroots level which may include; educating people about the health impacts of over pollution, taking measures to curb pollution from its origin, use of non-polluting biodegradable materials including others. However, how much time it will take to ensure planning and implementation of such recommendations is still a question.

Rudeena Jabar recently completed her Master’s degree in Economics from the Jamia Millia Islamia University.

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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