Karewas are like Grand Canyons of USA.
The Kashmir valley owes much of its fortune to the plateau-like landforms that remain tucked away in the folds of the surrounding mountains, particularly the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas that borders the valley on the southwest.
Known as karewa or Wodder in local dialect these plateaus are 13,000-18,000 metre-thick deposits of alluvial soil and sediments like sandstone and mudstone. This makes them ideal for cultivation of saffron, almonds, apples and several other cash crops.
Kashmir saffron, which received a Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2020 for its longer and thicker stigmas, deep-red colour, high aroma and bitter flavour, is grown on these karewas.
The fertility of these patches is believed to be the result of their long history of formation. When formed during the Pleistocene period (2.6 million years to 11,700 years ago), the Pir Panjal range blocked the natural drainage in the region and formed a lake spanning 5,000 sq km (roughly three times the size of Delhi).
Over the next few centuries, the water receded, making way for the valley and the formation of the karewas between the mountains. Today, the karewa sediments not only hold fossils and remnants of many human civilisations and habitations, but are also the most fertile spots in the valley.
Despite its geological , agricultural and archaeological importance, karewas are now being excavated to be used in filling wetland areas and used at construction sites. Between 1995 and 2005, massive portions of karewas in Pulwama, Budgam and Baramulla districts were razed to the ground for clay for the 125-km-long Qazigund-Baramulla rail line.
Karewas plundered for Ring Road
Again the Karewa’s are being targeted in Budgam for construction of Srinagar Ring Road. The excavation is done without obtaining any No Objection Certificate (NoC) from Geology and Mining Department or Environmental Clearance (EC) from J&K State Environment Impact Assessment Authority (JK SEIAA). Even if some NOC is obtained that is violated as huge quantities of clay is excavated from particular mining blocks and the work is undertaken in night hours which is all illegal.
The clay transported in trucks (tippers) emits dust which causes air pollution and destroys the road surfaces in most of the areas in Budgam.
Access to large amounts of soil for development projects is difficult in the valley because of its topography and physiology. At the highest elevation are mountain ranges that are predominantly made up of hard rocks.
At the lowest point lies the valley, where the groundwater table is extremely close to the surface (6-9 m). Karewas, as a result, are an easy target due to their soil thickness.
Each karewa runs for several kilometres. While most of the patches are owned by individuals who use them for farming, some belong to the government; these are locally called kahcharai and are used for grazing.
One fails to understand why the government is allowing to use such fertile soil for filling at construction sites ? Most of the people in Budgam especially those around Juhama , Patwaw, Sarai Khampora, Hayatpora, Kuzwera, Gowherpora, Nowbugh depend on the karewas for their livelihood.
There used to be huge almond orchards in these Karewas but its cultivation has come down drastically. Even saffron used to be grown in good quantity in the karewas of Budgam until 15 years back. That is now a history ? Govt allows bulldozing of Kahcharai land in Karewa’s first which forces people to use their propriety land as well for this once the surrounding land is vandalized or deformed.
Govt officers as mute spectators
The clay and muck is carried in trucks and tippers during whole night even through main town of Budgam and authorities are not at all controlling this movement? I am unable to understand why district administration and police are not acting against this vandalism? Why Pollution Control Committee previously called PCB is a mute spectator ? What is District Mineral Officer Geology and Mining Department Budgam doing ? This department isn’t able to control the illegal riverbed mining in Shali Ganga and Doodh Ganga and I had to file a petition before National Green Tribunal (NGT).
The officials of this Govt department are acting like an Ostrich who is known for hiding its heads deep inside the sand when there is a sandstorm in deserts ? The poor bird thinks that would save him , but he gets buried under the sandstorm himself ? Same thing will happen to our corrupt Govt officials as they are all locals and when there will be environmental disaster that will destroy everyone of us and Kashmir will again be a huge lake like it used to be more than 1 million years back?
Violation of Mineral Rules 2016
Allowing clay mining in Karewas also violates the Jammu and Kashmir Land Revenue Act, 1996 as the topography of a karewa or hill cannot be changed at all. The soil excavation or clay mining often razes the highland to the ground and changes the entire topography of the place.
The activity also violates the Jammu and Kashmir Minor Mineral (Storage, Transportation of Minerals and Prevention of Illegal Mining) Rules, 2016.
The Gram Sabha needs to give consent for minor mineral mining. The order has conveniently bypassed. They are not taken into confidence , only signatures of Sarpanch, Panch or Numberdar is taken which is again an illegal act. No mining is permitted in night hours, but Karewas are plundered during night hours only in Hyatpora, Kuzwera, Nowbugh, Patwaw Juhama and dozens of other villages
Government should notify karewas as archaeological sites to promote tourism. This will attract international tourists but the Geology and Mining Department never even advised this to Government.
The Karewa’s of Kashmir especially those located in Budgam can be compared with Grand Canyons of North Arizona USA which are one of the most spectacular examples of erosion anywhere in the world.
The Karewas also have a somewhat similar history which came into existence more than a million years back when water from Kashmir valley drained out from Khadanyar (Baramulla). Earth is the only planet where life exists. The earth gives us everything.
Only One Earth slogan that has been chosen for this year World Environment Day should motivate us and our authorities to save the earth and its natural resources so that our future generations have a safe and healthy environment.
By allowing destruction of Karewas our Govt officers are committing a criminal act which will be written in the books of history and future generations will always curse them for this.
Dr Raja Muzaffar Bhat is an Acumen Fellow. He is Founder & Chairman of J&K 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