Kashmir, the so called “Paradise on Earth” is gradually burning and humans are to blame for this atrocity. Over the years the state of Jammu and Kashmir has seen rapid environmental degradation. Degradation of the forests and land resources, polluted fresh water lakes, river sedimentation, frequent flash floods, soil erosion/landslides, acid rains, and impacts of global warming are just a few manifestations of man’s insensitivity to environment and ecology in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), temperature in Kashmir has increased by over one degree, and it is now continuously soaring at .05 degree every year. The IMD further reported that deforestation had caused 35 percent decrease in monsoon and 10 percent in snow annually in Kashmir.
The state has poor waste management and sewage treatment systems because of which untreated municipal/industrial waste is being discharged into water bodies, polluting the drinking water and destroying aquatic life forms. The once pristine Dal Lake is now choked with silt, excessive weed growth, sewage, and it also faces the problem of encroachments. According to a study done recently by a group of experts from India, new vegetation in the form of a mysterious red weed seen on the periphery of the Dal Lake is an indicator of serious degree of pollution. All these major problems have continuously been neglected.
J&K being a “Special Economic Zone” has taken a toll on the environment and ecology of the region. Innumerable number of industries and factories set up here for tax benefits are greatly responsible for polluting the air and causing deforestation.
The supply of water throughout the valley is polluted. High infant mortality rate is the result of common infections and diseases such as gastroenteritis. Majority of the illnesses are related to polluted water supplies leading to other diseases such as hepatitis, gastroenteritis, poliomyelitis, typhoid and cholera.
A number of trees have been cut for widening the Jammu-Pathankote bypass road and trees were also felled under the four-lane project of NHAI right from Pull Doda to Bhaderwah.
The green cover around Jammu has been shrinking at a fast pace. Deforestation has led to soil erosion which is responsible for frequent flash-floods. Wildlife and biodiversity in the region have greatly been affected.
The Snow Leopard and the Kashmiri Otter have now become a thing of the past. The Snow Leopard along with the Flying Squirrel and the Long Tailed Himalayan Marmot are frequently hunted by military men and poachers for their valuable skin and teeth and have now almost become extinct. Other rare species like the Ibex, Blue Sheep, Urian, the big horned sheep, antelope are also on the brink of extinction. Another major loss that the valley has seen due to incessant deforestation is the disappearance of a number of species of birds who have lost their natural habitat.
M/s Reetu Asrani an environmental activist and resident of Srinagar says “A number of rare species that were only found in the valley are now gradually disappearing.”
Air-pollution including green house gases has been increasing day by day. Uncontrolled industrialization in the state along with constantly increasing number of automobiles has been adding to greenhouse gas emissions. Per capita number of vehicles has increased greatly in Jammu in particular and the whole state in general as compared to population density.
Permanent snowfall on the mountains has receded; the average annual temperatures have risen, and the amount of rainfall has also significantly diminished. All these are ominous signs that if further neglected can wreck havoc in the valley.
The Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN), a network uniting Indian youth and youth oriented organizations who are concerned about climate change & environment issues are organizing a first of its kind Green Solution Fair cum Conference in the Sher-e-Kashmir International Conference Center in Srinagar on the 25th and 26th of May 2010.
The conference will invite experts and speakers to talk about existing environmental problems in the Jammu and Kashmir region and possible eco-solutions that meet local needs will be provided by the Green Solution Fair. Participants will comprise companies offering solutions to local problems, NGOs, Universities offering environment related courses and Green Job Placements. Further, sale of eco-friendly products and publications, and buyer-seller meets will take place at this event. Heavyweights like Federation Chamber of Industries Kashmir, J&K Bank, Department of Environment and Remote Sensing, Jammu and Kashmir State Pollution Control Board, and Ministry of Environment and Forestry have already extended their support to make this event a success
Mr. Surendran Balachandaran from “IYCN” says “Such kind of initiatives are what people of the valley are looking forward to and by organizing this event IYCN hopes to set a precedent for others to religiously follow.”
IYCN suggests a few solutions that the state needs to incorporate to salvage its pride. Designated Land Fill sites should be used to their full potential, Fossil Fuels should be replaced with clean and green energy. This includes a shift to solar, biofuel, and hydro electric energy. A massive tree plantation drive should be undertaken, environmental clearances should be made mandatory for all projects, and since J&K has innumerable number of hotels, all of them should have proper waste management and sewage treatment systems.
The Environment Committee of Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly needs to act fast and ask the state government to take up the issues related to environment on a priority basis. An efficient master plan needs to be devised to preserve the fragile ecosystem of the state.
The central and state government, corporate houses, civil society organizations, and the people of the valley need to work in tandem to revive and restore the glory of this beautiful valley before it’s too late.
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/anaranar/4031710324/]