Muddied by Militancy Waterbodies in Kashmir

Col Satish Singh Lalotra
” The earth is what we all have in common”…
Wendell Berry.
Nothing sums up more succinctly for the entire human race as the quote above. For its very survival hinging on a slender thread of hope, optimism and good work generated by a few conscientious people ,humanity is fighting with its back to the wall against its own insidious community which is hell bent upon destruction of the entire ecosystem to say the least. Never ever in the history of mankind were there so many disparate groups of people spread far and wide across the globe as seen now and bent upon wreaking vengeance upon hapless fellow beings ,animals and environment trying to seek retribution for actions not committed by them. It is an irony and travesty of justice of our modern times that man has converted himself into a defective cog in a vast machine known as environment /ecology ,just as Charlie Chaplin the famous Hollywood hero of yester years in his famous movie ‘Modern times’ by his wayward movements had stopped the entire chain of functioning of his factory .Militancy in its various hues has done exactly the same the world over .i.e a defective cog in the vast machinery of our ecosystem.
The world’s major conflicts from the years 1950 till date have occurred or are occurring in the most biologically diverse and threatened places on this earth. A study conducted by a reputed science journal “conservation Biology ” points out that there are 34 bio diverse regions in the world ,Kashmir Himalayas being one of them. Sheltering a rich repository of bio diversity ,J&K presently stands threatened owing to the ongoing conflict /terrorism in its various forms. The union territory of J&K has experienced 3 wars since 1947 and has seen a war like situation for more than close to three decades now. Besides the loss of human lives this conflict has led to the destruction of the union territory’s ecological wealth . Due to the counter insurgency tasks military forces are forced to set up their camps in the forest areas disturbing the habitats of wild animals who then stray into human settlements . The unceremonious dumping of arms/ammunition and mines on both sides of the LOC also had ill effects on the health of land leading to soil infertility ,thereby leading to decline in agri production. There are about 1000 water bodies in the union territory of J&K being fed by perennial rivers like Jhelum ,Chenab ,Indus, Tawi and Kishan Ganga to name a few.
The union territory has numerous lakes and wetlands at different altitudes bounded by the great Himalayas . There are about 500 lakes in Kashmir valley with ,Dal lake and Wular being the most prominent among them. Jammu division has two prominent lakes ,the Mansar and Surinsar respectively and the union territory of Ladakh boasts of lakes like Tso Moriri, Pagong Tso ,Tso kar etc .In addition to the above there are about 2500 glacial lakes in Gilgit Baltisthan(GB) of POK .With the onset of militancy in early 1990 ,the union territory witnessed unprecedented law and order situation which continues even till date. In response to this numerous military installations /camps have come up on the river banks and lakes to keep a vigil on terrorists ,yet in the absence of an effective and efficient waste disposal system ,the stay of military is fraught with dangers for the overall sustainability of the fragile ecosystem over here. The unhindered disposal of waste into these lakes and water bodies is proving harmful to the overall growth and increase in nutrient value whereas giving a fillip to the formation of deadly bacteria. Dal lake one of the premier lakes of Kashmir valley has shrunk drastically as a result of capricious actions by the locals which include conversion of water into land all because of absence of punitive actions by the authorities that matter.
The waste material from house boats ,also pours into the lake resulting into excessive weed formation like moss, Azolla and duck weed which flourish to no end. This has resulted into blocking of sunlight from reaching the plants under water thus depriving them from the much needed oxygen thereby stunting their growth. The illegal encroaching of land ,farming and setting up of small craft industrial units and hotels have acted as a deterrent to projects like “Dal lake cleaning” which started in sep 2005 and enjoys 100% funding from the GOI. The cleaning of Dal lake would have meant displacement of thousands of families who live in and around the lake and has to be taken care of in case the local dispensation decides to go in for the said project in the right earnest. The Wular lake too doesn’t fare well on this front. One of the largest fresh water lakes in Asia playing an important role in the hydrographic system of Kashmir valley and acting as a huge absorption base for the annual flood waters is today a far cry from its long lost glory of yesteryears.
Wular lake had in fact risen to the occasion in sep 2014 during the infamous floods ,when it took extra flood waters into its system thereby saving Srinagar city from sure ruination. But off late the lake is fighting a losing battle due to endemic encroachments with vegetable gardens ,toilets residential structures and garbage dumping sites. Added to the above litany of woes is the presence of militant camps in and around the marshy village wetlands of Wular to include Watlab ,Warpora and outskirts of Bandipora forcing even the Indian Navy to deploy its MARCOS/Marine commando units . These units have been at the forefront of flushing out these militants who are hidden in the deep recesses of these wetlands and small islands created by the river Jhelum . Wular lake is an important source of fish and accounts for almost 60% of total fish produce of J&K as also a source of sustenance for a huge chunk of human population living on its fringes. The WUMCA (Wular conservation management authority) releases almost 45 to 50 lakhs of rupees every year for waste disposal/management to the local authorities, but then as is the wont ,it gets siphoned off and instead about 100 tons of waste is dumped every day into the Wular lake .
As if this is not enough, the brazen manner in which trees, shrubs etc are cut or set on fire by the militants and the security forces to clear their area for better visibility in their sphere of operations is the proverbial last straw on the camel’s back. This all has resulted into patches of ugly deforestation which goes on unabated even as on today. I distinctly remember while in service at Gurez valley and commuting up and down between Srinagar- Bandipora-Gurez in early 2003/04 ,witness to numerous small fires in the midst of forests lighted by these militants to obscure their movements as also to throw the security forces off balance who used to be in hot pursuit of them. The union territory of J&K possess the highest number of glaciers outside of the polar region amounting to 60% of Himalayan and 13% of its geographical area with Siachen glacier in Ladakh at an average elevation of about 17000 to 18000 ft above MSL.In addition to the above there are about 5000 glaciers and 2500 glacial lakes in Gilgit Baltisthan(GB) of POK with a potential of generating approximately 52000 MWs of electricity power .
The J&K Pollution Control Board the sole authority for checking unabashed Pollution is a failure in this respect plagued and hamstrung as it is by lack of qualified staff.
Having been posted to J&K thrice in my service ,I have been witness at regular intervals from mid 80s to 90s to early 2003 ,a drastic change in the flora and fauna over a period of 20 to 30 years .Places like Thajiwas glacier, Machoi glacier in the vicinity of Sonamarg /Zozila are now bereft of any worthwhile fauna due to its proximity to infiltration routes of militants and increased foot fall of army as well as tourists ,since it falls on the famous tourist circuits of the state. Militant activities coupled with counter infiltration tasks has cast a death knell on almost all benign actions to include economic ,tourist ,health ,education etc of the union territory . “Transparency international” a non-governmental organization had listed J&K as the most corrupt place in India after Bihar ,a moniker which has stuck to it for quite some time now and needs to be removed with all the contempt it deserves. The need of the hour is to put our heads together and look for a plausible solution to resurrect the union territory from myriad problems it is afflicted with.