The successive governments in Jammu & Kashmir have failed to protect our fragile ecology and environment. There has been no policy document for sustainable development of this erstwhile state. Our wetlands, mountains, meadows, rivers and forests are being destroyed. Once called a paradise (Firdaus) by Mughal rulers and other visiting dignitaries, Kashmir valley has been turned into a cesspool and trash valley. The tourists visiting Kashmir now see only plastic waste and this will be a more serious issue in next 10 to 15 years if not addressed.
The huge influx of tourists in our health resorts like Pahalgam, Gulmarg, Sonamarg, Yusmarg and Doodhpathri is posing a great threat to the environment of these places. Pahalgam, Gulmarg and Sonamarg are now almost urban spaces with huge construction having been undertaken during the last 15 years. It is a matter of concern that the tourist spots like Yusmarg and Doodhpathri which were almost virgin destinations until a decade back are now getting urbanised due to massive and haphazard concrete constructions. It is not the local residents or private people who are violating the ecology and environment of these tourist destinations but the Government through their local Tourism Development Authorities are involved in this heinous crime.
Huge TRC building, no use at all
Instead of focusing on treatment and management of solid waste, especially the plastic waste in Yusmarg or giving facelift to the local landscape, the officers of the tourism department from civil secretariat to those working in the field, are only interested in more and more constructions, concretizing tourist destinations. Yusmarg has also become a victim of the Government's unsustainable and anti- environment policy.
A huge Tourist Reception Centre (TRC) has been created at Yusmarg but it has no use at all. Not even a single tourist is received or seen off by officers of Yusmarg Development Authority (YDA) or even other tourism authorities at these centres ? What kind of reception the Govt wants to give to tourists at these centers? What a crazy idea it has been?
Dozens of such centres were constructed across J&K at an estimated cost of Rs 2 to 3 crore each but the output of these centers is zero? Not even the offices of the tourism authorities operate from these buildings round the year. The YDA operated from Bagh e Mehtab area of Srinagar some years back and now its office has been shifted to Charar Sharief and Doodhpathri Development Authority (DDA) operates from Budgam town for at least 6 to 7 months. In summer months, some officers of DDA work from the Tourist Reception Center (TRC) Doodh Pathri. Is this a Tourist Reception Center or the DDA office, I want to ask the Govt ?
Shabby civil work
Unfortunately during execution of the civil works the landscape architects and environmental engineers are not at all consulted. All the drawings are made and supervised by civil engineers. Shabby pathways made of concrete cement can be seen in Yusmarg. Several constructions have taken place from all the sides of Yusmarg valley. When it comes to maintenance of these bungalows, the respective Govt organisations who own these buildings fail to keep these assets neat and clean. The reason is Govt has no manpower and the part time or casual employees who have been hired by either tourism department or tourism development corporation or even local tourism development authorities are paid very meagre wages and sometimes the wages are also paid to these poor employees after months. There are almost 400 plus casual employees in the tourism department who look after properties of the tourism department and do other work as well but they have not been paid for the last 7 years ?
Scientific report on Yusmarg waste
According to a study published in a reputed journal, Waste Management and Research (WM & R) by Rouf Ahmad Bhat, Rumaisa Nazir and others in 2012, Yusmarg generated more than 100 kgs of solid waste daily during summer months. After almost 10 years the quantity of waste generated has doubled as the tourist inflow has increased manifold. Waste Management and Research is a peer-reviewed scientific journal covering the field of waste management. It was established in 1983 and is published by Sage Publications. The 10 year old report says that the collection and transportation of waste was inadequate. The report reads:
“The operator collects transports and disposes of the waste regularly. The waste was found to be collected through traditional hand carts that carry small quantities of waste for temporary storage mostly on the ground in an open place near the forest edge. The lack of proper equipment, manpower and awareness contribute to the poor management of solid wastes. No regular supervision system was observed to be in place “
The report says that one of the biggest threats of solid waste related to the fragile ecosystem is unscientific waste disposal. The report further reads:
“At present, waste is being dumped illegally in the nearby forest, and chokes drains, defaces the roads, and so on. Animals were found littering the waste. Lack of basic amenities resulted in crude disposal of waste. The only treatment applied to the waste was traditional burning in the open forest “
Waste processing machine defunct
Around Rs 40 lakhs were spent by the Govt to procure a magnetic disintegration machine which is supposed to destroy 1 metric ton or more of the non biodegradable waste. The machine was brought to Yusmarg around April 2019 but till date it has not treated even a single kilogram of waste in the area ? The machine is still sealed and during the last 2 ½ years it would have got rusted under the open sky. Imagine what would have been the impact of snow and rainfall on this machine in the last more than 2 years? The Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC) Budgam who is the incharge Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Yusmarg Development Authority (YDA) has never bothered to get this machine installed ? He must explain his failure to install the machine.
For the last ten years there has been no change at all vis a vis waste management in Yusmarg. The plastic and other waste continues to be dumped unscientifically. 100 to 120 kgs of waste has been dumped unscientifically in Yusmarg for the last one decade. Imagine its impact on the local ecology and environment? I wish YDA or the Govt had thought over it and sanctioned funds accordingly. They instead want to only execute the civil works? This is awful. For the last 3 years or more Govt has not posted a full time CEO in Yusmarg or Doodhpathri. Even in several other tourism authorities the CEOs charge lies with other officers. If the Govt is having dearth of officers, let the forest officers like Divisional Forest Officers (DFOs) be posted as CEOs in tourism authorities? They can perform better I believe as they are well versed with environmental and forest laws.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of JK RTI Movement and Anant Fellow for Climate Action…
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.